On a recent trip to Guatemala, continuing my work on a photo project questioning gender-based violence, I went to Nebaj located in a remote valley inhabited by the Ixil people. The Ixil are part of the 60 percent of indigenous people that make up the Guatemalan population.
I approached the town having just climbed the high mountain ridge. Upon coming down into the valley, I was struck by the tranquility and the mist clinging to the surrounding mountains. But despite the initial beauty of the area, there was a dark and disturbing history that was hidden under the mist.
The Guatemalan government ran a dirty and secret civil war in the highlands against its indigenous people that escalated during the 1980s. The tools of the war included massacres, rapes and disappearances.
I came to this region to speak to women that are survivors of this dark and complicated past and who were brave enough to speak to me and let me photograph them.
What all of these women spoke about is the impact the war had on them, their struggle to survive, and their place in society as women.
One of the women is the sole survivor of the massacre of her village. As tears rolled down her cheek she told me of how she was left for dead with a rope tied around her neck and her throat cut open. Luckily her father was away during the killings and was able to find his only alive child, and get her the little medical help that was available. Today she still feels the deep pain of never being able to know her family and being denied the chance for a dignified life.
I also spoke to women whose husbands where taken from their homes to be killed with no explanation, and in one case being forced to dig his own grave before being killed. The soldiers then came back to the homes to rape the women, in which some resulted in pregnancies.
Rape used as a weapon of war is a brutal reminder to women every day of their lives, both because of the shame they feel and because people in their community often reject them and their children.
With Guatemala draped in such a dark history, it is still a complicated place today with a lot of violence. The normalized violence of the 36-year civil war remains deeply embedded in the country today; since the peace agreement was signed in 1996, more than 5,000 women have been killed with impunity. With a corrupt police force, cases are not getting to court, community leaders and journalist that are outspoken are subject to death threats,and some are even being killed. This not an easy place to be outspoken and fight for your rights even today.
Thank you to Madre for collaborating with me on this project.
MADRE is an international women's human rights organization that works in partnership with local Guatemalan women's organizations to combat violence against women in the country. For more information, visit www.madre.org.
For more information on human rights issues in Guatemala contact:
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
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