Adapting to the needs of Indigenous women and girls in Guatemala


"The simple fact of being in the community, that [women] know we are there for them, is essential to our success.” - Vilma Coy, a paralegal with the Women’s Justice Initiative 

One woman wearing a cap and a face mask is taking notes while another woman is speaking to her, in a field, standing
Two WJI’s community advocates in rural Patzun, Guatemala. Credit: Arete/James Rodriguez/Girls not Bridge/WJI.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world,[1] with the rate of impunity running at an estimated 98%. [2] Indigenous women and girls, especially those living in remote rural areas, are at a particularly high risk of multiple and intersecting forms of violence due to limited access to resources, information and opportunities; social and geographic isolation; and persistent harmful attitudes. 

Twice funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), the Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI), a women-led civil society organization, is working to improve service delivery, prevention of violence and access to justice for Indigenous women and girls living in rural communities in Guatemala.  

Know your rights 

Informed by local knowledge and expertise, WJI uses a flexible and adaptable legal empowerment methodology to respond to the specific needs of women and girls, and enhance their safety and agency. Already proven successful in its first UN Trust Fund-funded project, this methodology is applied as part of its rights education programme to address the prominent culture of silence around gender-based violence in rural and Indigenous communities, and to challenge harmful attitudes. 

In practice, WJI runs courses on legal literacy in 12 communities, in Spanish and Kaqchikel, to inform Indigenous women and girls about what constitutes violence and how to report it, and what their legal rights are and how to exercise them. Mary Catherine Driese, Impact and Development Officer at WJI, explains: “When women’s knowledge about violence against women and girls increases, their attitudes, and those of their family and community about its acceptability, change.” 

Vilma Coy, one of WJI's paralegals is seen talking to a young woman carrying a little girl in her arms.
Vilma Coy, WJI paralegal. Credit: WJI

As a result, more women are seeking services and accessing justice, which contributes to reducing impunity for perpetrators and acts as a deterrent. At least 80% of women project participants report that they feel safer and have more control over their lives. 

Legal services 

In parallel, WJI also provides a wide range of legal services that include legal clinics, mobile outreach consultations, and monthly visits to the communities.  

During the COVID-19 crisis, WJI pivoted its work to providing legal services online to ensure that no woman was left behind, and virtual consultations remain available today. At the same time, WJI has maintained its in-person consultations, which most survivors prefer as they provide a stronger sense of trust and comfort. As Vilma Coy, a paralegal at WJI, noted: “The community visits really do make a difference with respect to women’s willingness to file reports ... Now, we see that the women trust us.” 

Community advocates 

WJI provides a two-year intensive human rights and leadership development training to over 40 community advocates to equip them to accompany women seeking legal services and to lead rights education courses in their communities.  

Community advocates are asked to provide feedback to inform and adapt the programme. One piece of feedback included a request for more self-care activities. WJI quickly adapted by creating a network of community advocates to provide both current and past advocates with a safe space to share their experiences and collaboratively hone their skills. 

Reflecting upon her experience working with WJI in their first project, Mildred Garcia, Operations Manager at the UN Trust Fund said, "WJI's approach prioritizing inclusivity, collaboration, cultural sensitivity and local leadership was key to its organizational development and resilience. This means that learning was at the center of their work, which fosters continuous enhancements in WJI's programmes and operations, allowing for timely adaptations and resource allocation to support the women and girls it serves in the next project WJI leads."

[1] World Bank (2023), Gender-Based Violence Country Profile: Guatemala 


To learn more about the prevention of violence against women and girls, check out our Learning from Practice series and explore the 10 identified pathways to prevention: click here.