Legacy of Repression: Violence against Women in Post-Conflict Guatemala

Saturday, May 1, 2010
Nina Kanakarajavelu, Brandeis University
Central America

Guatemala's 36 year civil war resulted in 662 massacres, 200, 000 dead or “disappeared”, and over one million displaced. The Historical Clarification Commission (CEH, Comisión de Esclarecimiento Histórico) found the Guatemalan Army responsible for 93 % of these atrocities and the victims of these massacres to be overwhelmingly Mayan in origin. The “scorched-earth” policies pursued from 1978-83 was so brutal and seemingly indiscriminately murderous towards the indigenous that it has led many to call the scores of massacres "genocide."

During the war, violence against women was systematic and prevalent. Thousands of women and girls, primarily non-combatants of indigenous descent, were raped, tortured, and murdered. Though female homicide as a social phenomenon can be observed in numerous parts of the world, such as Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the case of Guatemala is of particular interest due to the very recent civil war (1960-1996) and the continuing impact the trauma of the war has had on all spheres of Guatemalan society.

Though there has been some attention paid to the culture of impunity continuing after the war, the majority of existing research only makes a brief mention of the link between former paramilitary groups and the high incidence of female homicide. To understand the phenomenon of contemporary female homicide in Guatemala, I use a historical lens with which to assess the role of the Guatemalan military complex in promoting generalized violence as a means to both retain and expand its power. My thesis seeks to investigate the possibility that patterns of gender-based violence in Guatemala today can be traced back to the brutal counterinsurgency methods and structural violence employed against women during the civil war.

Document PDF: 

Post-Conflict VAW Guatemala, Kanakarajavelu, May 2010