Gender equality and Ending Violence Against Women: Themes of Early March

Girls’ education is a major topic of concern among the young women I have interviewed in the last few weeks. It is also a goal and desired outcome among those who are managing vocational programs for youth at risk in Guatemala. Institutional Violence Against Women (VAW) in Latin America undermines girls’ education and their full human development. This blog focuses on these themes as keystones of both, my Fulbright field research activities as well as other scholarship that I’m carrying out in Guatemala. The highlight of this week has been the launching of a book in Spanish that addresses the issue of a particular form of violence against women and girls: child abduction for inter-country adoption.

For my doctoral dissertation in Guatemala during 2011-2012, I developed a working definition of child abduction and documented the experience of Guatemalan women whose children were abducted from 2006 (when their babies and girls were stolen) to the time of the interviews in April-May 2012. My research took place after numerous  allegations of adoption irregularities in the old notary system of adoptions. Adoptions in Guatemala were suspended and a new adoption law in Guatemala was enacted in 2008. These irregularities were also documented in the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala 2010 report.

Several of the youth at risk education programs that I have learned about during this past month, emphasize the participation of girls in these educational program and some of them only support girls. The programs do it as a form of affirmative action to address the severe gender inequality historically prevalent in Guatemala, to prevent early pregnancy among girls, to promote the education of girls and young women and to enable their empowerment to address violence against women in a country with high levels of femicide (killing of women) and feminicide (institutionalization of violence against women, specially within government institutions). The long-term impact that these programs also seek is to promote gender are parity in society, particularly within government, which is one of the issues of debate in the Guatemalan Congress during this month.

According to a 2011 study, El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide, or gender-motivated killing of women in the world. Guatemala is third and Honduras is close behind at sixth. These rates have been increasingly alarming in recent years. In El Salvador, the rate of femicide has increased from fewer than 200 reported cases in the year 2000, to over 600 cases in 2011. Similarly, reported cases of domestic violence in El Salvador have increased from around 1,500 cases in 2000, to over 6,000 cases each year in 2009 and 2010. Guatemala and Honduras have also experienced significant increases in the past decade. (Center for Gender and Refugee Studies)

Because prevention of VAW is one of the top priorities among the educational organizations and communities with whom I have interacted in implementing my Fulbright research on at-risk youth in Guatemala, the launching of my book in Spanish becomes another resource and forum of discussion of VAW, as well as gender equality. The book is titled “Implications of Child Abduction for Human Rights and Child Welfare Systems: A Constructivist Inquiry of the Lived Experience of Guatemalan Mothers Publically Reporting Child Abduction for Inter-country Adoption” and it was launched at an educational event in Guatemala City. Gender equality and parity were the main themes during the closing of this seminar and book presentation held on March 7th in Geneva House. The Women’s Institute of the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, (IUMUSAC), offered the program in occasion of International Women’s Day. The event was sponsored by the Commission of the National Association of Action for Children, Youths and Families (ACONANI), with funding from IBIS and the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner – Guatemala.

Speakers of the seminar and book presentation included Lic. Patricia Borrayo, Executive Director, IUMUSAC, who gave opening remarks and welcomed participants; Dr. Guisela Lesbia López, Project Coordinador, Instituto Universitario de la Mujer de la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (IUMUSAC), who moderated the event; and Lic. Miriam Maldonado, Coordinator of the Department of Teaching of the USAC and IUMUSAC advisor, who wrote the foreword of the book, and facilitated the collaboration between the IUMUSAC and the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)’s School of Social Work during the dissertation work I conducted in Guatemala. As a Assistant Profession of Elon University, a Guest Lecturer of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Guatemala (2015-2016), I presented the voices of the interviewed mothers and research contributions of my dissertation research. The Lic. Norma Cruz, Consultative Director, Fundación Sobrevivitentes spoke about the pending cases of children stolen for inter-country adoption –this was the gatekeeper organization for my dissertation work. In addition, Dr. María José Ortiz Samayoa, General Director, Consejo Nacional de Adopciones (CNA) talked about the state of national adoptions in Guatemala after the suspensions of international adoptions –the CNA is the governmental organization entrusted with the implementation of the Hague convention on child protection and intercountry adoption that I studied for my dissertation research. The seminar and book presentation event was attended by about 50 participants from women’s groups, universities, social organizations and municipalities from Alta and Baja Verapaz provinces.

After this successful event, I spent part of this week pursuing the possibility of holding other forums/ book discussions in Guatemala. A presentation is confirmed for April 12 during a regular weekly meeting of the Vista Hermosa Rotary Club held at the German Club. Two other seminars/book presentations are scheduled at the Central Library of the Universidad of San Carlos of Guatemala (USAC) in late April and the San Andres USAC historical facility at Antigua Guatemala in early May. These events will be sponsored by the IUMUSAC, DIGI (USAC’s research institute) and hopefully the Schools of Social Work and Law at the USAC. The Center of Mexican and Central American Studies (CEMCA) will also support these events, as I’m also a CEMCA associate researcher since January 2016.

The forum discussions and book presentations that I report in this blog have become another vehicle to locate possible partner and gatekeeper organizations for my Fulbright research on youth at risk. This is because most of the individuals and organizations attending have a particular interest in the welfare of children and youth in Guatemala. I’ll be posting additional information regarding these events in future blogs!



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