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Guatemala: Challenges for First Female Public Prosecutor

Women, Panajachel by Marlin Harms under a Creative Commons attribution license version 3.o

In a country where only 32% of women [es] finish high school, where gender equality is low, where only 8% of members of the Parliament are women and where no women have presided ever the most important chambers of commerce and industry, recent appointments of women to public administration and key political positions could shake the political scene.

The newly appointed Director of the Criminal Public Defense Service, the Comptroller General, the General Prosecutor and the Secretary of the National Council for Migrant Services are women, as the blog Central American Politics explains:

Guatemala had made important strides in recent weeks as it relates to women occupying positions of power. In the last few weeks, women were appointed to the critical positions of Public Prosecutor and Comptroller General Claudia Paz y Paz was named Public Prosecutor and head of the Public Ministry for four years and will be in charge of the agency for criminal investigation and prosecution, while Nora Segura is the new Comptroller General, with a five-year term and will be in charge of auditing government expenditures, beginning with the 2011 budget, of 6.8 billion dollars. Paz y Paz and Segura join Blanca Stalling who President Colom reappointed as director of the Criminal Public Defense Institute, an institution that oversees the legal defense of accused criminals, and Heydi Gordillo, the secretary of the National Council for Migrant Services.

In Guatemala, where women of all social and ethnic groups are brutally murdered or harmed, the appointment of Claudia Paz y Paz as Public Prosecutor was especially welcomed by different sectors, especially the Human Rights community –as evidenced in the Blog Fundación de Sobrevivientes [es] (Survivors Foundation Blog).

The blog Breaking the silence congratulated and celebrated the appointment of the first woman as general prosecutor in Guatemala last December:

Dr. Paz y Paz has worked tirelessly for Human Rights and particularly for Women’s Rights, as an academic, activist and lawyer. She was the Director of the UN High Commission for Refugees Legal Office and as the National Consultant for the UN Mission for Guatemala. Dr. Paz y Paz also served as Director of the ICCPG, the Institute for Comparative Studies in Criminal Sciences in Guatemala.

However, the challenges are enormous. According to the blog Asociación por tí mujer [es] (Association for women), in 2010 alone, up to 680 women were killed by fire arms or stabbed in Guatemala City, and 48,000 complaints of domestic violence were filed. In Guatemala, hiring an assassin can be as cheap as $150.00 USD and impunity fuels violence against women.

Just last December, sociologist and researcher Emilia Quan was brutally murdered [es] in the Guatemalan mountains, near the border with Mexico. She worked for the Center for the Study and Documentation of the Western Border of Guatemala (Centro de Estudios y Documentacion de la Frontera Occidental de Guatemala; CEDFOG [es]). She was found blindfolded and hand-tied with a rag stuffed in her mouth, as the blog Guat's going on describes. A Mayan ceremony was organized in the locality and a prayer was elevated to ask for strength to fight violence and impunity in the country, as reported in Radio Santa Cruz Blog [es].

The case of Emilia Quan offers an opportunity for the newly elected prosecutor to carry out an investigation and prosecute the murderers. But this is not the only problem that needs to be solved, as pointed out by the blog Gender Across Borders:

Emilia was an amazing woman and a friend to many, who deserves the memoriam she has received. But this is also a moment to recognize the thousands of women whose names never grace the pages of our newspapers and magazines. It’s not just that in a country with such a violent past one woman a day is killed, or that scarcely 2% of crimes against women are solved. That would be horrendous enough. But it’s also that the bodies of women who have been kidnapped and murdered often show extra brutality – sexual violence, torture, mutilation – reflecting a societal disdain for women. The fact that many of these crimes are never even investigated reflects a insidious contempt and apathy for the lives of women by the Guatemalan government.

The challenges are as big as the hope of Guatemalans who still believe in change and in fighting impunity through the rule of law and institutions where women can make a difference.

3 comments

  • Renata-

    Thank you for linking to the Gender Across Border’s article. However please note that our blog name appears as Gender Across Borders and NOT Gender across borders. If you have any questions, please email me.

    Thanks,
    Emily

  • Very nice post; thank you for highlighting such an important issue which often gets overshadowed in the local (Guatemalan) and international news and media. Until the impunity is checked and women gain a more equal footing in society, Guatemala is going to have an extremely difficult road forward.

    ~Lindsey D
    Roots & Wings International (Guatemala non-profit providing scholarships, etc.)
    http://www.rootsandwingsintl.org/blog/

  • Rick Stewart

    The fact that only 2% of crimes against women are solved is pitiful.

    BUT – in Guatemala, what percent of crimes against men are solved?

    The fact that one woman a day is killed is pitiful.

    BUT – how many men are killed every day?

    The fact that many of these crimes [against women] are never even investigated is pitiful.

    BUT – how many crimes against men are ever investigated?

    I am not saying women have it better, or worse, in Guatemala. I am saying that violence in Guatemala will not be solved by claiming it is a gender problem.

    And good luck to Claudia Paz y Paz – I hope she is successful in reducing all crimes, against both sexes, in Guatemala.

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