Indigenous Women Rising Up

by Oxfam Canada | June 13, 2022
Background media: A group of seven Indigenous women wearing a mix of traditional clothes and non-traditional blouses are smiling and looking directly at the camera. They're standing outside with luscious green trees behind them.
René Guerra/Oxfam

Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala

Indigenous Women Rising Up

The Tz'ununija' Indigenous Women's Movement in Guatemala led the charge in designing the Women's Voice and Leadership project baseline study, making the process and tools entirely their own and reflective of their worldviews.

The Project: Women's Voice and Leadership

Oxfam Canada and Oxfam Guatemala are collaborating on the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Guatemala project (2019-2023), which is led by the Tz’ununija' Indigenous Women’s Movement in Guatemala. Women’s Voice and Leadership - Guatemala is part of a worldwide Global Affairs Canada initiative that aims to strengthen women’s rights organizations across the globe and is currently running in more than 30 countries.

Guatemala is a country with high levels of violence and widespread violations of women’s rights, which disproportionately impact Indigenous women. This reality is invisible to most of Guatemalan society – which highlights the deep racism, discrimination and marginalization that Indigenous women face there. Four out of five Indigenous women live in poverty, they are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty compared to non-Indigenous women and their life expectancy is 13 years less than that of non-Indigenous women. This is where the important role of Tz’ununija’ comes into play.

Using a combination of Meaning of the term "core funding" Core funding is institutional support, including financial support that covers basic key organizational and administrative costs of women's rights organization, including salaries of non-project staff, rent, equipment, utilities and communications, among others. In Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala, this also includes increasing the staffing of Tz’ununja’, which relies heavily on volunteers and funding of actions that Tz’ununja’ and member organizations regularly carry out. and capacity strengthening, Oxfam is working with Tz’ununija’ to support strong, autonomous Indigenous women’s rights organizations, who are best placed to advance gender and racial equality and Indigenous women’s rights. We aim to ensure they can deliver programming on their own terms, better meeting the needs of the Indigenous women they serve. For Oxfam, how we go about projects is just as important as their outcomes of advancing gender equality. Therefore, a key component of this project is shifting power to Tz’ununija’ to co-design and co-implement the project and the Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) process for it.

The project takes place in Guatemala:


The Challenge

Working together, Tz’ununija’ and Oxfam co-designed and co-implemented the project Meaning of the term "baseline study" A baseline study is an analysis of the current situation to identify the starting points for a program or project. It looks at what information must be considered and analyzed to establish a baseline or starting point, the benchmark against which future progress can be assessed or comparisons made. with a feminist approach that was based on Oxfam Canada’s 10 feminist principles and 7 Feminist MEAL Foundations, which aim to put women’s rights organizations in the driver’s seat for every process related to the project.

A fundamental data source for the Women’s Voice and Leadership -Guatemala project baseline study was the Oxfam Canada Capacity Assessment Tool for Gender-Just Organizational Strengthening (also called the CAT4GJO), a tool designed to carry out a self-assessment of an organization’s capacities for working in gender justice, ensuring that the whole process from questionnaires to final interpretation was in the hands of Tz’ununija’ and five of its member organizations. The main challenge was adapting this tool to the realities of small, local Indigenous women’s rights organizations that do not identify as feminist, that are based in remote territories of rural Guatemala and whose members speak different Mayan languages.

The COVID-19 pandemic deepened these challenges by forcing Tz’ununija’ and Oxfam to adapt this highly participatory, in-person tool to the public health restrictions in place in Guatemala during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Changing the process into one that was socially distanced and taking place in each participant’s home introduced additional challenges, such as how to create accessible formats for discussion and accessible materials given low literacy levels within rural communities, lack of Internet connectivity and inconsistent access to phones. Additionally, when it was time to interpret the baseline data, Guatemala experienced two back-to-back tropical storms, which delayed Tz’ununija’ and Oxfam being able to gather feedback from partner organizations.

Despite these challenges, Tz’ununija’ successfully innovated a remote CAT4GJO process (described below) using phones and group teleconferencing, demonstrating their full ownership of the baseline study process. In the end, the information they gathered as part of this process served a stronger purpose for the Indigenous women’s rights organizations than just baseline data.

“I was so scared at first, I didn't think we would be able to do this, it seemed so daunting. Now I see it as a tool for the movement [Tz'ununija']. We made it ours.”

Tz'ununija' Territorial Liaisons, during internal review discussion. March 2020

The Process

The Women’s Voice and Leadership - Guatemala baseline study included three elements: the Capacity Assessment Tool for Gender-Just Organizational Strengthening (CAT4GJO), a set of interviews and a series of case stories recorded by women leaders reflecting on organizational capacity strengthening. One of the most important parts of a baseline study is to collect data on a project’s Meaning of the term "indicators" A means of measuring project outcomes and outputs. It can be qualitative or quantitative, and is composed of a unit of measure, a unit of analysis and a context. Indicators are neutral; they neither indicate a direction of change, nor embed a target. For example: %/total children aged 6-15 (f/m and rural/urban) that have been immunized against influenza . All of these processes came together in a final workshop held with women leaders to make sense of the data.

