She rummages through a pocket intricately hidden within her hand-woven skirt—bills, coins—quetzals—are pulled out before she grabs hold of her Guatemalan I.D.
“Como se escribe tu nombre?” How do you spell your name? “Ella no sabe escribir su nombre.”
She doesn’t know how to spell her name.
Maria Antonieta Chial Con—her Maya roots quickly traced by the sound of her last name.
“This is what I looked like when my husband used to abuse me,” Maria says, pointing to the picture of a sickly middle-aged woman who looked much older than her years.
Six years ago she was abused, causing her to question her self-worth as a woman. However, Maria is not alone.
Maria’s story is only one example of the discrimination the indigenous Maya women face in the rural provinces of Guatemala.
The women of indigenous pueblos not only suffer from abuse, but daily discrimination at home and in schools, as well as femicide—a gender crime that consists of the killing of women for being just that—women.
In the shadows of a volcano is a town whose Maya population outnumbers the Ladinos, the more modernized Guatemalans, and the idea of a woman advancing is highly overlooked.
Men’s attitudes still remain old fashioned.
“Cooking? No, I don’t do that, the woman does—It’s custom here,” said Manuel Ajtzalam, a villager, as he hammers in a nail to a stand he’s building by hand. Beside him is a woman cooking pollo adorado. Silently, she listens. Not a word in disagreement is said.
In all of Latin-America, Guatemala is known to be the most dangerous place for women, according to UNICEF, and an estimated 90 percent of domestic violence cases go unreported.
Fifty-one percent of the Guatemalan population is made up of Maya’s, but because the Guatemalan justice system operates in Spanish rather than the native language, access to justice for violent acts towards women is limited in indigenous communities, according to the Social Institution and Gender Index.
Eduarda Solval Maldonando De Ajin fans her daughter after recovering from a hernia removal. She whispers into her ear, reassuring her that everything will be okay.
Unlike many of the traditional Maya women living in Chocolá, Guatemala, Eduarda sports jeans, sandals and a celeste top that compliments her caramel colored skin.
After years of suffering, she found the courage to break away from cultural tendencies.
“There are young girls, hembrecitas, that are not given the chance to continue with their studies and instead are told to get married,” Eduarda said as she comforts her daughter. “(Once married,) they then belong to their husband, who tell them that their sole responsibility is to maintain (the man).”
As a young girl, Eduarda’s mother refused to let her continue with her studies to find a man. At 15, she got married, and at 16, the birth of her first child.
Then, physical abuse followed.
Her then-husband would drink away their earnings, come home and beat her after a long day at work, and to make up for the lack of money, he’d sell her belongings.
She felt haggard, worthless, ugly. The years she endured suffering apparent in her soft, hollow eyes as she remembers how empty he once made her feel.
A woman like Eduarda had the ability to file a domestic abuse case against her past husband, but, according to the Organization of American States, there have been zero public campaigns aimed to advise women of their rights.
Guatemala, like many Latin-American countries, has a prevalent machismo culture. Machismo, meaning a strong, aggressive sense of masculine pride, which places the man as the dominant head of household and the women as submissive.
“The men go out and work while the women stay home, make tortillas and take care of sus hijos, the kids,” Manuel said.
This male-dominance mentality starts at birth. In small pueblos like Chocolá, when a Maya family cannot afford hospital birth costs, they pay the doctor with food, said Dr. Sergio Castillo, a doctor who dedicates his life to serving the Maya community at a low cost.
If the woman gives birth to a girl, the doctor will be paid in bananas. If the woman gives birth to a boy, they will pay the doctor with a chicken, Castillo said, thus establishing which gender holds more value.
“I have seen cases where they even give priority to boys to go to school,” Castillo said. “The daughter will stay home with the mother learning huipil, or weaving.”
The idea of a man holding more value than his female counterpart carries into adulthood, raising men with intentions to use a woman, impregnate her, then leave her to take care of the kids alone, Maria said, which is often how women get stuck suffering with their kids.
“Here, a woman’s role is to be a mother to her children. A woman gets married, and next comes kids. That is what is in store for a woman; providing for the kids,” Maria said.
This role is familiar to every woman and man in the rural provinces of Guatemala. Venture out to a dirt path in Xejuyup, Guatemala where Manuela Beatriz Guarchaj Ajtzalam resides, teaching her 12-year-old daughter how to cook, clean and sew while her sons go out, work and pass time. Down the road lives Francisco, who reiterates that maintaining the house and kids is a what ultimately defines a woman, as his wife adds ‘making tortillas’ on to the list. Waiting to hitch a ride for work is Juan, who mentions a woman's job is not to get educated, but to stay in the kitchen, sweep and clean.
Machismo culture suggests that women do not wish to change the sexual balance at home because of their contentment with their feminine power in the household.
But talking to women like Maria, who detached herself from a man after facing years of abuse, or Fredy Poz, a young father who wants his daughter to excel in school, quickly debunks that myth.
Fredy Poz, 28, sits on a block with his 4-year-old daughter on his lap. A braid wraps around her head while she inserts a flower above her right ear. She hums a song, quietly watching her brother run around the clinic.
“As a father, I will always want the best for my daughter. I want her to be someone who is known, prepared and professional,” Poz said. “And if she finds someone, I want them to adore her, appreciate her. Someone that will love her always.”
With the constant fight for social movements, Poz said, women have gained more rights—maybe not at the level they would want to be at, but they have opened various doors, he said.
But outside of being able to switch a skirt for a pair of jeans, the doors Poz speaks about are nearly nonexistent.
Advocates for human rights have pressed the Guatemalan government for years, demanding them to investigate and prosecute crimes of femicide and violent acts against women.
Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Guatemalan indigenous rights activist, said that as an indigenous Quiché woman, she believes the fight against racism and discrimination should be prioritized and continental.
“Our fight isn’t only with one person, but with a broken system that has practiced genocide and femicide,” Menchú said.
In April 2008, there was cause for hope when the Guatemalan congress passed the Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women, which listed a number of prosecutable types of violence against women such as economic and psychological violence.
But despite the new punishments, 98 percent of crimes against women in Guatemala still go unpunished, according to UNICEF, with less than 2 percent of crimes being investigated.
With an estimated 5,000 Guatemalan women killed in the past decade, according the the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, the first steps for change start with educational awareness so that voices of women like Maria and Eduarda are heard.
“The necessity to make an education based on the culture of peace is an education where people apply the changes in time, diversity—especially diversity—that affect everyone day by day, not just ethnic groups,” Menchú said. “Today, adolescents, immigrants, women, the poorest people on the planet, all face discrimination.”
Menchú adds that women today should take advantage of opportunities available to develop initiatives to be happy, look for goals that permit their voice to be heard and to not lose their identity, especially in a time where there’s a high identity crisis, she said.
Maria, who has been single for six years now, resonates with Menchú and encourages women to embrace the characteristics that come with being a woman, because without them, men wouldn’t exist, she said.
“We are women. With all the men that there are, men shouldn’t be judging us … because through a woman came a man. If this woman had not committed sexual acts with her husband, there would be no kids, there would be no man,” Maria said.