Posts Tagged ‘Guatemala’


Q’opoj Tz’olojyá: A Tradition Celebrating Sololá’s Women

Translated as “Young lady of Sololá” or “Beauty of Sololá”, Q’opoj Tz’olojyá is a tradition that has been maintained for over 40 years in the department of Sololá, Guatemala. It is not a beauty contest rather a competitive recognition of the strongest and well-rounded Indigenous women of Sololá. The cultural event Q’opoj Tz’olojya’ takes place every July where between 15-20 young Indigenous women compete to prove they are the most knowledgeable about their language, dancing, and traditions, as well as events and issues effecting their communities.

To be elected Q’opoj Tz’olojyá as a young Indigenous woman is a great honor for families in Sololá. The criteria of selection involve a wide and strict range of characteristics that are put to the test over a period of two weeks prior to the one-day coronation event. The candidates must speak, write and read perfectly in their native languages without mixing any Spanish words. They are also requested to perform one of the traditional dances of their Indigenous communities and to demonstrate a talent, or tradition passed on by their elders. On the day of the coronation they are each asked to propose possible solutions to issues effecting their community such as: land and territory rights, Indigenous women’s rights, social development and language preservation.  As one candidate stated, “There is so much corruption in our country, but this experience has demonstrated to me that the solution is in the leadership of indigenous women. May we be those leaders of change, the ones our country needs.” The jury is often composed of elders in the community, linguists, cultural leaders and Indigenous rights experts, all of whom are highly influential in their respective fields.

Similar events are held around the country and some have even been implemented to rescue dying indigenous languages. Such is the story of the Poqomam community of Palin, Escuintla, which began holding their traditional event, “Hija del Pueblo Poqomam.” The elders of the community realized they could be the last generation to communicate in their Poqomam language. The competition was part of an initiative to rescue their language and maintain its purity. As a result, schools and radio programs have increased education about the Poqomam language and the young woman elected as “Hija del Pueblo Poqomam” also encourages the younger generations to speak the language with the same eloquence that she exhibits. There has been much improvement, and much still to be achieved, but the elder generation no longer fears they will be the last Poqomam speakers in their community.

Rabín Ajaw’ is the highest title a young Indigenous women can possess in competitions such as these in Guatemala . Literally translated as “ the Creator’s daughter” or “the Creators favorite,” the title of Rabín Ajaw’ is a rigorous competition in which representatives from all over the country unite to proudly display their language and culture and compete to bring home the highly esteemed title. This year the 47th celebration of Rabín Ajaw’ was held in Cobán, Alta Verapaz with the participation of over 120 aspiring young Indigenous women. This years theme: “Indigenous women’s perseverance and strength during the Armed Conflict”

Unlike stereotypical beauty contests, these events have nothing to do with looks and everything to do with Indigenous identity. They bring more than admirable traditional clothing, candles and lights; they provide a rare and unique moment where Indigenous women are celebrated for their language, culture and knowledge. As one of the young Indigenous candidates to Q’opoj Tz’lojyá stated during her opening speech, “ I vow in respect to the heart of the sky, the heart of mother earth and the legacy of all our Indigenous grandmothers, mothers, young women and girls, victims of the armed conflict.”

Source: Cultural Survival 


Changing Legal Landscape in Canada

Tahoe Resources is asking the Supreme Court of BC to dismiss a lawsuit filed by seven Guatemalan citizens who were allegedly injured by security forces during protests against the Escobal Mine, which is operated by the company’s Guatemalan subsidiary Minera San Rafael. The plaintiffs are pursuing the lawsuit in Canada because “it offers the better opportunity to have their cases heard.”

According to Human Rights Watch, 98 percent of violent crime goes unpunished in Guatemala due to corruption and witness intimidation. Tahoe contends that the case should be heard in Guatemala because Minera San Rafael is a “separate entity” with “very limited connecting factors” to its parent company. In 2013, Hudbay Minerals brought a similar challenge to a lawsuit related to a separate incident in Guatemala, but voluntarily withdrew it.

A judge later dismissed Hudbay’s argument that it is not liable for the actions of its overseas subsidiaries, and the case is currently moving forward in Canada.

Since then, several other Canadian companies have been brought to court domestically over their activities abroad. Besides Tahoe and Hudbay, Nevsun Resources is on trial for alleged human rights abuses in Eritrea, and Joe Fresh is being sued for its alleged responsibility in last year’s deadly garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Sources: Canadian Lawyer


Promoting Citizen Participation Through Radio

Since a report was released on April 16, 2015 by the International Center Against Impunity in Guatemala revealing a disturbing political scandal involving high ranking political figures, Guatemala has been politically unstable. From the resignation of the vice president to the continued protests demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina, Guatemala approaches one of its hardest election years. Not since the 1950’s have the various ethnic and social populations of Guatemala united for a common cause. Preliminary elections are set to be held on September 6, 2015. However, the massive protests around the country propose a null vote, but a null vote has no value, and this concerns many community leaders. The community radio network in Guatemala has launched a series of programs discussing voting rights, citizen responsibility, corruption, youth participation and politics, among others, to build an informed electorate.

