Overcoming Violence

Stories of Gender Based Violence

Maria Rafaela Chacach Cotzojay

Activist

Maria Rafaela Chacach Cotzojay

-In the past my identity was given to me from my family, the church and the society, Rafaela tells. Through her civil society engagement, she has now chosen her own identity, and works for other indigenous women in Guatemala to get the opportunity to do the same.

Guatemala is marked by quite huge social inequalities. Around half of the population is indigenous people with the Maya people as the largest group. They are subjected to substantial discrimination and are hardly included in political decision-making which affects their lives and territories. Indigenous women in particular experience discrimination and racism, and in addition violence against women is quite common.

Earlier Rafaela’s place was at home, and she had to ask her husband permission to go out.
Earlier Rafaela’s place was at home, and she had to ask her husband permission to go out.

Rafaela tells that the church contributes to an understanding of women as subjugated and quiet, belonging to home, there were no place for them in society. For many years she herself believed that her own place was at home. – All I did was to take orders. I did my tasks, fulfilled my obligations, produced as many children as he wished, served him, that was all.

Rafaela got all her education as an adult and now she hopes to begin law studies at the university.
Rafaela got all her education as an adult and now she hopes to begin law studies at the university.

Through the organization for indigenous people Asociacion Grupo Integra de Mujeres Sanjuaneras (AGIMS) Rafaela got a new understanding of the role of women: - I understood that I had to change my life, and that I was an important woman with values and many possibilities. I wanted to change and that’s why I started studying. In her adulthood Rafaela completed primary school, secondary school and high school, and now she hopes to be admitted to the university.

There is now no need for Rafaela to explain to her husband each time she goes out of the house. She makes her own choices.
There is now no need for Rafaela to explain to her husband each time she goes out of the house. She makes her own choices.

Rafaela is proud of her ability to create her own identity: - Now I make my own choices, I don’t have to ask permission, like I did before. When I go out now I no longer tell where or what because I know I can just say “Listen, I’m going out, I’m heading for a meeting”. I also have a job. Those things are what define my identity now, Rafaela tells.

She is now employed by AGIMS helping other women to fight the violence they are subjected to. For her it is crucial that women may report the violence, but to reach that stage they first have to understand that the oppression they are victim of actually is illegal.

-This is what I help the women with. I explain to them that violence is not normal.

Rafaela now works helping other women who are victim to violence and oppression.
Rafaela now works helping other women who are victim to violence and oppression.