Acting Against Femicide in Guatemala

Mayan Women

Women. They are the subject of these pictures. Why? The gruesome brutality hasn’t stopped. In fact, it has barely dipped. The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that 708 women were violently murdered in Guatemala in 2009. That figure is down compared to the 773 reported violent deaths in 2008, but not by much. There is simply no justice:

According to activist Norma Cruz, who heads the Survivors Foundation that provides help for abused women in Guatemala, no plans exist to guarantee women’s safety. In a statement to reporters, Cruz said that more security agents are needed in areas considered extremely dangerous for women. The activist regretted that even though police and prosecutors nab the aggressors, the courts tend to free them with such substitute measures as letting them out on bail. Guatemala is second in the world in murders of women after Russia, which posts more than 10,000 crimes against women, according to the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office. Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

Second in the world in murders of women. Jarring. Disheartening. I briefly touched upon this issue in an article I wrote for Revue Magazine. Las Gravileas is a school for low-income women that not only teaches women a wealth of technical skills and business skills, but one that also stresses the importance and value a women plays in her family and community. So, unlike traditional media where only the disappointing statistics are reported, I would like to point readers to a positive response. I would like to offer an opportunity for becoming a part of the solution. Read about Las Gravileas, and, if you dare, become a part of the solution by donating or, better yet, getting involved. (Contact me for more information… if you dare.)

The Guardians of Las Gravileas

A project where women serve their sisters…

The center’s name is symbolic. In a country where coffee represents approximately 10 percent of the gross domestic income, the gravilea tree provides a critical, protective canopy for the shade-loving plant. Just as the gravilea tree provides this fundamental necessity for the cultivation of coffee, so, too, is Las Gravileas meant to offer a protective, nurturing environment for women of every background and ethnicity.

“It’s a name that represents receiving, taking care of, and supporting the growth of a woman,” Project Manager Dalila de Montoya says. The keys to achieving this ideal environment, she adds, are education and training.

Las Gravileas is defined as a center for the promotion and technical training of artisan women. The project offers a large assortment of instruction, ranging from textiles, piñata making and ceramic molding and painting to cooking and baking, basic literacy, business studies and more… continue reading the entire article at Revue Magazine.

Also remember to visit the Survivors Foundation“>Survivors Foundation website. Norma Cruz has just been named Person of the Year 2009 by the Guatemalan national newspaper the Prensa Libre. Contacting her or her organization would also be a great start to becoming a part of the solution.

The women in these pictures are from Santa Caterina Polopó and San Antonio Polopó at Lake Atitán – just a few hours drive from La Antigua Guatemala. Instead of thinking of statistics, think of them and the thousands like them. Beautiful Maya women. Maya mothers, sisters, daughters… whose lives are being violently taken at alarming rates. And for what? A lack of education in their communities. A lack of interest by anyone else.

I leave you with a poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller – hoping it will help instill you to go beyond reading the facts and statics, hoping it will urge you to act.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

text and photos by Laura McNamara

Mayan Women 2Mayan Women 3

© 2010 – 2017, Laura McNamara. All rights reserved.

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  • Eric

    Wow, Laura … so many thoughts come to mind with this entry…I don’t know where to start. I just can’t imagine why anyone would resort to violence contra las mujeres, solamente porque son mujeres. I don’t really understand violence in general. Have you seen the movie “Erik the Viking”? It’s pretty much my life story, only I’m still waiting to find the girl.. : (
    Anyway, in answer to your challenge about info. on Las Gravileas…I dare. El Rey de los Vickingos no tiene miedo de nada… 😉

  • I’m glad you DARE Eric! 😉

    And I’m with you… I really don’t understand violence in general either.

    Haven’t seen the movie… but now thinking I should!


  • rolando

    Now, i do have to say that most of these murders involved non-mayan nor direct mayan descendants. Many were, but i can mostly assure that the biggest percentage went to “ladinas” which are a mixture of races, which are by the way the predominant “race” in Guatemala. I do agree that lack of education is a big cause, but mostly in my opinion is that the fact that this huge wave of media information about different ways of life and cultures has brought up a shockwave to the predominant “macho” mentality in Guatemala, therefore when an ignorant person can’t understand what is suddenly in front of him, he can either kill it or try to embrace it. (human nature). So, yeah i blame macho mentality because woman are taking actions that the so called machos can’t understand, and are being killed because of them. And second, women in Guatemala are taking part on the crime wave that is affecting this country and as in all crime involved actions, some involved have to pay with their lives. 😉

    • Thanks for the clarification on the ladino and Maya. And I believe you’re right on that point. But, my pictures are Mayan women. 😉

  • very sad, but oh so true. When my sister in law Ana lived in the States for awhile, she put up with abuse from Beto her husband. He used to regularly hit her, even though he was smaller than her…just because he came home drunk and had had a bad night. I jokingly told her to give it right back to him, and she did. And then HE called 911 claiming spousal abuse because she slapped him across the face. He never laid a hand on her again, though the verbal abuse continued. Had she been in Guate, it might have been a different story. She did end up going back, to be with her daughters. He ended up getting deported and although they ended up briefly back together they split up for good when he tried to molest one of their daughters after coming home drunk. She’s alone now, and better off emotionally now than she has ever been, and is much stronger. (having her dad around with a machete to protect her probably helps a bit too) It’s too bad, because when he was sober, Beto was a great guy. But drunk, he was a whole other animal. Lack of education and poverty are factors, but substance abuse seems to be the biggest one I encountered when I lived in RI and had plenty of Guatemalan girlfriends with abusive spouses. It’s sad, but violence against women is in many cultures-where we are treated no better than common property. Programs like this are great, thanks for posting about some of the positive things that are happening in Guatemala to combat violence against women.

