Guatemala’s Girls: A Culture of Inequality and Violence

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Why being female in Guatemala is a disadvantage.

The BAD News

One in five girls in Guatemala will have two children before the age of 18. Studies prove that the level of education greatly impacts the age at which women, and in impoverished areas, girls, give birth for the first time. In Guatemala, 60% of females 15 years and above are no longer going to school.

Gender inequality is not only normal, but it’s also expected.

The people of Guatemala endured a 36-year long civil war that ended in 1996. In spite of nearly 23 years of what is officially termed as peace, the unrest remains and the aftermath has created unfathomable violence, poverty, and for years, an apathetic government.

Guatemala has the 3rd highest female murder rate in the world. Why is that? Amnesty International found that government inaction and the resulting impunity when murder charges are brought have created indifference in cases of femicide. Only four percent of the cases of female murder result in a conviction.

Little value is placed on the lives or contributions of women. An overall attitude of machismo that many blame on the war is still prevalent. More than 40,000-foot soldiers and a civil defense force of more than one million were trained to commit acts of sexual violence. There is an older generation of more than 100,000 women who were raped as a tool of the civil war. The brutality of the war peaked in the early 1980s, during the aftermath of a coup. Many of the women victimized found a voice in 2011 during an expose by The Guardian, a news publication. Beyond that, adolescent pregnancy is not uncommon. Even worse, Unicef reported in 2012 that more than 30% of pregnancies in girls aged 10 to 14 were from incestuous relations.

The Guatemalan government has taken steps to enact laws that would help to close the chasm between the sexes, unfortunately, they are not often enforced. In August of 2018, a new impetus was added to a law first created in 2008 to help protect women. Now, if a female is reported missing the law mandates an immediate search. While this is a step in the right direction, attitudes regarding crimes against the female population must change. Until then, abductions and murders become will only decrease slightly.

In cases where girls are not subjected to violence, life is often still difficult. Many of the indigenous communities do not have continuous access to fresh drinking water, health services, or opportunities for education. With no routes to a livelihood, child marriage has been a constant issue. While the government recently banned child marriage, authorities also believe the issue is cultural. Experts contend that the root cause is economic. Families push their young daughters into marriage to offset living expenses. The government of Guatemala has vowed to completely end child marriage by 2030.

The Good News

Organizations like Work, Play, Love continue to house, feed, clothe, and educate girls in Guatemala. Our impact is small on a Nation of almost 17 million people. The bulk of the Guatemalan populace is under the age of 30, with roughly half of that segment female. Clearly, our work has only just begun.

Your contributions to Work, Play, Love truly make a difference. With those funds, we are able to impact the children at the orphanage we support as well as the underserved children in the surrounding community.

Though the average length of a formal education is less than four years, our efforts extend the availability of education, help to build and fund schools to serve more children for longer periods of time, and to create a love for learning as well as serve as an important influence over cultural norms that perpetuate violence and inequality. By serving both boys and girls in the orphanages and in schools, we are in a position to empower girls and inform boys of a more egalitarian view of life.

At the Maria Auxiliadora Hogar, each girl is deemed, a princess. The home’s style mimics a castle and the girls are taught their worth as much as they are educated in any other skill or subject. The princess persona is not portrayed as entitled or spoiled but rather the characteristics of strength, resourcefulness, value, high self-esteem, intelligence, importance, as well as pride in one’s self are the pillars of the theme, and ultimately the philosophy of the care and the hope of the impact on their lives.

The Future

Guatemala is still a dangerous place to be born female. The horrors of war left families with fathers and brothers who were trained to harm women. There was no re-entry training, no help to assimilate to everyday life. The culture of war became the culture of the country and remains, even with the fighting stopped.

With programs like Work, Play, Love and more worldwide awareness, the tide is slowly shifting. Laws are changing, and in the last few years, more people have spoken out. The key is to educate young, both girls and boys. To change the culture of an entire country is not an overnight operation.

For every little girl who visits the Maria Auxiliadora Hogar, and every little boy who enters the halls of the Hogar Miguel Magone, we can say with certainty, their attitudes and beliefs regarding the treatment of each other will not be consistent with the society they were born into. It’s imperative to impart to the children of the orphanages and the surrounding community that we rise by lifting others.

To help us in our mission to help more children in Guatemala rise out of their circumstances, please visit WorkPlayLove.org to donate. Or get in touch about our visits, and join us at the orphanage in the coming months.