“Many political parties have approached me to provide funding in order to promote their political campaigns. I respond the same way I’ve responded for the last 30 years: we represent community radios and media and we do not endorse any political parties,” explained Rene Saenz, legal representative of AMECOS, the Assocation of Community Media in Guatemala. Through various trainings and workshops organized by various non-profits that defend freedom of expression, radio volunteers around the country have produced radio material to help educate the population on their right to vote. “Not voting gives our corrupt government more power. We are all disappointed in the authorities but we must vote because it’s our right. Many people, especially in the rural communities, don’t understand this concept,” said Else Chiquito, radio volunteer and producer at Radio Ixchel in Sumpango, Guatemala.

In partnership with Cultural Survival, a series of 10 radio spots have been produced by radio volunteers from five stations  to be distributed to a network of over 50 community radios. The goal is to inform rural communities about the upcoming elections and their rights. “Our people are more concerned about whether or not there will be rain for the crops this year than about who to vote for. I don’t blame them, but it is our responsibility as community media to inform them in order for them to make an educated, free and informed choice on September 6,” said Santiago Ajcalon, founder of Radio Juventud in Solola. The radio spots focus on informing the listener in his or her respective Indigenous language about the electoral process. Among these topics are the importance of exercising the right to vote, not feeling pressure to vote for one specific political party because they paid them to do so, a common occurrence during elections in Guatemala. There are two specific radio spots addressing  youth voters since there are various social media groups that have sprung up since the scandal that are proposing a null vote feeling disappointed in their leaders. The radio spots produced by youth, children and community leader radio volunteers address these necessary topics to encourage the population to make an educated choice in September.

Guatemala will face serious challenges as September 6 approaches and protests continue. Some protesters have even called for the elections to be suspended this year. It is uncertain what will happen, but the community radio movement is working hard to ensure that Guatemalans are able to make an educated choice about whether to vote or not vote, and if so, for whom..

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Perseverance and Strength of Radio Snuq Jolom Konob

20150526_105449On Tuesday, May 26, 2015, Cultural Survival delivered a radio console and microphone to Radio Snuq Jolom Konob in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. A generous grant from the Swift Foundation allowed Cultural Survival to donate this equipment to the station. Radio Snuq Jolom Konob was shut down on January 19, 2015, by the mayor of Santa Eulalia and his supporters for publicizing protests against hydroelectric companies operating in the region. The station’s premises have remained shut since and all the volunteers have faced threats to keep them from attempting to re-open the radio cabin. Despite these risks, on March 19, 2015, radio volunteers, with the support of various organizations, marched the streets of Santa Eulalia demanding that the mayor unlock the doors to the radio. The event ended in chaos and protests as the mayor and his supporters attacked various journalists and the radio cabin remains shut down.

Radio Snuq Jolom Konob launched their online radio in late March, broadcasting only online since their cabin was still locked down. Lorenzo Mateo, radio volunteer and representative, has been actively seeking help from other organizations to support their efforts in returning the radio to the community. There is a warrant for his arrest and his family has received continuous threats from the mayor and a small group of his supporters. “Most of us volunteers are taking precautions when we travel and work. I know they can arrest me anytime but they can never silence me,” said Mateo.

Upon meeting Cultural Survival staff in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, to receive the equipment, Mateo expressed his sincere gratitude for the continued support for Radio Snuq Jolom Konob. “We are grateful that organizations like Cultural Survival encourage us and are attentive to our well-being as well as that of the community of Santa Eulalia,” said Mateo. “We have launched our radio online and our community at home and abroad continually send us their support via social media. We continue to hope that our radio will return someday.”

Radio Snuq Jolom Konob is still only broadcasting online but will continue to seek legal action against the mayor of Santa Eulalia for violating its freedom of expression. Cultural Survival values the important work Radio Snuq Jolom Konob does for its community and will continue to support its efforts to secure its freedom of expression.

Source: Cultural Survival


Guatemala: Spanish Company Hidro Santa Cruz Denounced Before the World Bank


In April 2015, Cecilia Mérida, the partner of an environmental defender who was arrested and falsely charged and imprisoned in Guatemala testified at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.  She spoke of the damage being inflicted by the Bank’s financing of the Cambalam hydroelectric dam in the municipality of Barillas, Huehuetenango. She testified to the strategies of criminalization being employed by the Guatemalan government and the dam’s Spanish owner – Hidro Santa Cruz – in an attempt to silence local opposition. She spoke first hand about the impacts on families and communities when leaders are illegally detained and imprisoned for months, or even years on end.

The World Bank continues to be a major funder of resource extraction companies around the world, loaning hundreds of millions of dollars each year to companies working in the global South who are unable to guarantee that these investments are not contributing to human rights violations. The tragic situation in Santa Cruz Barillas is an example of this systemic problem: the Inter-American Infrastructure Finance Corporation (CIFI), a US-based private sector lender funded in part by the World Bank, loaned Hidro Santa Cruz more than $8 million for the construction of dam.

Since 2009, Hidro Santa Cruz has been planning a series of dams on the Q’am B’alam river that surrounds the town of Santa Cruz Barillas. The river and its three waterfalls are considered sacred by the Q’anjob’al community, whose ancestors named the river “yellow tiger” in the Q’anjobal language after the animal that was said to drink from its waters. The project would be installed in an area used by the community for ceremonial, recreational, and agricultural purposes. The project will also have significant impacts on the already fragile natural environment. A study by the International Commission on Tropical Biology and Natural Resources found the area of Barillas to be of the highest priority for conservation efforts within Guatemala. Barillas is home to many amphibian and insect species found nowhere else in the world.

