Raquel Vásquez, 37, is a leader of the La Guadalupe indigenous community, in the Guatemalan municipality of Santo Domingo (Suchitepéquez). She became a leader in the 1980’s while living as a refugee in Mexico during the armed conflict in her country (1960-1996). When she saw the situation experienced by the population due to food shortages in camps, she began working with others to organize a group of women that set out to fight hunger through several activities.
One of the reasons why Raquel Vásquez is a champion of change is her work to defend women’s rights; she was one of the few persons who participated in negotiations on the conditions demanded by women to return to Guatemala and resettle after the conflict. “All humans have the capacity to think, do, act and live with no strings attached. Women often fail to realize that we should not tolerate mistreatment and discrimination, and we need to get rid of all of that.”
Finally, the women relocated to La Guadalupe became co-owners of farmlands. They implemented productive projects to secure their economic empowerment, but they had to deal with male chauvinism. However, after witnessing the results of their work, men became convinced they also had the right to decide on the use and benefits of the land they owned. “It is not enough for women to appear on the property title; they must also exercise their right to decide with regard to land and food,” she says.
Today, Raquel is the general coordinator of the Rural Women’s Alliance, as well as a champion of change in this field, considering there is an increasing number of women all over Guatemala who are joining this organization to defend their right to decide on land and natural resources.
The most serious problem faced by rural women is that of land grabbing for single-crop farming, including oil palm and sugar cane crops. This problem, which adds to the effects of climate change, such as floods and food price increases, has led to a serious food insecurity problem that affects all families in La Guadalupe. But Raquel is relentless in her efforts and continues to advocate with the State for the approval and implementation of policies, programs and projects, increasing small-scale food production, meeting the needs of women, fighting food price increases, reducing the impact of agri-businesses and ensuring respect for women’s rights.
But her dreams go beyond that, as she wants to continue to educate rural women, encourage young people to participate in the organization to promote new leaderships, and get more women’s organizations to work together to further their struggle.
“We are truly convinced –and we have now realized– that the Alliance must work to help families overcome their situation. Abandoning these efforts would be the same as quitting the fight I have waged for more than 17 years. That’s what motivates us to continue to participate and achieve an impact, so that one day we can see those changes come true. Women cannot stay at the milpa (cornfield). Women deserve a better life,” she adds.