A Light in the Dark-Women’s Organization, ASOGEN, Seeks to Free Guatemala from Violence against Women
ASOGEN, a women’s rights advocacy and empowerment organization in the department of Chimaltenango in Guatemala rose within the framework of the campaign, Aún No Estoy Lista, “I’m Not Ready Yet,” to prevent alarming trends in teen pregnancies in the region. Today, they work on prevention programs, conduct statistical analysis and act politically to stop the cycle of violence against women in Guatemala. ASOGEN provides legal advice, psychological care, and temporary shelter to survivors of physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence. They also lead and deliver empowerment workshops, conduct scientific research in the areas of human rights, and seek to politically influence public policy to improve the lives of Guatemalan women.
What is it like to form part of this heroic association? Latina Republic spoke with Paola Garcia Reyes, a psychologist and the coordinator of the survivors’ comprehensive care. Below, is an insider’s look at women’s rights in Guatemala and how ASOGEN is filling the gap.
My name is Paola Garcia Reyes. I am a psychologist and the coordinator of comprehensive care for, Asociacion Generando in the departamento of Chimaltenango, Guatemala. I started working here when I was 25, in 2013. This organization was formed by my partner, Danessa Luna, in 2008. We provide psychological and legal services for girls, boys, adolescents and adult women who are survivors of sexual violence. I am also the coordinator for the Centro de Atención, focused on supporting women’s various needs on the road to rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, violence against women takes many forms:
- Physical violence
- Psychological violence
- Sexual violence
- Economic violence
Since 2013, I have been walking alongside many difficult life stories affecting mostly young girls and teenage girls, but in some cases, boys. These are stories of sexual violence, and the numbers are very high. We refer to our clients as survivors; the young women, adolescents, boys and women who have survived gender violence. Victims, unfortunately, are the women we lost through the hate crime of femicide. They are victims because they did not survive.
ASOGEN is a safe space where the women receive individualized, psychological support and comprehensive care. Each woman is attended by a multidisciplinary group of professionals including, attorneys, procurators, psychologists, social workers, and doctors.
We also host a variety of support groups because we believe that feeling accompanied, heals.
How They Finds Us
Since the cases are often, legal, our clients are referred to us through the courts, the public prosecutor’s office, and courts of femicides, which deal specifically, with cases of women’s violent deaths.
Cost and Types of Support
Our services are free. There is no cost. Our clients come to us for psychological treatment, emotional support, safety, and legal support.
We accompany women to hearings in childhood and adolescent courts, family court and the court that holds trials on femicide. We walk alongside the women until the case is finalized and there is a conviction for the offender.
Legislation and its Problems
Guatemala passed a law to prohibit and prosecute the crime of femicide. The problem is that the application of the law has been a struggle and a battle here. In many cases, the laws are not applied.
Women in Guatemala are very vulnerable to all sorts of violence that exist in our society.
Due to machismo, the patriarchal system that exists and abuses of power, the rate of violent deaths of women has increased and the cases of sexual violence towards girls and adolescents have also increased.
Forced Maternity & Teenage Girls
We have a group of teenage mothers who became pregnant as a result of sexual violence and are now mothers. We support them here so that they can continue with their lives because we know that their life project, what they had planned to do before being forced into motherhood, has been truncated, has changed. We are here to support them.
Although all young women in these cases suffered through the same crime, their healing time varies and depends on each woman’s inner strength. Most young women cannot accept the pregnancy and society can stigmatize and criticize them for this, even when the pregnancy was forced, and even when the women are young and survivors of sexual assault.
Who goes to the femicide courts?
Usually, a family member who was close to the victim seeks justice through femicide court. We have accompanied daughters through the criminal process, but the cases do not lead to an immediate sentence. It can take several trials to pursue and win a sentence.
In one case, we accompanied young women to court and were able to obtain a 32 year-sentence against their aggressor.
Family Members, Neighbors are frequently the Assailants
For the majority of survivors we support, the aggressors are family members. Sometimes, survivors are abused by their own parent.
