Being Bold for Change in Guatemala

Guatemalan campaign 2015, TODOS political party candidates for Congress on the National List

In 2013, while I was working in partnership with NDI Guatemala, I became interested in encouraging more women to get involved in politics, so I applied for the Andi Parhamovich Fellowship. I proposed a project focused on increasing women's participation as decision-makers in Guatemala - a huge challenge for me considering my background was in the sciences and I was new to politics.

Over the course of the Fellowship, NDI gave me new tools and opened a new world for me, shifting my perspective completely. I learned that even when it is difficult to change the electoral law to promote a quota for more female representation in public seats, I could work for the cause myself by motivating more women candidates in my political party.

My activism in politics in Guatemala started in 2012, when I was invited to join a group of academics and politicians to try to change the collapsed system in Guatemala. We founded a political party, TODOS, meaning “all” in Spanish, and our values are to promote Transparency, Order, Development, Opportunity and Security. Since that time, I have been traveling around the country communicating with women from different backgrounds, because our priority is to change our reality and create more access to education and health services.

Being a woman in Guatemala is not easy because of the gender stereotypes that limit us. Stereotypes keep women and girls from going to school, deny us economic independence and allow us to become victims of domestic violence,  Recently, we had the worst evidence of this collapsed system for women and girls: 40 girls were killed by a fire in a children’s house. They had been locked in a room as punishment for having escaped from the residence in an attempt to flee abuse.  This singular, but very visible episode demonstrates the sad reality in my country, which renders involvement in leadership spaces all but unthinkable for most women.

Through my APF project I worked on a training program to prepare female candidates, who defied gender stereotypes, for the legislative elections in 2015, but we never expected a year like that. Accusations of corruption from the president, vice president and most of their Cabinet were brought thanks to the commission against impunity of the UN (CICIG), and the Attorney General denounced a network of corruption in customs, social insurance and various state entities.

No one expected the result. Guatemalans proved that we are no longer indifferent to our reality, and people mobilized against corruption and changed politics forever. Social media played a main role, and college students from public and private universities walked together with the same demands: justice, transparency and the end of the corrupt system. The president and vice-president resigned, were arrested and remain in jail awaiting trial for corruption charges. People from all around the country protested and became active in politics. Finally, Guatemalans found that we are all part of the system and that the best way to change that system is by getting involved in politics.  

The challenge now is to prove that we, as politicians, can rescue our institutions and make our democracy work. I feel lucky to be part of an amazing team, my political party.  As founder and national board member of this movement, I was allowed to put into practice some of the tools I learned during my days with NDI. Our first campaign in 2015 was successful: we were the party with the most women leading the candidates lists (7 of 23) and we gave space for young people to participate.   

My party’s excellent results mean that we are one of the main blocks in Congress; our chairman is the vice-president of the National Congress and I have the chance to keep building on the program that I started in DC - working on women’s political participation across the country and motivating local coordinators to invite more women to participate. We are building a strong and inclusive political party, promoting internal democracy and, with new leaders, getting ready for our 3rd national convention at the end of March. I am working to be re-elected as a member of the national board to continue developing projects to help women leaders of my party with self-esteem, leadership and skills to take action in their communities.  

The goal of TODOS is to increase the number of women elected in local councils, and I am sure we are going to make it happen. We are breaking barriers. I am honored to have had the chance to continue Andi's legacy by engaging and supporting more women to participate in politics, even in countries like mine. We still have to work with gender-based violence and misogynist stereotypes, but we are going to be bold for change!