Lifesaver for ages 9 and up -- Guatemala: Protect women human rights defenders
It’s hard to believe, but people in Guatemala’s Quiché province would go to jail for Lolita Chávez.
Lolita is a K’iche Indigenous woman and human rights defender from the highlands of Guatemala. (Indigenous Peoples are groups who have lived in a place for longer than recorded history.)
When Lolita was threatened with arrest because of her human rights work, the K’iche Peoples Council passed a motion. They said that all 15,000 of their members would ask to be arrested and go to jail. They said, “You can’t jail one of us without jailing all of us”. That’s because they believe the work Lolita does to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples is so important.
Human rights defenders like Lolita often face fake charges which are meant to silence them. She says, “The police say that I am a threat to national security and to the Republic…It has been really difficult to deal with. They do not consider us Indigenous women to be individuals with rights. Multinational companies see us as obstacles. ”
Lolita and the K’iche Peoples Council are worried that mining and hydro-electric projects in Quiché threaten water sources and human rights. In Guatemala, the government allows mining, electricity or forestry projects to operate without agreement from people who may be affected. So Lolita organized a vote to give her community a chance to say if they agree. She was happy when 99% voted ‘No’.
Women in Guatemala who criticize their government or companies often face threats and violence. The people who want to silence them don’t believe women should be involved in human rights work.
Indigenous women, like Lolita, who speak out against investment from abroad face even more risks. It can be very difficult for an Indigenous woman living in poverty to get legal help or other protection when she challenges a rich, powerful company. Some people say that Indigenous women who protest don’t know what they are talking about and try to ignore their concerns. Lolita Chávez has been threatened many times for speaking up for human rights.
WHAT CAN I DO?
Please write to the president of Guatemala.
- Start your letter: Dear President
- In your first sentence, tell him something about yourself.
- Then remind him that human rights defenders are an important part of a healthy society.
- Ask the President to put an end to attacks, violence and other abuse against women human rights defenders like Lolita Chávez. You could point out that people who are women and indigenous face more risks than other human rights defenders.
- Ask him to make sure that people who harm human rights defenders are caught and face justice for the harms they have caused to people and their families.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
Send a card or letter of support to Lolita Chávez to mark International Women’s Day. You could say that her work shines a light on human rights abuses in Guatemala and what she is doing is important and brave. You could also tell her that she is not alone (No esta sola!) and that you care about her safety. Send your card, letter or artwork to
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