Friday, 16 March 2012

Guatemalan fights for justice for women in her homeland

Earlier this week as part of International Women's Day celebrations, Guatemalan women's rights activist Norma Herrera made an appearance at the Cedar Tree Cafe in downtown Fredericton, bringing attention to the plight of violence against women in her homeland. The evening also included representatives from women's groups around New Brunswick that work for women's rights provincially.

The theme of the event was Women Organizing for Justice, and it began with a documentary on the missing women of Vancouver's downtown east side. Entitled Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside, it is a raw view into the injustices against women in that part of the city, with their suffering often going ignored by the authorities and being left to look out for each other. It has forced them to band together to fight for justice, creating a close knit community of women.

After the movie, Deb Doherty of the New Brunswick Silent Witness project spoke to the crowd about her organization. Began in 2000, it's dedicated to the women in New Brunswick who've lost their lives to domestic violence based on research from provincial statistics going back to 1990.


Deb Doherty of the New Brunswick Silent Witness project speaks at the Cedar Tree Cafe in Fredericton as part of International Women's Day events


"Since 1990, there have been over 40 deaths of women in New Brunswick from domestic violence," said Doherty. "Over half were killed with hunting rifles and shotguns in rural communities."

Behind Doherty at the front of the room was a cutout of a woman called a "Remember Me Silhouette." Doherty takes it around the province with her on speaking engagements to remind people of the dead and missing women.


A moment of silence is held to remember female victims of violence as part of the Women Organizing for Justice evening at the Cedar Tree Cafe in Fredericton


Elizabeth Blaney spoke on behalf of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity, an organization started in 1998 to lobby the government of New Brunswick for equal pay for women in the workplace. Although they have yet to achieve their goal, strides are being made and Blaney believes it will happen. Relying on fundraising to keep going, the organization's campaign slogan for 2012 is "Still Standing", an indication it plans to continue the struggle.


 Elizabeth Blaney speaks up for the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity at the Cedar Tree Cafe in Fredericton as part of events for International Women's Day


Activists Wyanne Sandler and Jeremias Tecu, who work with immigrants from Guatemala and advocate for women's rights in that country, spoke of the Rio Negro massacre that took place in 1978 by the Guatemalan military who killed 70 women. To date, no members of the country's forces involved in the killings have been brought to justice.


Wyanne Sandler, right, and Jeremias Tecu, left, speak at the Cedar Tree Cafe in Fredericton as part of International Women's Day events

Capping off the speakers was Herrera, who through an interpreter, discussed how the forces of capitalism in Guatemala have affected its women. There are several Canadian mining companies in the country who's operations have forced the displacement of indigenous Mayan citizens by government in order for both to reap the profits from sought after minerals. Those who've fought the displacement, including many women, have been dealt with violently by Guatemalan authorities who use the military to quell resistance.

The Guatemalan Civil War which ran from 1960 to 1996 also wreaked havoc on indigenous women. After years of enduring violence, a group of Mayan women formed the Tribunal of Conscience. Began in the 80s, the action broke the silence on their suffering in the war.

"We work with women from the places most devastated by the war," said Herrera. "We teach them their rights and have programs to help them in their recovery."


Herrera, above, speaks through her interpreter at the end of her presentation imploring women not to remain silent and to not give up


The organization is still on the long road of bringing the perpetrators to justice through media campaigns and speaking engagements around the world such as Herrera's appearance in Fredericton. It continues to work on getting reparations for the women who've suffered and lost everything - home, husband, children and relatives.


 The crowd listens as Guatemalan women's rights activist Norma Herrera speaks about the plight of women in her homeland at the Cedar Tree Cafe in Fredericton earlier this month as part of International Women's Day events


Attendee Megan Glenwright, chair of UNB's Women's Center, turns out in support of the Women Organizing for Justice evening at the Cedar Tree Cafe in Fredericton. The Women's Center helped sponsor the event


 Attendee Andrew Roberts lends his perspective Guatemalan speaker Norma Herrera's struggle for human rights in her homeland