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In 2008, research recognised that Guatemala has consistently been ranked as the least equal country in regards to gender and pay in Latin America (6), as women earn only 78% of what men do (10). Per day, women spend an average of 6.1 hours on unpaid domestic labour and 7.5 hours on paid labour in comparison to men who spend only 2.6 hours on unpaid domestic labour but 8.6 hours on paid labour (10). In 2006, women represented only 38.3% of the economically active (6) and today, of the many women who are employed, many work in low income roles. 10.2% of women work in agriculture (10) and 7.2% of women work as household employees (of all household employees, more than 80% are indigenous women) (10). In 2017, young women also experienced twice as much unemployment as young men did; 8.8% of women were unemployed compared to only 4.4% of men (6). On a positive note, however, 39% of jobs in commerce are held by women which is a field with a greater potential for money to be made (10).


Education is a significant issue in Guatemala with over 2 million children not attending school (7). This is an even bigger issue for young girls who are already socio-economically disadvantaged, as in 2018 less than 30% of poor, rural and indigenous women were enrolled in secondary school (6). Furthermore by age 17, only 26% of young, indigenous girls are still enrolled in school (7) explaining why illiteracy rates amongst indigenous women, in 2011, were 29% higher than they were for non-indigenous women, at 48% (10). It is extremely important that efforts are taken to increase indigenous girl’s engagement with education; in 2011, indigenous girls received, on average, only 1.8 years of schooling (7). This is a truly worrying finding. It can be seen however, that literacy and education rates are increasing- in 2014, the rate of literacy for adult women was only 76.3% however for younger girls in the same year, it was 93.3% (6). There are still, however, many changes that need to be made. Of the whole population, only 12% go to University (10) and even when considering primary school attendance, enrolment is still very low- in 2016, net enrolment for primary school was 84.6% (6). This decreases further when transitioning to secondary school where only 48% of boys attend school and 46.1% of girls (6). Even when children do attend school, there are not adequate resources to support their education- 9 out of 10 schools in Guatemala do not have books (7). Whilst in 2015, the enrolment rate in tertiary education was 3.5 percentage points higher for women then it was for men (6), 70% of students who study in Humanistic Studies are women (10).


In 2016, the average life expectancy was 73.4 years which is higher than the average rate for middle-income countries (6). 35% of the population, however, lack access to even basic health care services (8), as 80% of doctors work in Guatemala City meaning that those in rural areas struggle to access help (9). Furthermore, Spanish is the main language used in Guatemala City whereas there are over 20 languages spoken throughout rural areas meaning that even if people are able to see a doctor, they may struggle to find one they can understand (9). The maternal mortality rate is high at 108 deaths per every 100,000 live births (8) and of the 452 maternal deaths in 2013, 63% were indigenous women (9). Indigenous women have a 30% higher risk of maternal mortality (8). This is concerning considering that the contraception rate is only 44% (10) and 20.8% of women’s family planning needs are not being met (10). One in five girls have given birth by the age of 19 (8) and more than 4,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 give birth every year (10). Abortion is illegal in Guatemala and even if a woman has been raped, getting an abortion can earn her a long prison sentence (2). 38% of those living with HIV are women and HIV commonly affects girls aged 10-14 (10). It is crucial that steps are taken to protect young girls and decrease adolescent pregnancy rates.

Political representation

In 2017, only 13% of seats in the national parliament were held by women (6). 6 years prior, in the 2011 elections, whilst women made up 69.3% of voters (10), only 7 women were elected as mayors (10). In the same year, 6 of the 20 seats in the Central American Parliament were held by women and three years later, a woman was elected as president to Parliament (10). It is clear that women lack equal political representation in comparison to men; amongst the 240 mayors, only 11 are women (2) and only 2% of the municipalities are run by women (2). Women, and particularly indigenous women lack a sufficient voice in the political system and this has been the case for many years, for example, in 2009 there were 881 men working as part of the National Development Councils System and only 190 women (of which only 53 were indigenous women) (10).

Violence against women

Violence against women is an extremely significant issue in Guatemala. In 2017, 41 women were burned alive at the children’s home ‘Hogar Seguro Virgin de la Asuncion’ after complaining about the poor facilities and the sexual and physical abuse they faced there. Following their complaints, they were locked in a room with no food, no water and no toilets; they set fire to a mattress as an attempt to be allowed out but the guard refused to open the door and they all burnt to death (1). Whilst this is just one example, it demonstrates the horrific treatment of women and indicates the danger of harmful attitudes held towards women. Femicide is increasing in Guatemala and rose by 31% between 2020 and 2021 alone (5). At least 160 were killed in just the first few months of 2021 which amounts to more than one woman per day (2). In 2021, there were also around 58,000 registered reports of violence against women and children (5), including 5,717 cases of sexual violence, 21,317 cases of psychological violence and 13,753 cases of physical violence (5). Child marriage is a serious problem, as 29.5% of women have been in a child marriage (3). Of these thousands of cases of violence committed against women and children, less than 3% of perpetrators ever end up in jail (2)- 99% of femicide cases never even reach court (4). Violence against women can be at least partly attributed to harmful social and cultural ideals- in 2008, a survey found that 81.6% of men said their wife needed their permission to leave the house, 59.7% said that their wife needed permission to use contraceptives and 67% said their wife needed permission to use the household money (10). Whilst violence against women has been recognised as the most common crime in Guatemala, support for victims is lacking (5). There is a hotline which allows women to report domestic violence however it is only available in 4 languages (of the 22 languages spoken in Guatemala) meaning that the women who do not speak the primary languages used by the service will struggle to get help (2). This is especially worrying as violent attitudes are most prevalent in rural areas (10).

Current law and policy

Guatemala commits to develop multisectoral strategies and local action plans to address violence against women and girls. The Government of Guatemala commits to make substantive efforts aimed at preventing and providing care in cases of violence against women, adolescents and children. The recently created Cabinet for Women headed by the Vice President of the country coordinates inter-institutional efforts for the development of Guatemalan women, including action plans to prevent violence against women and girls. The strategy comprises: the implementation of a protocol for the identification, care and referral of cases of violence against girls in the national education system; a process to file complaints and referral of pregnant girls under 14 years of age to provide comprehensive care for them and their children, sexual violence protocols to be implemented in national hospitals, including the creation of committees to report cases; and protocols to assist victims of trafficking.

The Government further pledges to expand access to comprehensive care for women, adolescents and children through a quality oversight system, and will continue to provide financial support to institutions that collaborate with the State in providing services for women, girls and children who are survivors of violence. The Government of Guatemala is committed to training staff working in basic services, to strengthen specialised criminal investigation and justice administration in femicide and other forms of violence against women to reduce impunity; and to define a system to collect, analyse and disseminate information at the national level. The Government will continue to support ongoing communication and awareness campaigns and workshops to facilitate behavioural change, and to promote gender equality in Guatemala.

Public spending - The Guatemalan state’s efforts to combat civilian insecurity in 2005 cost approximately 2.4 billion dollars, equivalent to 7.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). [4]

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