The community has twice held referenda and voted unequivocally to reject the exploitation of its natural resources by transnational companies. Nevertheless, the government approved the Cambalam I dam, without the Free, Prior, Informed Consent of the community. To date, 18 men have been arrested after speaking out against the dam, including Cecilia’s partner Ruben Herrera, and have been held imprisoned for up to 8 months at time before eventually they are released to do lack of any evidence of having committed crime. Two men have been killed, one, Andres Francisco Miguel, was shot at by security guards of the company in 2012, and another, teacher Daniel Pedro Mateo,was kidnapped while on his way to a community meeting training environmental defenders in 2013.

Below is the statement by Cecilia Mérida before the World Bank.  (read the original Spanish testimony, here)

I am Cecilia Mérida. I come from the department of Huehuetenango in Guatemala where the town of Santa Cruz Barillas is situated. The Spanish company, Hidralia Ecoener, came to Santa Cruz Barillas in 2008 to begin a hydroelectric project above the Cambalan River on the outskirts of the town. This was carried out without consulting with the population of the town. Hidralia Ecoener has received financing from the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Inter-American Corporation for Infrastructure Financing (ICIF). I am responding on behalf of everyone affected by the hydro project to various questions posed by Oxfam’s report for example: What are the consequences for people on the ground who have been affected by the projects, financed with this money that has come from so far away?

Hidralia Ecoener, incorporated as Hidro Santa Cruz S.A, insisted on the implementation of their project even though the population of Barillas held a community consultation in good faith in 2007, where they decided to protect their lands and territories in the framework of Collective Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The company hired local staff to oversee technical and political control of community organisation. In November 2009, the company sued eight community leaders including my lifelong companion, Rubén Herrera, Mr Pablo Antonio Pablo, and Saúl Méndez. This initiated the practice of prosecuting community leaders with crimes such as: burglary, coercion, threats, aggravated arson, actions against the security of the state, plagiarism, kidnapping, and terrorism.

This gave rise to social unrest in the town and there continued to be violations of human rights. All those who did not support the interests of Hidro Santa Cruz endured acts of intimidation, persecution and criminalisation. In 2011, Rubén Herrera was forced to leave Santa Cruz Barillas, abandoning his work and his involvement with the youth in the town. (abandonando su trabajo y procesos de acompañamiento social a la juventud del municipio.) Towards the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, the conflict escalated to such a degree that the government of Guatemala declared a state of siege in Santa Cruz Barillas, and was able to suppress opposition to the hydro project and facilitate the continuation of Hidro Santa Cruz’s work. The campesino leader, Andrés Francisco Miguel was murdered on May 1st 2012, in an act directed at Pablo Antonio Pablo, who was seriously wounded. The security guards of the company participated in this armed attack and they were acquitted by the Guatemalan courts a year later.

In the wake of the events of May 1st 2012, 17 illegal detentions of community leaders occurred, including Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez. Nine were imprisoned unjustly for nine months, and none of them were proved to be guilty. Rubén Herrera was arrested on March 15th 2013, on demand from Hidro Santa Cruz. He was in prison for three months and was finally released on February 26th 2014 because the Judge considered that there had not been any cause to remain bound to the process. (el Juez consideró que no había causa alguna para mantenerlo ligado a proceso.)

In August 2013, Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez were captured again, accused of murder, femicide and lynching. Those of us in their defence are convinced that this case was assembled by operators of Hidro Santa Cruz, as part of its strategy to criminalise community leadership. After a corrupt trial, they were sentenced to 33 years in prison. Currently the case is under Special Appeal.

In September 2013 another community leader called Mynor López was captured illegally. Later that month, the Guatemalan army and the National Civil Police practically launched a military offensive against the civil population of Santa Cruz Barillas. This has never been seen before, not even during the internal armed conflict, at least not in this municipality.

In February 2015, three other community leaders were detained and imprisoned. Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan and Arturo Pablo (son of Pablo Antonio Pablo). They share the beliefs of everyone else who I have mentioned because they think that the presence of Hidro Santa Cruz is detrimental, and that it will seriously affect the natural surroundings, environment and culture of the area.

After seven years of persecution, the Spanish company and their methods of project installation, gave responses to the questions posed by Oxfam’s report. (Después de siete años de persecución, la empresa española Hidro Santa Cruz y las formas de instalación de sus proyectos, dan respuestas a las preguntas que plantea el informe de OXFAM.)

What are the human costs of loans from financial intermediaries when social and environmental safeguards do not work? The human costs are very high and painful. They materialise as persecution, murder, imprisonment and criminalisation. During the last few years, the communities have not received a single benefit. On the contrary, they have left a peaceful and quiet life for one of fear and terror. All of the energy and human potential has not been devoted to working towards local development from our own perspectives and aspirations; instead we have had to defend ourselves from the abuses of the company, Hidro Santa Cruz.