The CAT4GJO process began in November 2019 with Oxfam Canada’s CAT4GJO facilitators’ workshop, including the first adaptation exercise in which Tz’ununija’ and its members worked to ensure the tool was culturally relevant and appropriate. From that moment on, Tz’ununija’s Meaning of the term "Territorial Liaisons" Territorial Liaisons are Tz’ununija’ project personnel carefully recruited to work closely on the ground in each of the four departments where project activities are implemented and at the national level to support organization-wide activities. They are multilingual Indigenous Garifuna, Maya K’iche’, and Maya Q’eqchi’ women leaders with proven knowledge of the realities of the communities they accompany. emerged as the ones driving the entire process. Territorial Liaisons are an integral part of Tz’ununija’s structure. They were key to the process of adapting, implementing and making sense of the data that came out of the CAT4GJO self-assessment process.

This first adaptation exercise focused on adjustments in three areas: language, methodology and schedules. To start their journey as CAT4GJO in-person facilitators, the Territorial Liaisons conducted a pilot exercise in February 2020. From then until the COVID-19 pandemic hit Guatemala in March 2020, the first round of women’s rights organizations carried out their assessments in person.

In May 2020, the project teams quickly assessed how well communities could connect to programming in the absence of in-person activities due to the public health restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this assessment, the Women’s Voice and Leadership - Guatemala team explored possible options for continuing the baseline study, which originally included face-to-face interaction. As many of Tz’ununija’s members did not have adequate internet connectivity in their communities for an online version of the process, the team identified the most appropriate solution to be a telephone platform for group calls.

This marked the beginning of the second adaptation phase of the CAT4GJO tool in which Tz’ununija’ and Oxfam co-developed a participants’ guide and a facilitators’ guide, and purchased phones for the participants to use. With the phones and their participants’ guide, which Tz’ununija’ delivered to everyone in advance, women leaders from the women’s rights organizations were able to participate in the structured, facilitator-led discussions in their own languages within their own organizations.

The key to success using the telephone as the platform for the process was the trust that the Territorial Liaisons and the leaders from each Indigenous women’s rights organization had already built with participants, speaking to each of them and calling them by their names to make sure all voices were heard. External consultants were hired to document the process and write the baseline report, but the Territorial Liaisons conducted all facilitation.

The success and richness of analytical discussions using such a difficult medium as the telephone would not have been possible without Tz’ununija’s – and in particular the Territorial Liaisons’ – level of commitment and ownership of the process.

Despite the rich information that the CAT4GJO tool provided, it did not provide all the information that the project required. Therefore, the external consultants conducted semi-structured individual telephone interviews with one board member from each organization to gather the additional information.

The project team then hosted a workshop in October 2020 using the information gathered from the CAT4GJO workshops and the interviews. During this workshop, Tz’ununija’ members reviewed the data from the CAT4GJO workshops, set annual project targets and provided an overall picture of how Tz’ununija’ and its members viewed themselves and their organizational capacities at the start of the project. Using data from the CAT4GJO process, Tz’ununija’ and five member organizations set priorities and developed their own Capacity Strengthening Plans.

Finally, to further enrich the data that had been gathered, Tz’ununija’ selected four Indigenous women leaders from different women’s rights organizations to tell stories that capture, in their own voices, their ideas and hopes for change within their organizations.

The final workshop took place in October 2020, the women’s stories were collected in December 2020 and the baseline report was finalized in January 2021.

"The final results speak for themselves... because the CAT was understood and is fully owned by us now."

-Reisy Esperanza Cabjon, Tz'ununija' Territorial Liaison

Reisy Esperanza Cabjon and Ana Ventura's Story

Reisy Cabjon is a workshop facilitator and a youth participant of the Women's Voice and Leadership project in the municipality of Cobán in northern Guatemala. She is a Maya Q'eqchi' woman working in a spirit of resistance, seeking to strengthen women's capacity at the community and municipal levels. Alongside this work, Reisy is a Territorial Liaison between the Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala project and the people living in the area of Alta Verapaz.

Ana Ventura is a spiritual leader, respected community elder and a Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala project participant living in the department (state) of Quiché, northwest of Guatemala City. Since 1988, she has actively worked with grassroots and civil society organizations to bring justice to women and Indigenous people after crimes committed during the country's military rule. Ana is also a Territorial Liaison with the Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala Project.
Read more about their story below.

In their work with the Tz'ununija' Indigenous Women's Movement (Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas Tz'ununija'), commonly referred to as the Movement, both Ana and Reisy are committed to fighting inequality, racism and discrimination.