    • Wow Michelle. Powerful testimony. Thanks for sharing. It’s personal accounts like these that help other connect and DARE to act. Again, thank you for sharing. I’m glad to hear Ana is doing well now and has her family to protect her. Sad to hear that you know more than one person affected by this.

      Speaking of positive stories: check out this Times article.

  • Erick

    @Rolando: Would you happen to know the number of women that are killed due to them participating in violent crimes? I guess I’m trying to see what is the ratio (if it’s a significant number) of innocent women that are killed in contrast to those that are killed due to them being part of the crime wave.

  • david

    In Guatemala, according to different sources, there were over 5,000 murders last year. If there were 709 women murdered, that is only 14% of all murders. Is that femicide? What does one call the other 86%? I have seen mareras and don’t see why they should be spared the same fate as their male brethren. If the 709 represent victims of domestic violence then it’s a different matter. Does the 709 represent female victims of domestic violence or murdered women in general?

    • Again… the 709 isn’t the complete total number of women who were killed. It’s the number killed BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN. There’s a difference. The remaining figure has more women in it. And how many men are killed SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE MEN. The other murders are crime-related, drug-related, gang-related, circumstance-related. They are not motivited SOLELY BECAUSE THE VICTIM IS MALE.

      So please don’t get confused by the point we are trying to make. Femicide means by definition WOMEN KILLED BECAUSE THEY ARE WOMEN. NOTHING MORE.

  • So, let me know more when you get back… My Nova (camera) and I are ready, and well, let’s hope to make a change, hoping to create strong points to get people to reflect on… Thank you Laura!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Deal Arturo! Mission: When I return, you and I go get personal testimony and photos of the reality of violence against women only because they are women.

  • Sonia

    David, the article says the 709 women murdered were “violentely murdered”. It would be interesting to find out what number of men were “violently murdered”, so you could do a comparison. Unfortunately, I can’t find that anywhere.

    Rolando, it appears to me that you are trying to make a case that violence against women is less of a problem in indigenous community than in the ladino community. That may be true, but unless you have concrete facts to back up your assertions, you should avoid making such generalizations. Domestic abuse is everywhere, even in the remotest little aldeas.

    In order to address the problem of violence in Guatemala, it seems to me there has to be complete shift in the way Guatemalans view violence. We must “enfrentar” violence in every aspect. Domestic abuse should NOT be tolerated. Ever. Violent fights between men should not be tolerated.

    And lastly–and some Guatemalans may be uncomfortable with this: Linchamentos should NOT be tolerated, either. I understand that la policia civil no hace ni mierda. But, there are ways to publicly shame and humiliate criminals through vigilante justice without resorting to violence. I have had many arguments with my Guatemalan husband about this. I am not Christian and I think it’s wrong. How can he, as a Catholic who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ, think that linchamentos are acceptable?

    Ack, now I have got myself all worked up about this again. I just get so mad! Violence is bad, whether it is against women, animals, children, or even ladrones. It can only lead to more violence.

    • Sonia… I love your passion!!

      As far as the Christian, Catholic, non-of-the-above debate. People will call themselves many things but will have morals and values that vary widely from the label they give themselves. My advice: don’t get too caught up in what they CALL themselves and get caught up in how they REPRESENT themselves through their ACTIONS and BEHAVIOR.

      As far as getting worked up… use that!!

      Reading a book by Dan Millman right now called Way of the Peaceful Warrior. In it, one of the characters advises another to use the excess of energy from anger and transform it into positive action. Use it Sonia!!

      Again, love that fighting spirit!!

  • Rachel

    Thank you for sharing the information for the school. It is sometimes hard to weed through all of the charities to find the truly worthy ones. I have been looking for places to make my dollars count to be part of the solution in Guatemala. I will contact this school with a donation.

    Thank you!

    • Rachel!! Awesome!! Abrazote!!! I spoke with them personally and visited their project on several occasions. I would put my name behind them and their organization 100 percent.

      Muchas gracias!!

  • david

    Sonia, I appreciate your point of view, but I disagree on a few points. It doesn’t matter how people are murdered; it is all violently done. I don’t think anyone has been killed by kindness. Domestic violence is terrible and it permeates the whole of Guatemalan society. There is a toxic belief that one must beat their (indigena) woman to show her one’s love for her; better off women are sequestered by their husbands, etc. I do consider the increasing number of women killed as a sign of democratization and equality. Not a good one, but a sign nonetheless.

    • What? David I do not see any logic by your statement: “I do consider the increasing number of women being KILLED as a SIGN OF DEMOCRATIZAION AND EQUALITY.”

      How the heck do you get from

      killing women = democratization and gender equality?????

  • Erick

    There are some very “interesting” point of views on this discussion. Some of them are a bit morbid though, but perhaps something gets lost in translation when trying to explain something in only a few words; a good discussion nonetheless.

  • Pues… no need to contact me if you dare. Contact Las Gravileas directly:

    Website (

    Email (gravileas @

    Project Manager: Dalila de Montoya