The human costs materialise in suffering families, wives, and children, due to illness and insecurity. We devote our lives and what little we have, to travel to the prison which is more than 400 miles away, where we seek private rooms with our spouses. All of the communities in this conflict are innocent and yet, it is us who suffer from the effects of bank loans which were thought to “produce development”. For us, the pain and suffering “is the human face of these projects”. We live with the real consequences each day as well as being, as Oxfam’s report indicated, “the poorest and most vulnerable people in developing countries”.

We also have questions: Who will pay us all of the costs that we have had to suffer, for a project that our community never asked for? Will it be the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, ICIF, or Hidro Santa Cruz who are going to compensate us for all the economic, social, and organisational damages which have resulted? Who will return to the families, the years which men have spent in prison?  We know that none of those who have died will come back to us.

Source: Cultural Survival


Guatemala’s Community Radio Movement Marches for Justice


The past few weeks have been extremely important for the political future of Guatemala. On April 16, 2015, the Guatemalan Public Ministry, with the help of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, unraveled one of the most shocking political scandals in the history of the country. The scandal is a multimillion-dollar scheme in which various individuals paid bribes to avoid customs duties on imports. Over 50 citizens, the former and current tax directors and top government officials have been identified and directly linked to the scandal. What is worse is that the private secretary of then vice president Roxana Baldetti was identified as the leader of the scheme. The news broke in Guatemala while the vice president was in South Korea with her private secretary, who fled immediately after the scandal was made public.

Guatemalans immediately organized peaceful marches through a social media movement recognized as the #RenunciaYa movement, calling all citizens to stand up to their corrupt government. On April 25, 2015, tens of thousands of Guatemalans congregated in Guatemala City demanding the resignation of the president and vice resident. Over 20 community radios participated in the march to broadcast the event in various indigenous languages but experienced difficulty as phone and Internet signals were blocked by police. A second march took place on May 1, 2015, where various human rights organizations and even government entities made a presence. A week after the march on May 8, 2015, the vice president of Guatemala presented her resignation.

This past Saturday, May 16, 2015, marches were organized in cities across the country to demand the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina and legal prosecution of all government officials that were involved in the scandal. Members of the community radio movement were present in various cities in Guatemala to broadcast and march alongside other citizens. “They call our work illegal and yet they are robbing our country of millions of dollars. I march for our community radio in Santo Domingo Xenacoj,” said José Sian, a radio volunteer from Radio Nacoj.

In the city of Sololá, Guatemala, Radio Juventud broadcasted live from the central park as the marches progressed throughout the day. Organizers of the march asked radio volunteers to speak of their work and their experience last December when they were raided. “We recognize the power of our community and we stand with them as they stood with us during the raid of Radio Juventud,” expressed Santiago Ajcalón, one of the founders of Radio Juventud.

Guatemala’s community radios continue to fight for legalization of their work, but this does not stop them from fulfilling their important role in providing information and accompanying social movements. The #RenunciaYa movement is probably one of the biggest citizen mobilizations since the 1950’s in Guatemala. As Guatemala continues to fight for justice in the face of this government corruption,  the community radio movement will be right by its side.

Source: Cultural Survival


Human Rights Abuses Funded by the IFC’s Clients

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is being criticized for lending to banks, private equity funds, and other financial intermediaries without ensuring that they comply with its Performance Standards on Social and Environmental Sustainability. This prevents the IFC from knowing whether its Performance Standards are being upheld in its investments.

A report by Oxfam and other NGOs links human rights abuses in Cambodia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, and Laos with projects funded by the IFC’s clients. The report also notes that “the IFC’s flawed system of measuring development impacts of financial intermediary lending means that it has little proof of positive development outcomes.”

Sources: Oxfam


Recognizing Women Leaders at Community Radio Stations in Guatemala

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published February 26, 2015

The legalization of community radio stations has been an on-going struggle for Indigenous communities in Guatemala for almost 20 years. Community radio stations operate in the fear of being raided by the Guatemalan Public Ministry because the current telecommunications law does not allow for non-profit community radio—despite its guarantee in the 1996 Peace Accords, the Guatemalan Constitution, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The constant persecution of community radio operators puts not only the right to freedom of expression at risk, but also the volunteers that maintain the stations are extremely vulnerable.  Despite the odds, radio volunteers continue to advocate in favor of their communities. Indigenous women especially face innumerable obstacles when choosing to participate as radio volunteers.

Indigenous women in Guatemala still live under a highly traditional and patriarchal society. However, in various community radio stations around Guatemala we still see, even if limited, the participation of brave Indigenous women who choose to voice their opinions and educate their communities on air.

In San Pedro La Lugana, Sololá, Radio Sembrador has been a crucial source of information for its small Tzutujil community for over 10 years. Brenda Garcia, a Tzutujil radio broadcaster at Radio Sembrador, has volunteered with the radio for over five years. Brenda hosts several programs both in Spanish and Tzutujil where she talks about topics such as women’s rights, domestic violence, education and the rights of Indigenous Peoples with disabilities. “It feels good to have a space where one can express their ideas and opinions freely, especially as a woman. I am thankful that my family supports me. I may not be making any money but I know I’m making a difference,” says Garcia.

Brenda Garcia at Radio Sembrador's cabin, she is a huge advocate for women's rights in her community and has been a part of the radio for over five years.

Brenda Garcia at Radio Sembrador’s cabin, she is a huge advocate for women’s rights in her community and has been a part of the radio for over five years.