Ana and Reisy participated in implementing the CAT4GJO, a data-gathering tool –called the CAT by women from the Movement. In late 2019, representatives from all of the project's selected organizations met for three days to review the tool. As part of this group, Ana and Reisy gained an understanding of the CAT4GJO document's objectives and content to begin translating it from English first into Spanish and then adapting it to four languages: Quiché, Kaqchiquel, Q'eqchi' and Pocomchi'.

Overcoming Language Challenges, New Technology and Natural Disasters

"Many technical terms required not just a textual translation," explains Reisy. "We had to do drawings and charts and figure out how we could communicate what the original term meant to women from different communities."

Reisy and Ana also explain how the CAT included terminology and worldviews that do not always align with their cultures and participants' knowledge. For instance, the tool incorporates the term "feminist," a major issue because the Movement is based on the Mayan cosmovision, a worldview guided by dualities. Everything in life is formed as a pair or parallel. For example, there is no woman without man, no day without night, no Mother Earth without a Father Sun, and no humanity without nature.

As such, Reisy and Ana explain, "We don't consider ourselves feminist, first of all, because it's a very new term for us. When they hear or read the term, many of our peers think it is about women trying to be better than or superior to men. So when we saw this term across the CAT, we were concerned and decided not to use it to avoid antagonism."

The implementation process became more complicated when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Unable to meet in person, Territorial Liaisons and other key staff working with the Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala project had to pivot to using smartphones provided by Oxfam to communicate with their working group.

At first, Tz’ununija’ hoped to be able to work online with all of the community women’s rights organizations. Along with other youth members, Reisy first taught some women how to use smartphones and the Zoom app, while others learned with the help of their children or grandchildren. "Initially, using the phones was confusing," Reisy says. "Many communities still lack access to technology, so a smartphone was a novelty concept for many women. Some were intimidated by them, and others were afraid to use them."

Through a careful, collective effort, Reisy found that most women mastered the smartphones.

However, the pending CAT workshops were with leaders living in communities with little to no access to internet. Ultimately, Ana and Reisy and the Territorial Liaisons used Oxfam in Guatemala's telephone conferencing service to carry out the training and created a participants’ guidebook that would be culturally appropriate, easier to work with and more accessible. However, the challenges just kept coming.

In November 2020, Guatemala endured two category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, making it difficult to connect with participating women's groups. At the same time, with Oxfam's assistance, the Movement provided humanitarian aid to women in the areas affected by the hurricanes, as homes were flooded or lost to landslides, which resulted in further training delays.

Nonetheless, even with COVID-19, technological hiccups and tropical storms, nothing stopped Ana, Reisy and the women from the participating organizations from implementing the CAT.

"The final results speak for themselves," Reisy says, "because the CAT was understood and is fully owned by us now."

What Has Been the Impact So Far?

According to Reisy, the CAT "was like a blueprint, where women have been able not just to identify where their organization needs strengthening but, also, they feel confident in how to do it." After its implementation, many women expressed their desire to see more female leadership and more women involved in their organizations' processes. In response, Ana and Reisy organized five sessions to understand this need further.

Ana describes how, along with the CAT, the Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala project also covers other topics, like discussing different types of violence and the process of healing. "We collectively talk about our emotions and the roots of the violence we have experienced," she says. "We have the support of a psychologist who is part of this healing process and gave us great techniques to deal with everything. We've been through a lot already in our lives, and, on top of it, we had to deal with the pandemic, so this took an emotional toll on all of us."

Reisy and Ana also see the impact of the Indigenous knowledge participants brought to the Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala project, since part of the Tz'ununija' Movement's mission is to bring to the forefront of any process or discussion, the relations that exist between all the elements that make up life.

"When we talk about violence, we also talk about how we inflict violence on the planet," Ana explains. "We talk about living in peace, but if we don't have a relationship with nature, we won't have peace. If we don't take care of our planet, we won't have harmony."

Looking to the Future

Reisy thinks the Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala project is already a success. She has heard from many participants how the project has made a difference in their lives. She also explains the CAT has helped many organizations see that the participation of men and women is not balanced, and why it is important for more women to be in positions of leadership, making it easier for them to remedy.

Reisy and Ana would like to see Women's Voice and Leadership - Guatemala continue to grow and reach more women. They believe the project could provide greater support to capacity-building workshops and more information sessions on women's rights and protection laws. They also think the CAT could monitor the priority actions identified by each organization to strengthen them.

With the hope of seeing women happy and no longer victimized by violence, Reisy says that the work does not end with this project. "I want women to know who they are as women and how to defend themselves." Ana agrees. "I'd like to walk down the street without fear when I go to Guatemala City," she says. "I'd like to see less social and family violence. I want more harmony and joy."

Explore Further

Learn more about how we did it, and explore how our MEAL approaches and methodologies impacted the outcome.

Learn How We Did This
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