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News > Latin America

Indigenous Women Fight Racism and Sexism in Guatemalan Congress

  • An Indigenous woman holds a cross during a march to commemorate the National Day of Dignity for the Victims of Armed Internal Conflict.

    An Indigenous woman holds a cross during a march to commemorate the National Day of Dignity for the Victims of Armed Internal Conflict. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 April 2016

Alta Verapaz Governor Estela Ventura has suffered racist and sexist abuse, including being called a "stupid Indian" by other lawmakers.

Guatemala’s Congress is coming under fire for “racism and discrimination,” particularly against Indigenous people and women, after a governor went public about verbal attacks, psychological violence, and discrimination she suffered at the hands of other lawmakers, the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre reported Monday.

Social Movements Have a Voice in Guatemala's Congress

Various social sectors, particularly women and Indigenous groups, have come together to support Estela Ventura, governor of the north-central department of Alta Verapaz, in fighting against mistreatment and misogyny in Congress despite an alleged smear campaign against her.

Ventura, appointed as governor in February after running for lawmaker with the socialist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity party last year, has singled out four lawmakers in particular for discriminatory treatment, all from President Jimmy Morales’ party. A total of 20 lawmakers have been formally reported to the prosecutor’s office for violence against women and discrimination.

According to the Guatemalan Association of Indigenous Mayors and Authorities, structural racism, especially against Indigenous people, continues to be a major problem in Guatemala and should be considered a cause for national embarrassment.

The Guatemalan Group of Women, focused on working to eliminate violence against women caused by oppression, discrimination, and racism, has stressed the importance of an investigation into the accusations leveled by Ventura.

Femicide in Mesoamerica Persists as Systemic Gender Violence

In a closed-door meeting last week, other lawmakers, namely four from the ruling party, hurled verbal insults and slurs at Ventura, including calling her a “stupid Indian,” Prensa Libre reported.

If proceedings against the accused lawmakers move forward, they could be stripped of parliamentary immunity and face jail time.

Guatemala’s Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women makes punishable any actions that cause “immediate or subsequent damage, physical, sexual, economic, or psychological suffering” as a consequence of being a woman.

Ongoing discrimination in Guatemala compounds a legacy of brutal civil war-era violence, especially violence against Indigenous women.

Ventura’s Alta Verapaz department is particularly significant in this history as the site of the historical sexual slavery and crimes against humanity that recently saw justice served against former military men behind the abuses in a landmark trial known as Sepur Zarco.

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