El Aviso
Committe in Solidarity with the Central American People
Summer 1997

The role of Women in Guatemala
By Sara Federman

The role of women in Guatemala has been changing due to the harsh reality of families being destroyed and disintegrated. Refugees, rural women, and especially indigenous women have been devastatingly affected and are forced to work regardless of horrible conditions, miserable wages and exploitation. Additional challenges women face in Guatemala are the instability of the economy and the invisibility of their economic contributions. Yet despite these obstacles, women-organized movements are struggling to make changes.

Many of the workers in maquilas, or modern day sweatshops, are young, teenage, single mothers or widows. These women work six days a week, ten hours a day in conditions lacking ventilation or rest rooms. Physical and emotional effects go hand in hand in the work place and at home for these women.

Women-run organizations dedicated to letting women voice their own needs and strategies have been formed stemming from these conditions. Mujeres en Solidaridad (Women in Solidarity) and Funda Mujer y Familia (Women and Family Fund), are two non-profit organizations that enable women to build skills and confidence that give these women the personal capabilities to tackle crippling social and domestic inequalities and problems.

Mujeres en Solidaridad was founded by women working in the maquila plants and active in textile worker's trade unions. They first joined together over the concern that women who joined unions would be fired. The women begin by expressing common dilemmas that they face in the home and in their lives as women. They were well aware of the deep roots these problems entail and that their project alone can not resolve these problems. Three main issues became the basis for their struggle: lack of safe and supportive space where women can express and examine their own hopes, fears, and visions; domination by men where problems are identified; and women's lack of experience, skills and resources for implementing strategies and responses to the problems they face. The Funda Mujer y Familia has created a small business co-op and food staples co-ops; integrated educational programs including literacy, vocational, goal orientation training, and a low interest loan program.

Difficult, yet positive outcomes have been made, giving a sense of hope to these women. As one women from Mujeres en Solidaridad stated, "For seven years we've been working like little ants. We think we're really getting some real acceptance now." From the economic, social, and political education these women are receiving, women can understand their important roles in Guatemala and strive to better the lives of all women together.

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