We worked with a group of sisters who filed a case against their father leading to 80 years in jail. The aggression against the sisters had been continuous and they no longer wanted to live that way, so they filed a complaint.
We also have cases of sexual violence committed by neighbors, or uncles, unfortunately we have cases of brothers and fathers themselves have been the aggressors of young girls and adolescents. In some cases, the crimes happen due to parental negligence but in most cases, they do not. Sometimes mothers are aware of what is happening, but they are paralyzed by fear and they are also being abused, stuck in a cycle of violence where there is seemingly, no way out.
Crimes against women are also committed by strangers, as women walk home and encounter gangs and delinquency.
In the cases of adult women seeking help through our organization, many have suffered sexual violence and many are escaping physical violence at home, arriving beaten up.
We have a temporary shelter where we house women who are in danger. These women don’t have any family resources and have nowhere to go.
A problem we are facing is lack of resources. We are currently only able to house women for a short time. The cost of maintaining the shelter is very high and we are understaffed. We are currently able to operate the shelter thanks to our sponsors, but we are experiencing a rise in demand for our services.
Unfortunately, we do not count with support from our own government.
The need for longer stays is real, and the need for more space is urgent.
Sometimes, we ourselves as coworkers, pull resources to see how we can continue to support them with the issue of food, for example, because a fifteen day stay in our shelter is not enough to help them get back on their feet and going home is not an option. These are some of our challenges. We want to continue supporting them, but we don’t have enough resources.
All we may have is one meeting, one moment
When I’m sitting across a survivor, I forget about myself and I focus solely, on what I can say and do to help in that moment. There is a chance that all we will have is that moment. I may not see that person again. I immediately focus on assistance. How can I help them then? That moment we have together is vital and I want it to be valuable and transformative.
What motivates me? That I am a woman, a mother, and I have a daughter. We live in a world, a society that violates us every day. We, as women, have rights. We are unique and valuable.
I want to be a ray of light in the dark.
To Change the Structure, we must Stop the Stereotypes
It is disheartening that here, in Guatemala, women are immediately cast as instigators, as guilty, in cases of sexual violence. Women who are sexually assaulted are always questioned. Did she provoke it? Did she ask for it? Sexual crimes are stigmatized crimes here in Guatemala, and the women are suspect.
How to Change Oppressive, Persistent Patterns
We must start with the youngest generations. We currently have an information and empowerment program that teaches young people and adolescents about a new type of masculinity focused on respecting women. We believe that changing stereotypes about men and women’s gender roles in our society will have to be addressed from an early age.
In cases of economic violence, when partners withhold economic support leaving a mother stranded, we accompany our client to a family judge to start the process for support. In many cases, a woman is married to a man and they have children together, but they are separated. To get child support, we accompany the mother through the legal process.
Separations often trigger economic violence. We have witnessed countless cases when following a separation, the man refuses to provide any kind of financial support for the children. To resolve this conflict, the mother pursues legal means and the child recognition process begins.
Another common case happens when men leave women once they find out the woman is pregnant. When the child is born, the man denies the child as theirs and refuses to give the child their last name, which would legally bind him to provide alimony. We accompany the women through all these types of cases and some involve determining paternity.
Economic Vulnerability Keeps Many Women Stuck
Sometimes women who suffer economic violence, meet with us for help and start the legal process only to drop it and return to the aggressor for fear of hunger and homelessness. In these cases, we support the women through empowerment training. We give them resources and strategies. We don’t want them to think that without the aggressor they have no options to survive and move on.
We have witnessed many cases where the young women are able to survive and overcome the tragedies they have lived through. Some of them continue with their life project and even start their own programs to help teenagers who have suffered the same situations as theirs.
What will it Take to get the Government on Board with Gender Equality?
Our current government does not support women’s rights or prioritize women’s protection or programs that support women. We hope that next year, when the government changes we will be able to integrate these programs.
We have presented our findings and statistics to Congress but for now the doors are closed. In the new year we hope to return to Congress and that the doors to this crucial topic will be open.
We won’t give up.
To support and contact ASOGEN: