Feb 26, 2021

Starting Strong in 2021

Recruiting program participants
Recruiting program participants

Here at the Women’s Justice Initiative, we’ve hit the ground running in 2021! We are excited to share some of the exciting projects we have planned for the year ahead.

Expansion into Tecpán

In January 2021, WJI launched an expansion of its Adolescent Girls Program into three communities in a new municipality, Tecpán. Using data from community mapping, WJI identified 90 girls ages 10 to 19 in these communities to participate in the program. WJI has also begun implementing this program with an additional 90 girls in three new communities in Patzun. Throughout the next nine months, these girls will learn about their rights and the negative consequences of early unions and child marriage, while their parents and the leaders in their communities will learn about their roles in preventing child marriage.

Pilot Program with Boys

After facing a delay due to COVID-19, WJI has begun to implement a four-month Boys Pilot Program that will run parallel to the Adolescent Girls Program in three communities in Patzun. The new program will provide workshops to 60 boys ages 8 to 11 to teach them about gender equality and the benefits of preventing violence against women and girls and delaying marriage. WJI’s Monitoring and Evaluating Officer will be working hard over the next year to study the impacts and potential benefits of this new program.

COVID-19 Adaptations

Maintaining the health and safety of our staff and participants remains WJI’s highest priority. In order to continue operating our programs safely, WJI is following an extensive COVID-19 prevention protocol. All workshops are being held outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces with reduced group sizes. Mask wearing and social distancing are required. WJI has also begun to train Community Advocates, local women who have undergone our intensive two-year leadership training program, to support the implementation of the Adolescent Girls Program. With Community Advocates prepared to teach workshops in their own communities, we can ensure that this program will continue even if new local travel restrictions are put in place.

International Women’s Week

Finally, WJI is excited to share that we will be participating in GlobalGiving’s 2021 International Women’s Week campaign! Please consider donating to WJI from March 8-12th, when all donations will receive a 50% match up to $50 from GlobalGiving. Donations like these allow us to continue operating our transformative programs in rural Guatemala and to continue adapting to new challenges and opportunities. We are so grateful for your support!

Recruiting program participants
Recruiting program participants
Training Community Advocates to lead workshops
Training Community Advocates to lead workshops
Nov 2, 2020

"Not even COVID-19 can tear down our network"

In mid-March, it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had arrived in Guatemala. As the situation developed rapidly, the Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) decided to halt all in-person activities to protect the health and safety of our staff and program participants. Our plans for 2020, including our workshops with adolescent girls and a new pilot program with boys, were put on hold. After COVID cases were detected in Patzun, where WJI’s office is located, the entire municipality was cordoned off, restricting travel and further limiting WJI’s access to the 38 communities where we  work. 

At that point, we had more questions than answers. How could we combat violence against women and girls with only remote services? What were the current challenges in the communities we serve, and how could we best respond?

To find the answers, WJI turned to our network of Community Advocates, women leaders who undergo an intensive leadership training program with WJI and then serve as a leader and resource for women and girls in their communities. Throughout April, WJI staff connected with 73 Community Advocates over the phone to conduct needs assessments of WJI’s partner communities. It became clear that both food insecurity and violence against women and girls had become urgent concerns. These communities continue to face job losses, lockdowns, and food insecurity. While girls remain home from school and families worry about where they will find their next meal, the risk of intimate partner violence and child marriage has skyrocketed. In fact, since the onset of COVID-19 in Guatemala, the number of people facing hunger has doubled, and reports of sexual violence in Guatemala have nearly tripled compared to the previous year. Since March, 80% of women who have sought legal services from WJI have experienced violence.  

Based on the needs that our Advocates identified in their communities, WJI developed our COVID response strategy: 

  1. WJI staff are providing legal and psychological counseling to survivors of violence over the phone. Since March, WJI’s psychologist and legal team have supported over 279 women, including survivors of violence and women with urgent economic and legal needs, such as delays in child support payments.
  2. WJI has delivered a month of food aid to 12,825 individuals and 4,500 donated masks to families in our partner communities. In response to recent reports from our Advocates, WJI is also developing a plan to deliver basic medical supplies to our Advocates and their families, as many communities have been without access to these supplies for the duration of the pandemic. 
  3. WJI is working with a coalition of local organizations to create and implement informative radio spots throughout the entire Kaqchikel-speaking region of Guatemala, sharing WJI’s hotline number for survivors of violence, urging listeners to maintain social solidarity, and providing information on COVID-19 prevention in the local language, Kaqchikel. These messages have been playing on 6 radio stations multiple times per day. The coalition recently expanded its reach to also provide messaging in Spanish and longer-form broadcasts to a broader range of indigenous communities in over 100 municipalities, with an estimated reach of over 100,000 people.

