The men that were seated at the main discussion table at the front of the room appeared bored. Some were obviously not paying attention and others were talking on their cell phones or reading other papers.
These men were representatives of the local governments and judicial system in Baja Verapaz. This past week I was lucky enough to have been able to attend an indigenous women’s summit on access to the judicial system here in Guatemala.
Defensoria de la Mujer Indigena (DEMI) is an organization that works to monitor and improve access to the judicial system at the regional and national levels. Their report on the state of indigenous women’s access to the judicial system showed appalling conditions.
The list of ways that indigenous women are excluded from the system are almost innumerable. To begin the list, most indigenous women live in very isolated and rural areas far from the centers of justice where they might be served. Many work in the home and do not receive a salary, or work as domestic house servants for very little, often in terrible conditions.
Many suffer from domestic abuse and/or abuse from their employers, and a culture of machismo means that many have no way to fight back. Femicide and domestic violence are rampant in Guatemala. Many indigenous women simply do not have the time or money to travel long distances to file a complaint. So, even if they had a case to bring against someone they would not be able to get to the judicial system to file it.
Taking the list a step further, if the women were able to travel to the department capital or the nearest city, many offices do not have bilingual employees. Many indigenous women speak Spanish as a second language or do not speak Spanish at all. According to DEMI, in some departments up to 63% of the indigenous women are monolingual in a Mayan language.
There are many different Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, and many of the people who work in the judicial offices are Ladino and simply do not know them. Trying to explain a difficult situation like domestic violence or rape in a second language or through a translator makes the process so much more difficult.
So, as a review, most women live too far away from the judicial system to access it, do not have the time or money to access it, are already discriminated against in a machismo culture, and often do not proficiently speak the language of the judicial system.
With all of these processes working against them, it is almost impossible for indigenous women to access the judicial system. DEMI suggested trainings for legislators, reforms in domestic violence laws, and a requirement for translators or bilingual staff in the judicial system.
The presentation was wonderful, and their suggestions were certainly valid, but the representatives of the local government and judicial system did not seem to take them to heart, or even pay attention. It made me so sad to see these wonderful and intelligent women working so hard while the men at the front of the room seemed distracted and bored. The women of this nation are truly the backbone that holds it together, and hopefully the suggestions that DEMI has made to the government will help them to attain their basic human right of access to the judicial system of their nation.
Posted By Abby Weil
Posted Jul 9th, 2007