Olga Ajcalon is a radio volunteer at Radio Juventud in Sololá, the radio was recently raided in December 2014 by the National Police. Ajcalon is also a teacher in a small rural village in Sololá where she splits her time between her radio programs and planning for her classes. “I’ve been at the radio for over eight years and many ask me why I continue to do it when I have a full time job,” said Ajcalon. For Ajcalon, as for many radio volunteers, having access to a “on air” space where she can educate and speak freely is a huge resource. “I am not married, so that makes things easier. I don’t know what will happen if I get married. I think things change so much more for a woman when they marry then they do for a man.” In Guatemala, after a woman marries, it is customary even if she is highly educated, that her family will make her choose between raising a family or working. Since traditionally the woman must live with her husband’s family, the way a married woman lives her life is heavily influenced by her husband and his family, even in decisions like volunteering at a radio. Ajcalon hopes to continue at the radio station and she is constantly recruiting and training young women to join Radio Juventud.

Olga Ajcalon is a dedicated volunteer at Radio Juventud, despite her busy schedule with her full time teaching job she trains and recruits young women for Radio Juventud.

Olga Ajcalon is a dedicated volunteer at Radio Juventud, despite her busy schedule with her full time teaching job she trains and recruits young women for Radio Juventud.

In Sumpango, Sacatepequez, one of Radio Ixchel’s goals is to revive the Kaqchikel language and traditions. Elsa Chiquito de Pacache, a determined Kaqchikel woman, began volunteering at Radio Ixchel at the age of 14. “My best friend was offered a position but she declined. I asked her to give me her space and promised that I would take full advantage of it. I’ve been a part of the station since,” expressed Chiquito de Pacache. She is now 26 years old, married, has a daughter and is the current director of Radio Ixchel. “My husband supports me, he always tells me that its good that I take ownership of my identity and that he hopes my daughter takes after me and learns about radio,” said Chiquito de Pacache.

At only 26 years of age, Elsa Chiquito is already an admirable leader in her community of Sumpango. She has been a radio volunteer at Radio Ixchel for 14 years and continues to lead as the current radio directo.

At only 26 years of age, Elsa Chiquito is already an admirable leader in her community of Sumpango. She has been a radio volunteer at Radio Ixchel for 14 years and continues to lead as the current radio directo.

Radio has been a tool that has allowed these strong Indigenous women to pursue their passion for communication. “It is important as Indigenous women to be in radio because in the culture of the past, women were thought of as staying at home and raising kids only. It is important for us to voice our opinions,” said Chiquito de Pacache. “I’ve seen many women join the radio movement enthusiastically, only to leave it once they marry. I am working on creating a network where we can support one another as women broadcasters, so that we have other options after we marry.” shared Garica. The community radio movement in Guatemala will continue to be enriched and strengthened with the increasing leadership that women push for.


Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about. To read about Cultural Survival’s work around the world, click here. To read more articles on the subject use our Search function and explore 40 years of information on Indigenous issues.



Rape, Sex Trafficking, and the Bottom Line: Corporations’ Complicity in Violence Against Women

Rosa Eblira Coc Inh, one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Roger LeMoyne, MacLeans)

Rosa Eblira Coc Inh, one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Roger LeMoyne, MacLeans)

By Katie Cheney

On January 17, 2007, 9 men entered the temporary home of Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, a Mayan Q’eqchi woman in Guatemala. 12 days earlier, Rosa and her family had been forcibly evicted from their home – now, she faced a second eviction, as hundreds of policemen, military, and security workers entered the settlement. After pointing a gun to her head, these 9 officials – one by one – proceeded to rape Rosa. They followed suit with 10 more Mayan Q’eqchi’ women in the community.

Gender-based violence is considered a pandemic by the United Nations, as 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. Women and girls are victims of violence at the hands of their partners, family members, communities, and governments – and now, increasingly, the private sector.

The officials that entered Rosa’s settlement allegedly did so based on a land dispute, between the Fenix mine, then owned by Skye Resources, and the Q’eqchi’ Mayan community of El Estor, Guatemala. The community claims the land on which the mine sits as their Indigenous territory, and has argued that the land concession was granted without the community’s consultation or consent. Skye Resources allegedly hired security officers to “guard” the mine against the local community – the same security officers that carried out the evictions and rapes in El Estor In 2007.

On March 28, 2011, the 11 Q’eqchi rape survivors filed a lawsuit in Ontario’s Superior Court against Hudbay Minerals, which acquired Skye Resources in 2008. It is the first time a Canadian court is hearing a case against a Canadian mining company for overseas human rights abuses. The company is also facing lawsuits from the El Estor community for shootings in 2009 that left one man dead and another paralyzed, investigations into which are ongoing in Guatemala. Hudbay Minerals has denied all allegations against them, saying they are “without merit”, and has vowed to “vigorously defend itself” against the allegations of rape. The company’s stance on its former operations in Guatemala can be accessed on its website.

Rape: A Weapon of Corporate Warfare

In 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited CEO’s and Corporate Executives the world over to join in the fight to end violence against women and girls – but what about corporations that are perpetrating, and at the very least permitting, violence against women?

