WJI is building a more equitable world for Maya women and girls by combating gender inequality and violence against women and girls. Through an innovative community-based approach, WJI is improving the lives of women and girls by increasing their access to justice and improving their ability to exercise their rights to live free from violence.
WJI's mission is to improve the lives of indigenous Guatemalan women and girls through education, access to legal services and gender-based violence prevention.
WJI envisions a Guatemala in which women and girls are active leaders in their communities and are free from gender-based violence; have access to culturally respectful legal services, have knowledge of their legal rights and can safely assert these rights.
The Legal Services program provides free legal services directly to women in need by bringing lawyers and paralegals to their communities and by providing bilingual Mayan-Spanish resources. WJI’s mobile legal outreach ensures that the most marginalized women, who may not be able to leave their homes or communities, can access legal support and counseling. In doing so, WJI greatly expands women’s access to justice.
WJI runs four programs.
- The Women's Rights Education Program is a culturally relevant informal education program that equips women not only with knowledge of their rights, but also with the skills necessary to exercise those rights.
- The Legal Services Program provides free legal assistance to women in need by bringing attorneys and paralegals to their communities, providing bilingual resources in Mayan Kaqchikel in Spanish, incorporating video consultations for the most remote communities, and accompanying women during legal proceedings.
- The Teen Girls Program helps girls ages 10 to 17 to assert their rights, delay marriage, and achieve their goals.
- WJI also trains community advocates, local women who serve long-term as leaders, rights educators, and mentors for women and girls in their communities.
WJI also partners extensively with various community leaders and municipal service providers, such as the police, judiciary and health officials, and the Municipal Office for Women, to build the capacity of local justice systems and improve responses. institutions to VAWG and child marriage.
WJI's staff are nearly all Mayan-Kaqchikel women from the communities WJI serves, and 100% of WJI's services are provided in Kaqchikel, the local Mayan language.
WJI tackles gender inequality and violence against women and girls (VAWG) in rural communities through its four programs: Women’s Rights Education, Legal Services, Community Advocates, and Adolescent Girls. WJI’s programs work at the individual, family, community, and municipal levels to transform the norms and attitudes that consider VAWG acceptable.
WJI contributes to national efforts to combat VAWG by responding to chronic gaps in existing services in rural areas and linking its community interventions to the national response. Guatemala faces some of the highest levels of violence against women and girls (VAWG) and impunity in the world. The high incidence of VAWG today is heavily linked to the legacy of violence from the Guatemalan Civil War, and widespread impunity and deeply-rooted machismo have further compounded the vulnerability of indigenous women in rural Guatemala. Gender inequality is pervasive with only 2% of the municipalities run by women; nearly 115,000 girls under age 19 giving birth every year, including over 5,000 girls ages 10-14; and the fourth-lowest ranking of gender parity in politics of all 35 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean,
Throughout the country, 27.9% of women suffer from intimate partner violence and many cases are not reported. Moreover, in 98% of cases, the perpetrators remain unpunished. VAWG is one of the most oppressive forms of gender inequality and stands as a fundamental barrier to equal participation of women and men in social, economic, and political spheres. Rural, indigenous women are disproportionately impacted by violence due to social isolation, weak public institutions, and limited access to resources. The Public Office for the Defense of Indigenous Women’s Rights in Guatemala has estimated that over one third of indigenous women who live with a man experience domestic violence, with young women facing an even higher rate.
In the communities in which WJI works, our baseline data indicates that nearly 75% of the target population has experienced some form of gender-based violence, which is viewed as both normal and acceptable in rural communities. Indigenous women in rural Guatemala rarely report violence or seek help due to the lack of accessible social and legal services. Government institutions are concentrated in Guatemala’s cities and their services rarely reach rural areas. Many indigenous women, especially survivors of violence, do not have the freedom to leave their homes and their children to seek services and even fewer can afford transportation to urban areas.
In the communities in which WJI works, nearly 95% of the population is indigenous and over 75% live in poverty. These barriers are reflected in the low rates of women seeking services; in the communities where WJI works, only 7% of program participants had received legal services prior to learning from WJI, and 39% of participants did not know where they could go if they were suffering from violence. Of the women who are able to leave their communities to seek assistance, many face discrimination due to their ethnicity, in addition to the challenge of navigating a system that does not offer bilingual services.
Since 2013, 95% of WJI’s clients have sought services in Kaqchikel, the local Mayan language, demonstrating the importance of language accessibility. As a result of poor educational opportunities, indigenous women also have a weaker understanding of the law and their rights than men in their communities; in the municipalities in which WJI works, around 20% of women are illiterate, compared to only 13% of men. Before WJI began implementing its programs, 64% of women participants did not have an understanding of human rights. In these same communities, 25% of households report that the man is the principal decision-maker. Only 20% of women are legal homeowners, compared to 68% of men. These disparities often entrap women in cycles of violence and poverty and prevent them from fully exercising their rights.
WJI has served over 20,000 individuals since 2011, benefitting over 60,000 women, men and children. In 2019, 5,703 individuals in 65 rural communities participated in WJI’s programs. WJI’s holistic methodology has been fully implemented in 38 communities in the municipalities of Patzún and Tecpán. In 2020, WJI began an expansion into a third municipality, San Juan Comalapa.
Since its founding, WJI: provided legal aid to over 2,000 women and their families, trained more than 3,100 women and girls through its legal empowerment programs, provided capacity-building workshops on VAWG to over 700 community leaders, police, and government officials, enacted 32 Community Action Plans to prevent and combat child marriage and VAWG, trained 82 women to become Community Advocates, or grassroots legal advocates, who provide long-term support for women and girls in their communities.
