Montserrat Fernández Piñón is a Nicaraguan and Catalonian Popular Educator and social worker who has worked on gender issues for 20 years. She joined CAFOD in 2006 to promote and accompany our partners in Central America as they work to transform unequal relations between men and women in organisations and everyday life.
Imagine the horror of being raped. Then imagine that after such a horrific experience, you can’t tell anyone. You are afraid of the authorities, but even if you weren’t, they don’t speak your language.
This is what happens in Verapaz, Guatemala. If a Qeqchí or Pocomchí person is attacked, abused or raped, they simply have nowhere to turn. These indigenous women and men can’t access public services because they can’t speak Spanish.
Guatemala is in general one of the most unequal societies in the world. Most people live in poverty, especially in rural areas. Illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition rates are high, while life expectancy is low.
But for Indigenous communities the situation is even worse. Deeply ingrained discrimination against them means that their culture and ethnic identity are constantly threatened, and they have very limited access to economic opportunities. Worse still, when they suffer violence or crime, they can’t turn to the authorities, because they do not speak Spanish.
CAFOD’s partner, Pastoral Social – Caritas Verapaz, works alongside girls, boys, women and men to give information and training on human rights (including Indigenous Peoples’ rights), gender issues (including violence against women), and HIV.
With the training, people can raise their self-esteem and gain confidence. It gives them the courage to go to authorities and report violations to their human rights. And when they do, our partners accompany them, to serve as translators and give them moral support and strength.
In a country such as Guatemala, where racism and discrimination against Indigenous women and men is rampant, the type of work Pastoral Social is doing is vital. Pastoral Social is a well known organisation, and because they are active in several local and national networks and platforms, public officials open the doors to them and treat people accompanied by them with more respect.
As a survivor of sexual violence, I know the damage such an attack can do, and how important it is to get the right kind of help and support to seek justice. For anyone who has suffered a rape or other sexual attack, speaking out can be one of the hardest things to do. But for people who are already vulnerable, mistrustful of the authorities or already know they will not be heard because they are poor and indigenous, it is almost impossible. That’s why Pastoral Social’s work is so vital: they really are a voice for the voiceless.