Over the past decade, more and more cases of corporations complicit in violence against women have surfaced across the globe, particularly in the extractive industry. Anvil Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo provided transportation (planes and vehicles) to the Congolese Armed Forces as they raped and tortured civilians near Anvil’s Dikulushi copper mine. Unocal Oil Corporation was sued for permitting (and arguably encouraging) rape, slave labor, murder, and forced displacement during the constructing of their gas pipeline in Burma. Royal Dutch Shell Oil is infamous for suppressing protests against their operations in Nigeria in the early 1990s, during which the military systematically targeted Ogoni villages, murdering, looting, and raping Ogoni women – on behalf of Shell’s operations.

An overwhelming number of lawsuits against extractive corporations that cite human rights abuses include rape and sexual assault of women. Rape has been used as a weapon of war for centuries, and was deemed a war crime in 1998 as a result of the Rwandan genocide. According to UNICEF, “Sexual violation of women erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can. Rape’s damage can be devastating because of the strong communal reaction to the violation and pain stamped on entire families. The harm inflicted in such cases on a woman by a rapist is an attack on her family and culture, as in many societies women are viewed as repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values.” Albeit on a smaller scale, corporations are waging wars against communities, and using sexual violence as a weapon.


Bakken: the Sex Trafficking Boom

While many of these cases happen internationally, extractive corporations have not excluded the United States from this trend of gender-based human rights abuses. The Bakken oil formation in North Dakota has boomed – over the past five years, it has increased daily production of oil from 200,000 barrels to 1.1 million barrels, becoming the second most oil-productive state in the country. Thousands of highly-paid workers have flocked to the region, settling in “man camps” that encroach upon the Native American Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. The combined influx of cash and oil workers has sparked a considerable crime wave – crime has tripled on the reservation in the past 2 years, including murders, aggravated assaults, rapes, and robberies – 90% of which are drug related. Most alarmingly, a burgeoning illegal sex trade in the region has put Native American women hugely at risk to sex trafficking.

The trafficking of Native American women started in the colonial era, and has not abated – many major sex trafficking centers in North America are in cities in proximity to First Nations reserves, Indian Reservations, and Alaskan Native communities. Of female trafficking victims in the U.S., Native American women are disproportionately over-represented – in Anchorage, 33% of the women arrested for prostitution were Alaska Native, yet Alaska Natives make up only 7.9% of the population. In Canada, researchers have found that 90% of children in the sex trade were Native, and First Nations women and youth represent between 70 and 90% of the visible sex trade in areas where the Aboriginal population is less than 10%.

Reports of Native American women and girls being trafficked to the Bakken has put the Three Affiliated Tribes community on high alert – according to Sadie Bird, director of the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence, “We’re in crisis mode, all the time, trying to figure out…these new crises that are coming to us that we never thought we’d have to worry about. No one was prepared for any of this.” While trafficking has been a concern among Native populations in Minnesota and North Dakota for a long time, what’s unique about the spike in sex trafficking in the Bakken is its source of fuel – the oil workers.

How have companies operating in the Bakken responded to this trend? They haven’t. Companies including Apache, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Hess have taken zero responsibility for their workers’ collusion in the growing sex trade, increased drug violence, and general crime wave in Fort Berthold over the past two years, let alone the rest of the Bakken region.

Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. photo credit: Carrie Snyder / The Forum]

Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. photo credit: Carrie Snyder / The Forum]


Zero Corporate Social Responsibility

There is no indication that companies are having any substantive conversations about the impacts of their operations in the Bakken region. This trend of neglecting social risks, as companies in the Bakken have done repeatedly, has permeated corporate interactions with the communities they impact across the globe.

In the example of the Hudbay Minerals case in Guatemala, the company could have avoided its current legal challenges, had it given stronger attention to the social risks involved with acquiring Skye Resources. Despite making a number of community investments (link), the company remains exposed to financial, legal, and reputational risks related to the actions of its predecessor in the concession.

Hudbay is not the only one with poor social risk management. First Peoples Worldwide’s Indigenous Rights Risk Report found that only 8% of U.S. oil, gas, and mining companies have operating policies that address human rights or community relations. According to the report, virtually all communities that host or are proximate to extractive projects are unprotected from the project’s potential negative impacts – as we’ve seen, given case after case of corporate abuses against women.


The Price of Cooperation

Corporations can’t get much worse than perpetrating violence against women – except when they attempt to bribe their victims to keep quiet. Barrick Gold’s Porgera gold mine has produced more than 16 million ounces of gold since 1990, an amount equivalent to about US$20 billion today. To protect the mine, Barrick employed a private security force of nearly 450 personnel, who also monitor the mine’s waste dumps. Hundreds of local people scour the waste dumps daily in search of minute traces of gold, at the risk of arrest by the company’s security officers.

At least 170 women have allegedly been raped at the Porgera mine as of 2013, by those same security officers employed by Barrick Gold. A report from Human Rights Watch recounts horrifying stories of gang rape and physical abuse, in the name of “protecting” the waste dumps from illegal mining. Many women reported that after they were arrested, they were given a choice between gang rape or going to prison and paying fines. Several were raped regardless of their choice to go to prison.

