As diplomats, one of our most important functions is to get to know the people of our host country. What do they think about what’s happening in the world? How do they view the critical issues of the day in their country? And what is their opinion on the United States?
Here in Guatemala, as Cultural Affairs Officer, I am lucky to have a job that allows me to do just that. I travel to many remote sites around the country, to check up on our English teaching programs or to visit an archaeological site we support with a grant from the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. I meet a wide variety of people from all over Guatemala: young, old, rural, urban, rich, poor, male, female. I talk to them, and I learn a lot about their lives.
But some things, like gender-based violence, I will never understand. This issue was central in a visit last Friday by Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer. On the last day of her three-day stay in Guatemala, we put together a launch event for “Mujeres Adelante” (“Women Moving Forward”), a Department of State initiative in conjunction with the Seattle International Foundation that will bring dozens of women from Central America to the United States for training on how to prevent gender-based violence. The statistics for gender-based violence in Guatemala are horrifying: on average, two women are killed each day in Guatemala, and per UNDP reporting two out of three women murdered are killed because of their gender. Domestic violence goes largely unreported. The Mujeres Adelante initiative will identify emerging women leaders who are already working in their communities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and will enable them to share best practices and collaborate with other women leaders in the region.
Two Guatemalan women participated in an early version of Mujeres Adelante last summer, traveling to Seattle and Washington, D.C. One is a social worker, and the other works for an NGO that provides services to survivors of gender-based violence. Daily, they work to end the scourge of gender-based violence, a cause and consequence of gender inequality throughout the world.
These two Guatemalan participants arrived early to the Mujeres Adelante event, one a bit later than the other. As I was rushing around ensuring that everything was ready, I noticed that the later arrival looked upset. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me she’d just been robbed outside the hotel where the event was taking place. She and a group of other women had been accosted by a man with a knife, who took their possessions. Minutes later, she spoke in front of a hundred people, including journalists, about her experience in the United States and her work, unshaken as if nothing had just happened to her.
A woman who is fighting to end violence in Guatemala was herself a victim and survivor of violence on her way to the launch of a program to help prevent and respond to violence. Shocking? Yes. Did this break HER spirit? No. Guatemalan women are forging ahead despite these challenges, strengthening my conviction that the work I do in support of them has deep meaning and lasting impact.
Cross posted from DipNote Blog, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.