Saturday, March 9, 2013

Violence Against Women in Guatemala: Risks and Remedies Panel

I was excited to attend this panel as I spent some time in Guatemala four years ago but also because Guatemala is one of the target countries for the UN Action for Sexual Violence in Conflict (  For our class, we are attempting to get more information about these target countries in order to develop a comprehensive report to help this office do more research.  I expected the panelists to talk about intimate partner violence and femicide, but I did not expect one of the panelists to talk about neglect of healthcare as an act of violence.

Dr. Alicia Giralt spoke to how maternal mortality in Guatemala was contributing to violence against women.  When I had visited there, I was exposed and quite enamored with the multitude of indigenous groups.  Spanish and Queche were spoken in the village that I stayed in.  It made communicating quite difficult because Spanish was not the first language of some people that lived there.  Something that I did not realize was that this contributed to why indigenous people are often discriminated against.                       

I was surprised when Dr. Giralt said that the maternal mortality rate (MMR) for Guatemala was 139.7 people per 100,000.  Yet I when she mentioned that this was really an average because the MMR in the indigenous population was just over 300 per 100,000 (As a point of reference the MMR for Caucasian women in the US is 11 and for African Americans is 34.8.)  The reason for the majority of deaths is hemorrhage and infection, which are, for the most part, preventable. Two women die every day in Guatemala in childbirth and 71.2% are indigenous women. While it seems like these are just numbers, they paint a very interesting picture of how certain women are treated in Guatemala. 

So you may be wondering why so many women die because that is the thought that I had.  My first guess was wondering how medical practitioners are trained but it had nothing to do with them.  Indigenous women choose not to go to the hospital to give birth because the hospital is where “people go to die”.  This professor had done a lot of research with this population and some of the responses that other women gave for not going to the hospital to give birth were: that they didn’t speak Spanish; they had a desire for privacy (women in indigenous communities often give birth in the home of their mother-in-law- it is said to be a rite of passage and bring the family together); midwives are not allowed to be present during the births; women can’t receive or afford transportation; and lastly, but not limited to the fact that they cannot perform certain traditional cultural practices- like burying the placenta. 

I very much enjoyed the presentation and creative interpretation of the topic.  While I was not expecting to learn about Guatemala and the birthing practices, I very much enjoyed the small medical anthropology lesson.  I would like to continue learning about Guatemala in the future. 

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