March 8th was International Women’s Day and while I never saw it celebrated much back in the States, I can say that it’s pretty popular in Latin America. When I was living in Argentina, the fancy restaurant that I brought my visiting parents gave both me and my mom free bottles of wine at the end of the night and here in Guatemala it’s not uncommon to hear people greeting women with a happy, “Feliz Dia de las Mujeres!” and a kiss on the cheek.
To continue the celebration of Women’s Day- or, rather, Women’s Month, which was all of March – we’re highlighting one awesome women’s rights group here in Guatemala. They’re called the Women’s Justice Initiative and they’re making a huge difference in the lives of rural indigenous women.
According to the United Nations, Guatemala has the highest rate of gender-based violence in Latin America, with around 50% of women experiencing violence at some point during their lives. Indigenous women living in extreme poverty in rural areas are especially at risk of violence and living in hard-to-reach areas means they don’t get the social services that are available to their urban sisters.
That’s where WJI comes in.
Working with fifteen different Mayan communities, WJI’s approach to remedying some of the social inequities suffered by these women has three parts: women’s rights training, leadership development, and better access to legal services.
The Women’s Rights Education Program is a six month, in-depth course educating women on their legal rights. They learn about issues like domestic violence, sexual and reproductive rights, property rights, and inheritance. They also learn how to defend those rights through leadership training and communication skills building workshops, giving them the power to stand up for themselves.
Graduates of the WREP are selected by their peers to move on to the Community Advocates Program, a year long course that enhances the leadership and human rights training the women received in the Women’s Rights Education Program. By the end of the program, the women are fully equipped to be community leaders, mentors, and advocates for the rights of other women.
Finally, WJI has a Legal Services Program which brings bilingual Mayan/Spanish lawyers directly to the communities they work in, providing free legal service to women who need it.
WJI currently has over 800 participating in their programs, a number that was amplified to 3,000 people affected as those women went out and took action in their communities. As an organization they’re making real, lasting, notable change for a group of women who have largely been left behind to fend for themselves.
That impressive change is the reason Uxibal has joined forces with WJI with our “La Muerta” line. Embroidery is an ancient art here in Guatemala, passed on from mother to daughter, and the La Muerta totes and tees feature the embroidery of members of WJI. It’s work that they can do from home in order to earn some much needed extra money for their households.
Additionally, 10% of every sale from the La Muerta line is donated to WJI to help them continue doing the amazing work they’ve started in rural Guatemala. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day all year-round than by helping support an organization as great as the Women’s Justice Initiative. Can you?