“The defense of the body territory, involves accepting the body as a territory in dispute for the ancestral and colonial patriarchal power, but also as a vital space for recovery of life” (Lorena Cabnal)
TZK`AT* - Network of Ancestral Healers of Community, Territorial Feminism from Iximulew - Guatemala, emerged in October 2015 from indigenous women defenders of life, mother earth and community, territorial feminism. They called to accompany and mutually support each other in light of the risk they suffer as defenders of life and human rights. Currently the network is comprised of 13 indigenous xinkas and mayan peoples including q`eqchi', kaqchiquel, k'iche, uspanteko and ch’orti’ with histories of political persecution, stigmatization, death threats, political territorial displacement, criminalization, judicialization and sexual violence.
The struggles against multiple types of violence that impact indigenous women, in particular sexual violence, femicide, and territorial violence, are historical struggles yet at the same time totally relevant today. The Network was born out of the need, expressed by many female defenders, to share and heal the pain caused by the political, economic and social system that is completely patriarchal and racist, which oppresses and exploits them. All of them have experience in ancestral healing processes, carrying out fundamental tasks in indigenous communities such as those carried out by healers, midwives, herbalists, kamalb’e or spiritual guides, time keepers or native doctors. The network shares spaces for healing as a protective measure for emotional and spiritual recuperation of colleagues that are affected directly by social conflict and participate in community based organizations for political action in defense of both body and land.
Fighting against stereotypes and stigmatization
Many women have been stigmatized in their communities and in other public spaces for breaking the traditional role of submissive and quiet women. The role of female defenders in Guatemala is important and at the same time difficult, not only do they face risks and threats that involve defending life and human rights in a country where these are systematically violated yet also they face a patriarchal system rooted in questioning the roles and stereotypes historically assigned to women. Thus, female defenders not only fight against discrimination originating from public officials, the state, and business powers, but also they have to defend themselves against criticism coming from their own communities and organizations. In this sense the Network says the struggle and resistance starts at home, moving through the community and then reaching the public sphere.
The accusations against female defenders are many, often labeling them as enemies of development and terrorists, delegitimizing their work in defense of territories. They are also accused of being ¨bought¨ by mining companies. In smear campaigns against them they are called a variety of insults like prostitutes, women without a job, crazy or alcoholics. On many occasions, when they do not want to align themselves with patriarchal and chauvinistic masculine leadership demands in their territories, women are subject to threats and public punishment in their communities: these forms of delegitimizing and punishment of women, send messages to other women in the community who are interested in participating in political life so that they desist, are frightened, embarrassed and in doing so they are not active.
Impacts of mega-projects in the lives of female defenders
The extractive model put forth by transnational companies and by the Guatemalan State leads to social conflict and impoverishment of indigenous peoples, limiting their access to land and natural resources which sustain them. In this scenario, to be a rural, indigenous woman and a defender of land and territory is a high risk activity as they are exposed to threats like criminalization, stigmatization and other forms of violence. These women over the course of their lives have had a close daily relationship with nature, which is interrupted when economic megaprojects (mines, hydroelectric dams, etc.) are installed without prior consent in communities. When this happens forests, rivers, land, and other natural resources are privatized and at the service of the interests of the megaprojects. Thus, women are especially affected as they are the ones whose role as caretakers of health and family and community wellbeing are greatly affected in these contexts. In addition, women are the ones who sell agriculture products, animals and crafts in the local markets. Also many times women are the ones who initiate complaints and protests against the abuse by companies.
This work of defense carried out by women, is developed in scenarios of strong conflict resulting from these processes of dispossession, characterized by the exacerbation of violence. The installation of megaprojects without free, prior and informed consent of the communities, generates ruptures of the social fabric and community fragmentation which are difficult to repair. For example, the tension between the people who work for the companies and the people against these projects.
To be, feel, act and come together
From their ancestral wisdom, the women in the Network refer to the territorial embracement as a healing process: embracement meaning to tell, be, feel, act and come together in full consciousness to collectively defend our bodies and land, because of our ancestry and also because of our rights. According to the Network, this embracement can take place in different forms: from the body, hugging, being with those who have suffered, from personal experience, listening so that the person can tell what they have experienced; and with other healing processes like ceremonies. The places where they conduct these processes are important as it is in that process of recovering territory sacred places of mother earth regain importance like the shores of rivers, mountains or ceremonial spaces, where ceremonies have taken place since ancestral times.
On the other hand, they seek spaces to dialogue, make proposals, take political action, and to follow up on situations of defenders in political risk. They also seek to collaborate with other organizations to carry out community and organizational actions that strengthen the social demands for the fulfillment of collective rights of peoples and, in particular, the rights of indigenous women. Within the framework of such proposals, the Network aims to accompany and take on processes for the physical, emotional and spiritual recovery of indigenous women defenders of life and human rights in the territories. They do this from a native worldview vantage point, as forms of healing with political intentions and from the feminist intentionality that generates holistic well-being of the body, mind, emotions, community, and spiritual as well as the recovery of plural healing knowledge from indigenous women.
PBI has provided accompaniment to the Network since January 2018. In the context of physical presence, we highlight the accompaniment we have provided to the Network during the ceremonies held on the 8th of each month for spiritual embracing of survivors, mothers, and families and to demand justice and commemorate the 46 girls who were burnt and asphyxiated in the State-run Virgin of Asuncion Home.
* TZK`AT means network of Mayan Kiché languages.