By Patricia Ardón and Orfe Castillo

“In the struggle to defend our territory, our natural resources, what’s at stake is our very existence.” – Miriam Pixtún, Indigenous Women’s Movement Tz ́ununijá

In Guatemala, the policy of enclaves and extraction of natural resources fomented by the current development model and by the transnational corporations has a tremendous impact on the life of the communities, particularly on indigenous peoples and women.

With the aim of sharing experiences and analysis among women who lead organizing in defense of rights to land, territory and natural resources in Guatemala,   Sinergia No ́j, T ́zununijá, Just Associates (JASS), Uk ́Ux B ́e, Unit of Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), Association for Feminist Studies (AMEF) and the National Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG) held the national meeting “Women in Defense of of Water, Life and Territory” on Sept. 11-12, 2012. More than forty women from different parts of the country participated in the meeting.

“We resist due to the disadvantages of the megaprojects; the development that the companies offer just leaves more poverty, sickness, deaths–all kinds of problems. They use pesticides, strong chemical products. They pollute the water… our house are cracked, animals have died, now the corn doesn’t grow, it’s dried up. Water is scarce and polluted. What kind of development is this?” said one participant.

According to Carmen Lucía Pellecer, Co-Directora of Sinergia Noj, the forum enabled indigenous women to talk about experiences of resistance, the acts they carry out in their communities and in their daily lives.

Another participant pointed out, “The megaprojects represent a clash with our vision of the world, the natural resources are interconnected elements of life, we are part of it. What the capitalist companies do has consequences for our way of living together, they use impoverishment to manipulate people, they affect our health, they cause illnesses of the skin, of eyesight. The hydroelectric plants block the flow of the rivers, they cause droughts. We have been exposed to high tension wires, the looting of our lands… All the community has united to stop it but at the cost of being criminalized. They attack us for not giving in, they threaten us with prison, they don’t respect the consultation processes that are binding. For women, all this implies a heavier workload, persecution, facing militarization that revives the horrors of the war–we see soldiers and it generates terror because we know what happened to our mothers, our aunts.”

The gathering also served to present the report of the Nobel Women’s Initiative/JASS delegation, led by Nobel Laureates Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchú. The delegation visited Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico in January of this year to examine violence against women; most of the women present at the September gathering presented testimony to the delegation in January. Many participants noted that the report helped build a regional view of the situation and of women’s struggles. These links give women a stronger voice and more political influence, they asserted.

Miriam Plxtún of the Movement of Indigeous Women Tz ́ununija identified several major achievements of the gathering, including the importance of creating their own space for recognizing and strengthening the peaceful struggle in defense of territory and natural resources, the discussion of alternatives, and the effort to build cross-border alliances that spread information on the effects of mega-projects.  She also stated that the group made specific commitments to continue the analysis on key issues.

The organizations that called the event agreed on the importance of strengthening access to timely, specialized and accurate information on the impact of megaprojects on societies and on women, and of broadening networks and alliances from the local to the international level, drawing in all actors who can contribute to prevent the death and looting of the peoples.

Finally, at the gathering several women described the work being done by the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative and the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala. These organizing efforts, they said, have increased recognition of women’s struggles and awareness of the security challenges for women human rights defenders.

Pixtún recalled that in Guatemala, indigenous women have a long way to go to recuperate the fundamental meaning of democracy, which is the power of the people. Women contribute in an essential way to the construction of dignified lives, she told the group, and it’s time for others–men and women–to join in this effort from all over. Indigenous peoples and women have the right to live according to their own cosmovision, to be recognized as full rightsholders and as important political actors.

From Americas Program: