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‘Mirame’ book launch shines a light on challenges facing indigenous girls in Guatemala

©UNICEF Guatemala/2007/Chevigny
Dora Alonso, 15, a member of Guatemala’s Children’s Parliament, speaking at the launch of ‘Mirame’, a joint book project of UNICEF and La Defensoria de la Mujer Indigena.

By Blue Chevigny

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala 22 August 2007 – Dora Alonzo, 15, was wearing a beautiful, hand-woven dress in yellow, pink and blue. “We’re girls – we like to play, we like to laugh, we like to sing, we like to enjoy life,”  she said last week before a gathering of people, many of them young girls like her, at the Children’s Museum in Guatemala City.

The 14 August gathering marked the publication of ‘Mirame: Situación de la Niña Indígena en Guatemala’, a book of photographs and wide-ranging information on the reality of indigenous girls’ lives in the Central American country.

Dora is a member of Guatemala’s vast Mayan indigenous community, which together with the smaller Xinca and Garifuna groups make up over 40 per cent of the country’s population. She is also a member of the Guatemalan Children’s Parliament  representing the state of Quiche.

“Our culture and our language form part of a system of knowledge, ideas, technologies and values that have been constructed and transferred across generations,”  she said at the book launch.

© UNICEF Guatemala/2007/Chews
UNICEF Representative in Guatemala Manuel Manrique presenting the new publication, ‘Mirame’, about the lives of indigenous girls.

Triple discrimination

‘Mirame’ is a joint effort of UNICEF Guatemala and La Defensoria de la Mujer Indigena (DEMI), a non-governmental organization that promotes the rights of indigenous women and girls.

“Indigenous people in general are discriminated against, the indigenous child doubly discriminated against, the indigenous girl triply discriminated against,”  UNICEF Representative in Guatemala Manuel Manrique told UNICEF Radio after speaking at the launch.

“If you review the life cycle from birth until 18 years of age, the situation of the indigenous girl is worse than that of others,” he added. “Indigenous women contribute the highest rates of maternal mortality in this country, and indigenous girls are the children who spend the least time in school.” 

Indeed, indigenous people in Guatemala suffer worse indicators than the general population in terms of education, health, nutrition and protection. For girls, the disparity is even more acute.

In a country where poverty rates are among the highest in the region – and where a survey jointly sponsored by UNICEF and the Prensa Libre newspaper showed a large majority saying that discrimination is prevalent – it is impossible to talk about social ills without considering the lives of the indigenous.

©UNICEF Guatemala/2007/Arteaga
Indigenous girls like these youths at a forum in Panajachel, Guatemala are especially lacking in access to education, health care, nutrition and economic advancement.

Diversity and respect

Teresa Zapeta, a lawyer with DEMI and co-author of ‘Mirame’, spoke at the book event in her native Kak’chiquel language and Spanish. She said she hopes to spread her message around the globe.

“We would like, with our actions in this country and especially as indigenous women, to contribute to the rest of the countries of the world,” Ms. Zapeta declared. “We must recognize that as humanity, we are diverse. And inside that diversity each of us has our own rights. And we should defend those rights and have respect and live from childhood in the knowledge of those rights.” 

Guatemalan Vice-President Eduardo Stein Barillas also spoke at the launch of ‘Mirame’, signalling the current government’s commitment to issues of girls’ education, health and advancement. With national and local elections coming up in early September in Guatemala, UNICEF hopes to bring all of the candidates’ attention to the improvement of the children’s lives – with special emphasis on those of indigenous girls.

‘Working to make things better’

Dora was bubbling with excitement after the day’s presentations were done. But despite her enthusiasm, she expressed concern about the difficulties faced by the typical indigenous girl in her country.

“We should all be taken into account. If they notice us, many times, the Latino people discriminate against us – only because of the simple matter of the way we dress, which is something very beautiful that we have done for centuries,” she said.

“As people, as inhabitants of a country, we want to matter, so that our country will develop well,” Dora continued. “If everyone unites we will have the strength to continue working to make things better.”


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UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on UNICEF’s commitment in Guatemala to improving indigenous girls’ education, nutrition and health.

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