Everyday Violence of Exclusion: Women in precarious neighborhoods of guatemala city

Liliana Goldín, Brenda Rosenbaum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Amelia's life epitomizes that of many women living in precarious neighborhoods in Guatemala City and all of Latin America. Her childhood was one of deprivation. Her family lived in a small, rented room, where "they turned the electricity on at 6 p.m. and off by 11 p.m., and there was just a trickle of water coming out of the faucet." She remembers loving school but having to quit after sixth grade because her eyesight was failing. Though her parents had taken her for a free consultation, they never bought her the glasses that she needed to continue in school. Her father was a good provider, she says. He worked hard but was an alcoholic and often did not return home for days at a time. Finally, one day, he left with another woman. That's when the rest of the family heard of the invasion of land in La Esperanza and decided to move there. It was 1983 and I was very sad. . . . Everything seemed the same to me. I didn't care. That year my boyfriend had been killed . . . leaving a party; a man shot him. I was with him and saw the man who shot him, but there was nothing I could do about it. . . . That was very diffi cult for me, and so I decided to move to La Esperanza with my mother and siblings. We made a hut with pieces of wood and sheet metal. . . . I met the father of my children here . . . [and] he was a good friend; he even came to the cemetery with me to bring fl owers to my dead boyfriend, and he didn't drink at the time, nor had any vices, and he worked. But then he changed completely. We didn't get married or live together. I became pregnant, but at that time he had already started drinking. I had my fi rst child and was alone with the baby. . . . What hurt me the most was that he wasn't interested in the baby. . . . I worked, I had a salary, and he used to live just a block away, but neither he, nor anyone in his family ever came to visit my baby. It made me so sad . . . and then a few months later I got pregnant again. I also spent this pregnancy by myself. My daughter was al ready three months old when we started living together. But often I think it's better to live alone. . . . I left him once. Amelia's partner would abuse her constantly; he would not work nor contribute to the household and the care of the children. He would get drunk and leave for weeks at a time and then when he returned he would demand her support. After a prolonged absence Amelia asked him to leave for good. She was then expecting her third child. But in spite of such diffi culties, Amelia also told us that she had learned much at workshops organized by UPAVIM ( Unidas Para Vivir Mejor [United for a better life]), a cooperative in La Esperanza that we describe below: I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to attend many workshops. I haven't let him dominate me that much. Because men always say whenyou leave the home, who knows where you're going. . . . But I don't ask his permission. . . . I just let him know that I'm leaving. I really have benefi ted from the training I've received here. Amelia is a well-liked and respected member of UPAVIM, and she has held important positions there. Unfortunately, in the last few years she has faced even more violence in her life, as the father of her children one day simply disappeared-and she doesn't know if he is still alive somewhere, committed suicide, or was murdered. Her 15-year-old son has been repeatedly threatened by the gangs that operate in La Esperanza; and her worst nightmares came true recently when her young teenage daughter and niece were raped in broad daylight by several gang members. An increase in violence has been documented in all of Latin America since the 1980s, paralleling the effects of the economic crisis, recession, and the execution of neoliberal policies oriented toward the reduction of the size of the state. These latter measures resulted in widespread unemployment, underemployment, an increase in the informalization of the economy, marked pauperization of women and children, and an overall increase in poverty. Analysis of globalization processes in the last 20 years of the 20th century suggest an overall decline in progress in several social and economic indicators associated with income, life expectancy, infant and adult mortality, literacy, and education when compared with the previous 20 years (Weisbrot et al. 2001). While violence affects the entire society, women and children tend to be the most affected as they are usually the most vulnerable sector of society. In this chapter, we analyze the social and economic violence in post-confl ict Guatemala in two precarious neighborhoods of Guatemala City. We compare women's experiences with violence and their strategies for coping with it. In an important study conducted in Guatemala, among several recommendations for reducing violence in poor areas, Caroline Moser and Cathy McIlwaine encouraged the creation of membership-based community organizations that can provide services to parents and "reconstruct the texture of local communities" that have lost trust and cohesion (2001:10). In our study we show that some women's participation in a membership-based organization strengthens their social, economic, and human capital needed to face some forms of violence, but that this alone is not enough to address other forms of violence. We suggest practical measures that may alleviate this situation in the context of community-based organizations and thus expand on the more global recommendations of Moser and McIlwaine. There is general agreement that there are essential institutional and structural problems associated with poverty that need to be addressed to reduce violence, but those processes are slow and take major state and private efforts. In the meantime, smaller and practical strategies may help alleviate the very serious bouts of violence to which women and children in poor neighborhoods are exposed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMayas in Postwar Guatemala
Subtitle of host publicationHarvest of Violence Revisited
PublisherThe University of Alabama Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)0817382438, 9780817355364
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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