Women in the United States are strong because they can be. Women in Guatemala are strong because they have to be.
Hilda, a Guatemalan woman from the small village of San Santiago Zamora, saw her father drink every day and hit her mother. When she got married, she found herself in the same position.
But, with little money and a child, Hilda was, at the time, unable to do anything but take the abuse.
In 2008, there were only 52 offenses against family and children reported in Philadelphia. No such number exists for families in Guatemala since abuse is often ignored.
Women in the United States have the ability to seek help and should take full advantage of their resources rather than fooling themselves into thinking they won’t be hit again.
“After the first child, I thought it would stop,” Hilda explained in Spanish. “Then, there was a second and a third and a fourth.”
The violence persisted, but Hilda decided that she had had enough.
She enlisted women from the village who were in similar situations and asked the government to provide a Spanish teacher to help them better understand the mechanics of the language.
Together, the women began a business selling hand-woven items like purses, scarves and tapestries. The money they make enables them to survive and send their children to school.
Despite this strong story, instances of abuse do not often end this way in Guatemala. Many times, abusive households are barely spoken of.
“A lot of people are abused but don’t talk about it,” said Laura Marina Cosigaá Oun. “It is normal.”
Though Cosigaá Oun has not experienced abuse, she has five children and said it would be irresponsible to leave a source of income when their children need to be fed, clothed and housed.
For this reason, if there is sexual abuse in a family, the mother is more likely to side with the father rather than protect the child.
Even if a case of abuse is reported, it will often go unnoticed.
“They will go to jail for two days and be released,” said Olga de Piídrasanta, a native from Quetzaltenango. Piídrasanta said she has seen many cases of abuse in her 70 years but can do little to help the women.
“It’s not my life,” she said. “I can give them information, but it’s up to God. Women in Guatemala want to do something, but they aren’t able to.”
Spanish School I.C.A, a nonprofit organization cofounded by Enrique Diaz and his wife, Julie, works with Guatemalan women who have been incarcerated.
“If a woman commits the same crime as a man, she will go to jail, but the man will walk away because he is a man,” Diaz said, adding that if a man violates a woman and she tells the police, he will not go to jail.
“Women and men are not equal here, but it is not just here,” Diaz continued. “It is everywhere.”
The women in Guatemala work hard to provide for their children and are strong in every way, with the exception of one weakness that females worldwide suffer from – taking abuse.
But for Guatemalan women, and for women everywhere, the decision to preserve their safety remains an option. For every woman in an abusive relationship or wives of men who sexually abuse their children, there is always a choice that can be made.
Though abusive situations are not black and white, the bottom line is that someone is getting hurt mentally and physically.
For the time being, Guatemalan women in such situations do not always have the necessary resources, but in the United States, there are shelters and services at Americans’ disposal.
“[Abuse] is not normal,” Piídrasanta said. “There was no violence in my household, or my mother’s or my grandmother’s.”
Having a voice in Guatemala is dangerous, yet courageous women like Hilda speak through their actions. Having a voice in the United States is a right. Women suffering need to use it.
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.