Guatemaltecas

“Empowerment advocates within and outside Guatemala often cite organizational structure as key to the empowering process. They argue that women’s interests will best be served by autonomous, nonhierarchical organizations in which women organize themselves, set organizational goals, and determine struggles and strategies. Autonomous organizing frees women from subordination to political parties, unions, movements, and agencies while providing them with the structural facility within which to construct, articulate, and struggle for gendered identities and interests.”
An excerpt from Guatemaltecas: The Women’s Movement by Susan A. Berger

From my experience with TRAMA I believe this to be true in theory, however funding is always an issue. Also, TRAMA does have the need for officers due to language barriers and educational gaps. However, one of the strengths of the association is its autonomy and the fact that the members set their own wages and goals. As a volunteer at TRAMA you are given a tremendous amount of freedom to initiate projects, but it is always clear that no decisions are made without the approval of the women themselves. After the years of Civil War in Guatemala when women gained more power and freedom they began to imagine possibilities for themselves that were previously unthinkable; TRAMA Textiles is an example of an organization born out of those times. But what led up to this development?

Women have always participated in their communities individually, just not collectively. There is a history of social, political and economic subordination of women in Guatemala. The right to vote was finally won in 1945. Upperclass mestiza, mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry, women were confined to the home and indigenous women who worked outside of the home out of necessity were stigmatized. The men who ‘allowed’ them to do so were not considered masculine.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s women began to organize to confront increasing state repression, the rising cost of living and land consolidation. The political and economic crisis undermined the socially constructed gender roles and allowed them to shift slightly. In 1979-1985 the Guatemalan military killed approximately 200,000 people (mainly indigenous), leaving 100,000 children orphaned. The state confiscated land and sought to modernize the rural economy by reorganizing and controlling rural community life. The government would not allow indigenous communities to openly practice their traditions.

Out of this hardship women were drawn to four primary types of organizations: human rights, economic-based, student and revolutionary. As women organized they analyzed the roots of their problems and began to question both external and internalized notions of what it meant to be a woman, and a Guatemalteca. Unfortunately patriarchy continued even within the revolutionary movements. The men expected the women to fulfill a domestic role- cooking for the men, cleaning up after the men, etc. Problems between the women occurred as well; primarily how mestiza and indigenous women could come together to work toward common goals. This can still be an issue, but women in Guatemala are working to find unity within diversity. As with all of the women’s movements around the world, the history of the Guatemalan Women’s Movement is still being written.

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