Violence against women in Guatemala

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A woman from Guatemala.
Guatemala is a country of approximately 15 million people, situated in Central America, bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, Honduras to the east and El Salvador to the southeast.

Violence against women in Guatemala reached severe levels during the long-running Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), and the continuing impact of that conflict has contributed to the present high levels of violence against women in that nation.[1] During the armed conflict, rape was used as a weapon of war.[2]


Femicide in Guatemala is an extremely serious problem. According to a 2012 report by the Small Arms Survey, Guatemala has the third highest rate of femicide in the world, behind only El Salvador and Jamaica.[3] According to official figures, 560 women were murdered in the country in 2012, 631 in 2011 and 695 in 2010, though the exact number is not known.

Murders rarely result in any conviction and often are not properly investigated; less than 4 percent of all homicide cases result in conviction for the perpetrators.[4][5] Perpetrators are confident they will get away with murder, in part because of the "machismo" culture in Latin America. This culture allows women to be treated as objects rather than humans; equality and basic rights granted to men are not even in question for women.[6] Rape culture and victim blaming are the tactics that go along with machismo, and both men and women largely agree with the misogynistic tendencies that have survived for so long.[7]

Attacks on women activists[edit]

Women who work as public activists, such as human rights defenders, including activists working to protect land and natural resources, face violence, threats, reprisal, and illegal arrests. Such acts are often committed by government authorities and security forces.[8]

Sexual violence[edit]

Sexual violence is widespread in Guatemala. There are about 10,000 cases of reported rape per year, but the total number is likely much higher because of under-reporting due to social stigma. According to Doctors without Borders, "Survivors [of sexual violence] are stigmatized and they cannot easily find treatment in Guatemala yet. There are no resources and too little comprehension of patients’ needs by the doctors."[9]

Sexual violence against adolescent girls[edit]

Many survivors are adolescent girls, leading to Guatemala having the highest teen pregnancy and preteen pregnancy rates in Latin America.[10] Girls as young as 10 years old are impregnated by rape, and they usually carry these pregnancies to birth. Most of these instances of sexual violence are perpetrated by the girl's father or other close male relative (89%). These men do not suffer consequences largely because of the lack of education, poverty, and lack of social respect for women.[11] According to photo activist Linda Forsell,[12] most young girls face expulsion from school if they are visibly pregnant.

Effects of militarization[edit]

The increased militarization of Guatemala has resulted in abuse and mistreatment of the people of Guatemala.[13] Militarism spreads a perception of brutality and makes it easier to access weapons, which makes the rates of domestic violence against women go up.[8] Guatemala’s military has a hefty history of human rights violations.[14] Murders, torture, and missing people became a daily reality for people in Guatemala.[15] Most findings show that in communities where there is an army present tend to have more violence against women.[8] The Guatemalan military is also correlated with corruption. Recent records state that the government and military are often associated with criminal activity.[16]

Increased military presence to combat the War on Drugs[edit]

Militarization came to Guatemala in the early 1980s.[8] In Guatemala, as well as in other parts of Latin America, there is an intense "war on drugs", that is a conflict between state forces and drug cartels, which has taken a violent turn. As a result of the war on drugs, there is a widespread presence of the military throughout the country thanks to three military bases in known drug trafficking areas.[17] Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, said, "The war on drugs and increased militarization in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala is becoming a war on women."[18]

The military's role in public safety initiatives[edit]

From 2006 to 2011, the budget the military was allotted went from sixty-three million United States dollars to one hundred and seventy-five million dollars.[8] Otto Pérez Molina became the first military official to be elected as president.[14] Shortly after being elected president in 2012, Pérez increased the role of the military in fighting crime.[17] Soldiers now are assigned public safety duties that would normally be reserved for police forces.

As of 2013 there were twenty-one thousand troops deployed to assist in public safety duties.[14]

Violence against indigenous women[edit]

Amerindian (indigenous) women in Guatemala face high levels of violence by the military, and state authorities.[19][20][21] It is very difficult for indigenous women to obtain justice. Many of them have not received school education, and live in extreme poverty. Girls in indigenous communities do not attend school because of the distance from their homes to school.[22] Indigenous population is estimated at 39.8% of Gatemala's population (in 2012).[23] High illiteracy rates and the fact that they do not speak Spanish makes the justice system limited for them.[13]

During the civil war, many indigenous women were forced into sexual slavery by the military. In 2016, a court in Guatemala ordered two former military officers to pay over $1m (£710,00) to 11 indigenous women whom they held as sex slaves during the civil war.[24]

Forced and child marriage[edit]