It allegedly took Barrick Gold 5 years to acknowledge the rapes. In 2013, the company set up a grievance process at the mine site to receive complaints from the rape victims – allegedly forcing women to return to the site of their attack. In Barrick Gold’s remediation strategy, if womens’ reports of rape were validated by the company’s complaints process, they qualified to receive a benefits package – on the condition that “the claimant agrees that she will not pursue or participate in any legal action against [Barrick Gold or its subsidiaries] in or outside of [Papua New Guinea].” Barrick Gold’s conditional remediation package, including items such as access to counseling and micro-credit, is an appallingly inhuman response to the rape of 170 women.

Not surprisingly, a chillingly similar case occurred at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania, where police and security guards sexually assaulted 14 women, originally arrested for also scouring waste dumps for tiny bits of gold. This is in addition to allegations that security police at the North Mara mine killed six local villagers and injured many more.

Barrick Gold has repeatedly made systemic failures in both recognizing and addressing the social risks of their mining operations, and at this point, hundreds of people have faced sexual assault and violence because of it.


Corporate Warfare

Imagine if we were to add Barrick’s number of rape victims to those attributed to Hudbay Minerals, Shell, Anvil Mining, and Unocal Oil. Then, we accounted for every sex trafficking victim in the Bakken, whose exploitation was supported by various extractive corporations’ employees. To be thorough, we add in the number of murder, torture, and assault victims linked to corporate abuses. War has traditionally been defined as conflict between political entities – yet if we consider corporations collectively, is their accumulation of victims and use of force not increasingly similar to warfare?

Account after account of gender-based violence is adding up to a war – waged by corporations, against women. Their weapon of choice: rape, sex trafficking, and violence, all for the sake of the bottom line.



Indigenous Women as Development Practitioners: conducting equality-driven projects without sacrificing cultural significance

By Elizabeth Gunggoll

The encroachment of Western culture on Indigenous communities has posed a myriad of consequences for Indigenous peoples – Indigenous languages are increasingly endangered; western education is replacing traditional knowledge; youth are moving to urban areas in droves. What starts as marginalization of an entire community by the government or state can turn into a power struggle of the sexes. More often than not, Indigenous women find themselves losing the social status they traditionally held, to have it replaced by a role that gives them less influence in their household or community.

In this way, Indigenous women are marginalized twofold: one, as being Indigenous, along with the rest of their community, and two, as women. For example, non-Indigenous women across Africa lack rights to inheritance, property/livestock ownership, and land tenure. The same lack of rights for Indigenous women, paired with ethnic and political marginalization that all Indigenous peoples face, predisposes them further to situations of poverty, gender-based violence, a lack of education, and other disadvantages.


Ma’an – The Forum for Bedouin Women’s Organizations in the Negev

For the Negev Bedouin community in Israel, women have lost their traditional respected status and societal roles due to increased discrimination from the state, to the point where many Bedouin villages are considered “unrecognized”. This marginalization from the state gave rise to the marginalization of Bedouin women from their own community. Bedouin women face a multitude of gender-based challenges, including polygamy, domestic violence, child marriages, and a patriarchal family and community structure that has lasting consequences into adulthood. For Negev Bedouin women, their greatest limitation is a lack of both individual and community awareness of rights and entitlements. So the question is: what could be done to help Indigenous Bedouin women regain their autonomy, and restore their ability to trust others?

Ma’an – The Forum for Bedouin Women’s Organizations in the Negev works to provide spiritual, emotional, and physical healing for Bedouin women who are or have been subjected to domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. In a community where seeking help is often discouraged, trust is developed between those reaching out for help and those lending “first aid”, by offering sympathy as well as practical solutions to their struggles. The fact that most of the volunteers are Bedouin women with similar experiences offers a degree of comfort to those seeking help, because “they themselves [face] the traditional and patriarchal codes.” With the help of First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund, Ma’an has created a comprehensive system for women’s protection, which involves a Hotline, the Ma’an legal team, and staff to address the welfare and wellbeing of Ma’an’s beneficiaries. Such an attentive project enables an environment where Indigenous Bedouin women can work toward their own security.

“With guidance and support the beneficiaries will develop to be able to effectively advocate for their rights within the community, so creating and contributing to an inclusive society by participating in decision making processes that impact upon their lives and that of the wider community.” – Ma’an– The Forum for Bedouin Women’s Organizations in the Negev

Ultimately, Ma’an’s goal is for Indigenous Bedouin women to regain the respect, strong social footing, and economic capabilities they once held alongside their male counterparts. By promoting women’s rights and status in the Negev Bedouin community, the project will build on the community’s traditional values and strengths of respecting women’s roles.


Kakenya Center for Excellence

While some Indigenous women’s groups are trying to return to their traditional gender roles, others are looking to transcend traditional values in order to broaden their horizons. As a young girl growing up in a Maasai village, life is usually predetermined according to cultural traditions, and girls are expected to halt their schooling at a young age to become wives and mothers. Young Maasai women might not consider more prosperous and enlightening opportunities, simply because they aren’t aware of them. This cycle of marginalization is reinforced from one generation to the next, as a combination of doubting teachers and tribal elders “dictating [their] present and future without considering [their] social, financial, or emotional well-being”. So, while young Indigenous girls are essentially dissuaded from continuing their education in order to assume the role of the childrearing homemaker, they lose the opportunity to gain important insight into their rights.

