Aug 29, 2011

Guatemala’s elections are just around the corner


By Lisa Maya Knauer

Nearly every day since my arrival in Guatemala in January, I am humbled and inspired by the Maya K’iche’ women’s efforts to make themselves seen and heard in a society in which they are triply marginalized: because they are Maya, because they live in isolated rural communities, and because they are women.  

For the last several months I have been working closely with Maya women in the department of El Quiché, Guatemala – the poorest of Guatemala’s 22 departments. These women mostly live in isolated rural settlements, with few if any public services – things that we take for granted like paved roads and potable water, or running water of any kind, are nearly non-existent. Jobs are even scarcer; most households rely upon subsistence agriculture, but the failure of agrarian reform has left most families with inadequate land to support themselves.

Women are especially affected by the lack of economic opportunity and services: domestic violence is rampant, and the maternal death rate is high.  Many rural women are illiterate and speak little Spanish; this, combined with blatant racism and machismo, puts them at a tremendous disadvantage when they confront public institutions and officials.

Guatemala’s elections are just around the corner (Sunday, September 11). All too often, elections are decided by bribes, corruption and violence.  Together with a few colleagues and comrades in Guatemala and the U.S., I have launched a voter education and outreach initiative – Women’s Political Participation/Participación Política de Mujeres -- to help ensure that these women can exercise their democratic rights freely, without fear, and vote for candidates who will understand and advocate for their needs.  But I need your help to make this happen.

With only a few weeks to go before the elections, we need to prepare voter education materials in K’iche’ – both written materials and radio spots -- and hold information and outreach workshops in rural communities.  In the department, there are now about 30 Maya K’iche’ women, longtime organizers and advocates for rural women, who are running for local and national offices. We hope that if Maya women voters can be educated and empowered to participate in the electoral process, they can elect officials who will understand their needs, advocate on their behalf, and institute programs that truly serve Maya communities.

Can you please make a contribution of $10 – or even $5 -- to allow us to move forward?

We have launched a website so that we can raise funds online, and here’s the link:

You’ll see brief biographies of two of the candidates, and also a letter from Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú (presidential candidate for the Frente Amplio de la Izquierda – Broad Front of the Left) who is enthusiastically supporting our efforts.

So I’d like you to do two things:

1)            Make a contribution in whatever amount you can.  We know times are tough, but $10, or even $5 will go a long way. If you can contribute $25, or even $50, that would be extraordinary.  We’ve set up a PayPal link so you can make a contribution on the website.  We did not have time to set up an alliance with a U.S.-based non-profit, but the money will be handled by Asociación Por Nosotras/Ixmukané, a registered NGO.

2)            Please send this information to other friends, or post it on websites or lists to which you subscribe. This is completely a grassroots effort, and we only make this happen with your help.  It’s probably most effective if you write a short personal cover note, although you are welcome to copy this letter and include it.


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