WJI’s recent activities respond to the urgent needs that have arisen in our partner communities and build upon the leadership of our network of Community Advocates. Our activities have been successful thus far because our approach reflects the input of members of our partner communities, who were integral in determining our course of action. These activities also help maintain partner communities’ trust in WJI. Just this month, we were welcomed back into the community of Xepatan, where we were able to resume workshops with a small group of adolescent girls, with social distancing and COVID precautions in place. It is vital that we continue to support these communities in order to sustain the long-term success of our programs, as well as to respond to immediate crises.

As WJI looks ahead to the year to come, we know we will continue to partner closely with our network of Community Advocates to adapt and respond to new challenges. With your generous support, we will build the leadership capacity of Community Advocates to help implement our community-based programs, such as our adolescent girls workshops, in new communities. Several of our Advocates are adolescent girls and young women in their late teens and early twenties, and are skilled at connecting with girls and young women in their communities. We plan to continue to train additional younger women in the year to come, as young women often bring distinct skills and a different perspective from our older Advocates, and having a diverse group helps our programs to be more effective. We will also continue to collaborate with other local organizations to more holistically respond to the needs of our partner communities, building on the relationships established and lessons learned through our COVID response strategy. 

Though this has not been the year we thought we would have, we believe that these new challenges will ultimately strengthen our long-term impact and sustainability as an organization and improve our ability to respond to and prevent violence against women and girls. As Candy, a 21-year-old Community Advocate from Paxixil, Guatemala, reflected, “As my mother would say, ‘no one can take away your impulse to help other women, no matter the hour or the day.’” Not even COVID-19 can tear down our network of strong, empowered indigenous women’s rights defenders.

 

This report was originally published as a blog post with WomenStrong International's Learning Lab. We greatly appreciate the support of WomenStrong and all the donors who have helped us implement our COVID response.

Jul 9, 2020

WJI's COVID-19 Response

Shortly after launching this project, WJI was forced to suspend all in-person activities and transition to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout April, WJI staff connected with our network of Community Advocates, women who have gone through our intensive leadership training program, to conduct needs assessments of our 38 partner communities and to inform our COVID-19 response.

Due to travel limitations, mounting stress, and economic constraints, food access and violence against women and girls (VAWG) have become urgent concerns in rural Guatemala. Although the Guatemalan Government has not published official reports of VAWG incidence during quarantine, COVID lockdowns have led to a dramatic increase in VAWG throughout Latin America. WJI has rapidly shifted its programmatic focus to respond to urgent needs that have arisen in our partner communities. GlobalGiving has provided generous support for our COVID response work.

WJI’s recent activities include:

  1. Providing legal services and psychological counseling for survivors of violence over the phone. WJI has created a hotline number that women throughout the Kaqchikel region can call or text for support in the local language.
  2. Delivering food aid and distributing donated masks in partner communities.
  3. In collaboration with other local NGOs, we have created radio spots with information on COVID-19 and VAWG in the local language, Kaqchikel, including WJI’s hotline number for survivors of violence.

Since April, we have delivered 1,058 food baskets and 3,445 donated masks to families in our partner communities. These activities have helped increase stability and reduce anxiety and stress (potential risk factors for increased VAWG). Our efforts have also helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these communities both by providing families with personal protective equipment as well as ensuring they have adequate resources to stay home instead of seeking work.

By working with Community Advocates to coordinate food deliveries and respond to cases of violence, WJI is continuing to engage these women as leaders. We will continue to support our partner communities in order to both respond to their urgent needs and to sustain the long-term success of our programs. GlobalGiving’s support has been vital in allowing WJI to provide emergency relief in rural Guatemala, strengthen our community relationships, and prepare our organization to emerge even stronger from this challenging period. As we now develop plans to provide rights education, child marriage prevention, and leadership training to adolescent girls in a socially distant, post-COVID world, your donations will ensure we can continue this work safely.

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