This is where the Kakenya Center for Excellence, another Keepers of the Earth Fund recipient, comes into play. Kakenya Ntaiya, born and raised in the Maasai village of Enoosaen in south Kenya, diverged from the traditional path of women in her village to attend higher education in the United States. After completing her studies, she returned to Enoosaen to create a school which works to “empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their community and country.”

[photo credit: Kakenya Center for Excellence]

[photo credit: Kakenya Center for Excellence]

“Girls are a valuable part of the community, and since the entire community is connected and thrives when each individual thrives, it is important to invest in girls as crucial members and contributors of society rather than only wives and mothers.” – The Kakenya Center for Excellence

The center works to reinforce the fact that women are independent, and therefore capable of carving their own path, however it does so without sacrificing traditional Maasai values. To do this, KCE provides an environment where the girls can thrive. The teaching of leadership skills and the spreading of knowledge in order to make informed decisions about reproductive health forms a curriculum that not only empowers, but also enlightens. In the Maasai village of Enoosaen, as in many rural villages of Kenya, Female Genital Mutilation is a rite of passage into adulthood that also traditionally prepares them for marriage – however the procedure is extremely painful and often inflicts lasting physical damage to young girls. Instructors in the center let the girls know that FGM is not an obligation while also maintaining the spirit behind the ritual, and the ushering into adulthood it represents, through their own graduation ceremony. All in all, the Kakenya Center for Excellence demonstrates that it is indeed possible to hold on to cultural values while still developing one’s community in a direction of gender-equality.


Highland Women’s Association

Indigenous women living in microregions of Guatemala are confronted with similar challenges. The Maya population, making up much of the country’s rural poor, suffered genocide from the Guatemalan government during their civil war. In 1992, four years before the end of the war, AMA, or the Highland Women’s Association (Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano), started working with widows and orphans in the Quiche region, one of the most affected by the armed conflict. AMA’s goal was to help the most isolated and marginalized women living in the highlands of Guatemala through community organizing, educational instruction, utilization of economic resources and production, and partnership that allows for a life of dignity, while initiating sustainable developmental processes.

“The mission of AMA is to break cycles of dependency by providing accompaniment and support to grassroots community leaders to foster transformational processes with Indigenous women.” The transformational process, meaning lifting people out of poverty through social change and economic dependency, is facilitated through small organized women’s circles led by trained community organizers, often of Maya descent. Empowerment and leadership skills are developed through a curriculum organized around four focal areas: self-esteem and mental health programming, education, civic participation, and private enterprise.

Traditional Maya practices and values are not lost with the installation of these new programs.

“In our meetings, we try to harmonize the material aspects of our daily lives with our spiritual life through our Maya worldview taught to us by our grandparents.” Guadalupe Ramirez Blevins, Directora, Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano

This is in part a large reason for their success as a system of development practitioners. The Indigenous Maya women are able to regain pride and empowerment in their traditional values, as opposed to distancing themselves from the culture that sparked a civil war wishing to extinguish their existence.

AMA’s success has helped to re-instill freedom of expression among Maya women as more respect is being given to Indigenous Maya communities since the end of the civil war. Three generations starting from AMA’s founder, Doña Carmen Romero, her daughter Alejandra, and now her granddaughters Jesica and Yolanda are able to vouch for the success and empowerment that AMA has brought to Indigenous Maya women. They say that community organization is required for community development, for having a voice and power in community decision making, and also in order to inspire other women to be active among their own group of women – whether they are serving in their local school, community committees, or being an active member in their church.


Pastoral Women’s Council

Safeguarding cultural values while escaping gender inequality continues to be an important factor in other community development projects as well. The Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), based in Northern Tanzania, implements a variety of programs with this goal in mind. Not only does PWC work towards providing an education for Maasai girls, but it also lifts marginalized Maasai women out of poverty through exposure to property ownership and opportunities for income generation, while preserving an ancient Maasai practice of livestock herding.

[photo credit: Pastoral Women's Council]

[photo credit: Pastoral Women’s Council]

Aside from working with the Maa Council of Elders to lift the ban on women as livestock owners, exposure to women in leadership has had a great effect on the women of the Maasai community. Additionally, women are encouraged to openly discuss the positive and negative aspects of Maasai culture, to act on their findings, and to mobilize local efforts and resources. These factors, on top of increased awareness of their individual rights, caused Maasai women to finally feel empowered. The encouragement of such expression lets the Maasai women know they have a voice worth hearing, and everyone is capable of being an agent of change.

Since becoming a Keepers of the Earth Fund grantee, PWC has been able to undertake community meetings and gain community support, acquire and vaccinate livestock for Maasai women to breed, therefore facilitating economic independence, and train women on the diagnosis and treatment of livestock diseases.


All women, Indigenous or not, feel the effects of gender inequality on a daily basis. However, for women of Indigenous communities, the effects are often compounded by the unique marginalization of their Indigenous identity. As Western culture inevitably continues to influence more Indigenous nations, it is important to bring attention to and promote Indigenous values that value Indigenous women. Feelings of empowerment grow and thrive in programs where Indigenous women are sharing education and leadership with other women from their own communities, empowering them to be autonomous, independent members of society. There is still quite a bit of work to be done, yet more and more Indigenous women are living the lives of development practitioners, and being agents of change within their communities. As it becomes more evident that the entire community thrives when each individual is empowered, the reality of gender equality within Indigenous cultures comes more clearly into view.