In the areas where WJI works, women’s attitudes about violence are changing: only 6% of WJI participants agreed that it is justified for a husband to abuse his wife, a 71% decrease from WJI’s baseline data. Community norms are changing as well. WJI experienced a 145% increase in case referrals from 2016 to 2017, a direct result of the trainings WJI conducts with local police and judicial and health officials. WJI’s activities have a lasting impact in the communities it serves.
After completing WJI’s programs, 42% of participants sought legal aid from WJI, whereas 4% of women reported having previously received legal aid. In a 2019 external evaluation, 100% of women affirmed that they felt stronger and safer after going through WJI’s programs and 98% of women reported that WJI has improved their lives.
Furthermore, 95% of women said that WJI’s programs have supported them in preventing violence in their lives.
Prior to implementation, WJI conducts community mapping to collect demographic information about Maya-Kaqchikel women and girls ages 10 to 65 in the target community, utilizing the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) indicators. WJI conducts surveys and focus groups to collect baseline information and compares this information to end-line data collected annually to measure program impact. It complements these activities with surveys, focus group discussions, and semi-structured interviews with project participants to evaluate their knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding VAWG, women’s rights, and gender equality.
In 2019, WJI conducted an external evaluation of its work to rigorously and independently evaluate the impact of its programs. WJI will continue to conduct external evaluations to assess its impact and ensure its work is adequately and effectively responding to the needs of the women and girls it serves.
WJI was founded in 2011 to tackle gender inequality and VAWG in indigenous communities in Guatemala. WJI piloted its first program, Women’s Rights Education, in one community with 15 participants. Between 2012 and 2015, WJI expanded into more communities and developed three complementary programs: Legal Services, Community Advocates, and the Adolescent Girls Program. In 2015, WJI was awarded a highly competitive three-year grant from the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, which facilitated its geographic expansion. WJI now works in 38 communities in the municipalities of Patzún and Tecpán.
Since 2011, WJI has served over 20,000 individuals, benefitting over 60,000 women, men, and children. In 2019, 5,703 individuals participated in WJI’s programs. WJI’s programming is designed and led by Maya Kaqchikel women. WJI’s staff, who are majority Maya-Kaqchikel and from the communities WJI serves, hold a profound understanding of the local cultural context. WJI relies on this local expertise, along with extensive needs assessments, to design culturally responsive and effective programs.
WJI has a horizontal structure, in which all staff are involved in the strategic decision-making process and programmatic decisions are informed by the needs of participants. 100% of WJI’s services are offered in Kaqchikel.
WJI continuously learns from its beneficiaries and incorporates their feedback into program development. Prior to entering any community, WJI meets with key community stakeholders, including traditional indigenous leaders, to discuss program plans, challenges, and opportunities. Once permission is granted to work in the community, WJI conducts community mapping to collect initial demographic information about Maya-Kaqchikel women and girls. This demographic data is used to tailor program activities and to ensure they are responsive and appropriate to the needs of women and girls in that particular community context. WJI complements these activities with surveys, focus group discussions, and semi-structured interviews with project participants to better understand their knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding VAWG, women’s rights, and gender equality.
In 2020, WJI hired a full-time Monitoring and Evaluating Officer in order to ensure continued rigorous evaluation of its programs. WJI’s Community Advocates, women leaders in each project community, also act as an on-going point of reference and source of feedback for WJI. WJI is viewed as a leader in implementing culturally-grounded legal empowerment and justice system strengthening programs in the department of Chimaltenango.
Within the next 12 months, WJI will begin an expansion to a third municipality, San Juan Comalapa, and implement its comprehensive programming in 12 new communities by 2023.
WJI will also use this funding to experiment with new methodologies that improve the organization’s ability to scale more rapidly and efficiently in the future. As WJI forges ahead with the early steps of expansion into a new municipality, its regular programming remains disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020, WJI suspended all in-person activities and staff began to work from home. WJI staff connected with the network of Community Advocates over the phone to conduct needs assessments of WJI’s partner communities.
Due to travel limitations and economic constraints, food access emerged as an urgent concern. Meanwhile, women and girls remain at a heightened risk of violence at home as stress and anxiety mount, large families are confined in cramped conditions, and families lose jobs and income.
The need for WJI’s work in our partner communities and across rural Guatemala remains more urgent than ever. In response to these needs: WJI staff are providing legal and psychological counseling to survivors of violence over the phone and WJI has delivered 1,100 food baskets and 4,500 donated masks to families in our partner communities. These baskets feed a family of five for about a month.
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 Kaqchikel. WJI’s recent activities respond to the urgent needs that have arisen in our rural partner communities. They also help ensure that WJI will be able to promptly resume its usual programs once conditions permit.
WJI is finding creative ways to continue to engage Community Advocates and to maintain partner communities’ trust in the organization. It is vital that WJI continue to support these communities in order to sustain the long-term success of its programs and to continue its work to combat VAWG. As local needs rapidly change, WJI will continue to adapt its COVID response strategy.
Over the long term, WJI plans to continue replicating its programs in other municipalities through sustainable partnerships with Municipal Women’s Offices and to continue filling the gap for bilingual legal services in rural indigenous communities. WJI’s partner organizations have expressed a desire for the organization to expand into other departments of Guatemala that experience high levels of VAWG, impunity, and forced migration. WJI is recognized as a leader at the national level in implementing community-based solutions to addressing VAWG, as its services remain in high demand beyond the municipalities in which it currently works.
WJI will also work to constantly improve the impact and sustainability of our programs.