Early marriage of girls is common in Guatemala; the country has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Latin America.[25] Girls from poor rural communities are often forced into marriages at young ages: through this, parents attempt to secure financial support for the girl.[25] In order to curb this practice, the government raised the marriageable age to 18 (16 only with judicial consent).[26][27]

Mob violence[edit]

As in other countries where the population does not trust the authorities, people in Guatemala often enforce informal 'justice' by subjecting to violence and even murdering individuals whom they believe have violated moral standards. For example, in 2015, a 16-years old girl was burnt alive by a Guatemalan lynch mob, after reportedly being accused of being part of a group that killed a taxi driver.[28] [29]

Problems within the justice system[edit]

After years of violence, dictatorship, and conflict, Guatemala's public institutions are ineffective, including its justice system. Authorities do not always conduct proper investigations. A minority of the reported crimes against women go to trial, and even fewer result in a conviction. According to Nobel Women's Initiative, in the 1980s, 200,000 people were murdered, and thousands of women were raped. Many cases similar to these have not gone to trial.[8] Of the complaints about violence against women that were registered in 2010 by the Judicial Department, only one percent of them resulted in sentencing.

Law enforcement often fails to investigate in a timely manner and blame the victims of the case.[13] Many women abandon their cases because the stress and hardship put onto them.[13] Without proper trials, investigations, and sentencing, the violence towards women will progressively increase.

Women are often murdered or subjected to violence by family members such as fathers, brothers, stepfathers and husbands,[30] but when they try to report a crime that was done by family members, the women themselves are often treated as criminals for complaining.[8] Discrimination in the justice system is one of the many problems women face in Guatemala. The justice system discriminates against others' race, class, sex, and ethnicity.[8] Discrimination is worst for women who are poor, migrant, young, lesbian, and those that demand justice.[8]

There is a lack of female representation in the political system.[31] As of 2015, only 13.9% of members of Parliament were women.[32]

The justice system is limited for people who do not speak Spanish.[13] This means that the women must be educated in order to protect their rights. The 2008 law against femicide and other forms of violence against women has enforced people to treat women equally. The 2008 law addressed the private and public crimes in Guatemala.[13] Women in Guatemala are often uninformed of their rights and do not have the courage to report the crimes committed against them.[31]


Guatemala has started to take legislative action against violence against women in the 1990s: in 1996 it enacted Ley para prevenir, sancionar y erradicar la violencia intrafamiliar (Law on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Domestic Violence).[33] In 2008, it enacted Ley contra el Femicidio y otras Formas de Violencia Contra la Mujer (Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women),[34] and in 2009 it enacted Ley contra la violencia sexual, explotación y trata de personas (Law against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons).[35]


  1. ^ Villareal, Ryan (January 18, 2013). "Half The Sky Is Falling: Systemic Violence Against Women In Guatemala Ripples From Brutal Civil War". International Business Times. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Guatemala shock as two murdered girls found on street". BBC News. 
  3. ^ Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Struggling with femicide and impunity for crimes against women in Central America". 
  4. ^ "Time to end the inaction over killings of women in Guatemala". 
  5. ^ "Guatemala". 
  6. ^ "'Femicide' on the rise in Central America". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  7. ^ "Guatemala: Gender-based violence at epidemic levels -". CNN. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i From Survivors to Defenders: Women Confronting Violence in Mexico, Honduras & Guatemala (PDF). Nobel Women's Initiative. 
  9. ^ "Guatemala: Treating Sexual Violence, Breaking the Cycle of Fear". MSF USA. 
  10. ^ "Guatemala has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America, and it's getting worse -". The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  11. ^ "Fathers rape with impunity, fuelling Guatemala's teen pregnancies: rights group". Reuters. 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  12. ^ "Raped, Pregnant Girls Are The Focus Of This Searing Photo Project". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f Musalo, Karen. "Crimes Without Punishment" (PDF). 
  14. ^ a b c "Rethinking the Drug War in Central America and Mexico". 
  15. ^ Archibald, Jennifer. "Human Rights in Guatemala" (PDF). 
  16. ^ musalo, Karen. "Crime without Punishment" (PDF). 
  17. ^ a b Gagne, David. "UN Chastises Guatemala on Militarization of Security". 
  18. ^ "Nobel Peace Laureates call for concerted action to protect frontlines human rights defenders". 
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  23. ^ "Caracterización estadística República de Guatemala 2012" (PDF). INE. Archived from the original on November 2012. Retrieved 2014-11-02. 
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  31. ^ a b Yan, Sarah. "Violence Against Women in Guatemala". 
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