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Building Women's Resilience in Guatemala

Eldhy Lorena Lopez Calzado

“Education as a tool to build resilience has the potential to break the cycle of poverty” was the conclusion of our event aiming to make Guatemala visible in order to uncover the reality faced by its 16.3 million inhabitants and find sustainable solutions.

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What are the triggers of poverty in Guatemala? How is risk related to development? What are the challenges for women and girls living in Guatemala? Globally recognised expert Alejandro Maldonado Lutomirsky and Wonder’s Lorena Lopez Calzada discussed the challenges and opportunities of education, disaster management and resilience building.

Understanding the Guatemalan Context

Lorena Lopez, shared a general overview of Guatemala, highlighting the lack of opportunities in the formal economy, low quality education and inequality as the triggers of poverty. Formal employment opportunities are extremely limited for young people, and are often dependent on ethnicity and social class. Only 17.8 percent of school leavers will go into formal jobs, where there is potential for career progress and social security. Lorena emphasized the importance of investing in an education system that facilitates social mobility since Guatemala has the highest proportion of young people in Latin America. However, education quality needs to be prioritized because the majority of students complete primary school without the necessary skills. Low literacy rates and the fact that only 6% of Guatemalans enroll in higher education underline a problem in access.

Women and girls in Guatemala face additional challenges. Domestic work seems more a norm than an option, with 93% of the female workforce devoted to domestic work, earn only just above the poverty global line and not having access to any social security or benefits. Also, women and girls live in a society where patriarchy and machismo culture are deeply ingrained. This belief of women’s inferiority is demonstrated by femicides, with Guatemala ranking third worldwide in the killing of women (Guinan, 2015). Lastly, teenage pregnancy continues to be a worrying issue because it represents a symptom of the panorama of poverty, sexual violence, child marriage, gender inequality and exclusion from education.

Resilience as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties is particularly tough for people living in poverty. Having no means reduces their possibilities to mitigate risk, make long term plans and maintain good relationships. This is one example of how Wonder Foundation is working with women to build resilience. Junkabal, our local partner, works directly with families living near Guatemala’s city rubbish dump, providing educational opportunities related to training, health and nutrition. The technical and vocational training offered is an avenue available for Guatemala’s young women, aiming to equip students to enter the labour market with skills employers want, so they can secure an income and promote progress within their communities. Junkabal employs mentoring to provide women with encouragement, advice and support in identifying their strengths and weaknesses, choosing next steps and overcoming the challenges when studying and entering the workplace for the first time. Currently, there are 500 women and 450 girls enrolled in their programmes. However, it is not only about young women, families and communities are included as well. Around 300 women and children access the health programmes and 95 families are enrolled in Junkabal’s Social Program where they have access to discounted food, nutritional and dental clinics at subsidized fees, all intended to promote health and nutrition among the area’s marginalized groups.

Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management and Development in Guatemala

Alejandro Maldonado Lutomirksy shared his rich experience of the intersectionality of risk exposure in Guatemala, where he has advised the government on disaster preparedness and mitigation.  As the world’s 4th most natural disaster-prone country, he explained how groups such as Guatemalan women and children living in poverty are most vulnerable. Nevertheless, the economic burden rests on the entire society since the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure is financed by taxes. The latter explains the relationship between risk and development, disaster prone countries have low indices of development. Alejandro also pointed out the positive correlation of schooling years and Gross Domestic Product. Finally, he gave examples of how local initiatives such as Junkabal, Caravana de la Rana, ECORED and Fudi have empowered women, built resilience and mitigated risks.

 

Both speakers closed by emphasizing the importance of educating women to build resilience across communities.

 

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