Women´s Voices at the II Festival of the Memory of Rape during
War and Conflict in Guatemala

María Suárez Toro, FIRE.

Chimaltenango, February 28, 2011. "Today we recover a social and political space that belongs to women and all the peoples of Chimaltenango because what happened during the conflicto now has a voice in the brave women who have spoken out and begun  healing the wounds” said Yolanda Aguilar, one of the organizers of the Festival. More tan 200 activistas against rape in war and conflict from Guatemala and other countries gathered to share strategies and actions of survival, proactive activism and healing processes.

During the armed conflict in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996 it is estimated that more than 5,000 women were sexually abused, 80% of whom were indigenous, originating mainly from Quiché, Huehuetenango and Las Verapaces Departments where a high number of massacres and scorched earth operations took place.

The Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification in, "Memory of Silence" says that while there were also some cases where the guerrillas raped, 89% of the rapes were perpetrated by the Guatemalan Army, supported by the State, main entity responsible for these crimes . (Women's Word, April, 2010)

The testimonies of women who suffered such human rights violations were not heard at the time. It is only recently, in the I Festiva in Huehuetenango in 2007, after 25 years, that the Mayan and mestizo women raised their voices to tell their stories un public.

Amandinde Fulchiron, another organizar and member of Actoras de Cambio in Guatemala said in the opening sesión that after 25 years of survivial in silence, Mayan women said they had been in "shock, " expressing that “the wholeness of life was attacked by the rapes.

Fulchiron explained that one woman who broke silence said that "After the rape, I was not me, I was the shadow of myself." Speaking is not just making stock of the pain, but also of the consequences it has had. “Rape markes a before and after and it limited the possibilities of support and solidarity networks because the testifiers were accused of being "whores" by their our own communities.

"It's our history, but it weighs a huge secret. How to educate girls if they do not know the story? "In order to change the story, one must know the story and know why things happened as they did. Recovering and healing that memory is a profound and vital process that creates the collective strength to build transformative freedom.

Mayan Angelica Lopez, also of Actoras de Cambio (Agents of Change) explained that "the plot of unnamed memory opens the voice of thousands of women here, which opens the heart, head and stomach. It has upset our body and our sexuality. "When women say they are a shadow of themselves after the rape, what they are saying is that there was a social death because the patriarchal mandate to be pure was abandoned. So to get our body and memory back is to restore life itself. "

Clara Maria Geronimo Garcia, presently a communuty radio producer in Chimaltenango was also a vistim of rape: "When I'm with others I feel happier and better because I have healed and realized it was not my fault, but that the perpetrators were responsable. Now I even dance in activities, whereas before I did not even dare express mydelf.

Rosalina Tuyuc of the National Committee of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), paid tribute to those who preceded them anonymously in the struggle against the rape of women in war and conflict. "Women are the reason for why many of us have started that way for the recovery of the dignity of women. It is a path of struggle for truth and justice, not only in criminal proceedings, but so that the state recognizes the responsibility and repair the damage."

Lepa Mladjenovic of Women in Black (Serbia), longtime activist against rape as a weapon of war in former Yugoeslavia, said that the main thing is to ensure that communities will honor women and transform their guilt and shame, transferring it to the aggressors. “The theme of healing is new in the feminist movement in Europe, an approach to feminist justice is to begin healing.”

She later wroite that “women’s solidarity is international, because ethnic and national identity is only one difference among us in the world.  When we express solidarity  with women this means that we are breaking up with patriarchy.  Because I value myself equally as the other.   Because  I share my power with the one who has less,  because I learn to ask the other to be near me when I need it.   And, I know that patriarchal hierarchies lead to  violence against children violence, against women and communities with less social power. To wars.  We are the voices of pain and hope.  Memory of pain we can transform into art and festivals, as we do it here.  Creative disloyalty to patriarchy is the beginning of the women’s solidarity, and this means that we choose to care about ourselves and the others  - equally.  In full joy and acceptance of all our differences. This is why women’s solidarity leads us to freedom of fear from our bodies. This is why women’s solidarity is a feminist politics.  Dancing and chanting too. “

She claimed that the expriencie that the Guatemalan feminists have contributed is that women are the political subject of the struggle against rape, whereas the classical strategies place the emphasis on the aggressors. “The courts of conscience in the hands of women also play a role because they question that which is hardly challenged by other means.”

Luz Estela Murillo Espina Estela of the organization "Vamos Mujer" in Colombia, member of the Ruta Pacifica Women since 1996 xplained thst they have designe a strategy of going to hear women affected by war and conflicto in their own communities. “Every November 25  we travel to the conflicto areas to accompany them, to make visible their struggles and assert their claims.”

"Thais" (did not give his last name), is part of a Mexican collective that struggles against femicide: "We work legaly to hold states and actors responsable for the rapes but we have become suspicious that the punitive fighting is counterproductive.”  "Bob" is a Spanish woman living in Mexico today. "I am a survivor of the case of Atenco in Mexico, I am here in Guatemala, impressed to see how women take the microphone here. It took me a long time tos ay the word rape after I was raped in Atenco but women here take on the stand with ease.”

In Atenco, Mexico in May 2006 there was a crackdown on Mexican protesters whio were protesting against a megaairport Project. A group of people expressing international solidarity were raped with the local women.

Sandy Hernandez of Argentina, an art, drama and laughter therapist with women in Chimaltenango expressed that: "What we do is fun, but also healing because objects and processes that occur through play, provide a  symbolic resolution to life experience."  For her art is a way to express  realities and seek to change history.

The emphasis on collective and individual work from the body, was placed by Liduvina Méndez on behalf of Actoras de Cambio. "They (those who broke the silence of rape during the war) have been formed and are becoming more independent and autonomous  because they have appropriated the resources of the process. When we heal the dormant parts in our bodies, we become of change, working, not the only suffering, but all expressions of life. Our proposed methodology linking feminism with the Maya worldview.”

Miriam Cardona of the Network of Women for Economic and Social Justice, working power, racism and sexual violence in Guatemala, said that "When we tell the stories of what happened to us, ignoring what is in the body, we are being forgotten in the silence and the goal is not to feel, which is why we sometimes are very fightsy in political action, but refuse to deal with the silence that is recorded in our bodies."  She explained that the trauma is expressed physically in the body, and when it is not made explicit, it  continues to play in the body. “”We are all involved in the construction of historical memory and all have a story to heal. The guarantee of non-repetition is to heal."

The Festival addressed the issue of rape suffered by thousands of women during armed conflict and their struggles to "help build a society that will never accept, legitimize, or justify the rape of women."

The agenda included activities in the streets, ceremonial centers and school in Chimaltenango, so that through art, writing, film and music, community involvement and perceived importance of breaking the silence, retrieving th the memory and not forget to heal so that it does not happen anymore. The festival is a call for commitment to social justice.

The II Festival claimed the emancipation of women under the slogan "I am the voice of memory and the body freedom," a step in the construction of justice for women, for their healing and dignity.

The I Festival was held in 2008 in Huehuetenango. The strategy of these festivals is part of the political philosophy of Actoras de Cambios that from its inception in 2004, proposes that women must heal in order  to transform traumatic experiences that victimize them, to become actors of change.

Actoras de Cambio is a feminist collective of eight women who started working with women victims of violence. There are 4 women Mam, one French, one Spanish, 4 mestizo, a Qékchi and there are many promoters in local communities who have the direct contact with monolingual women in Mayan languages.

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