Graduating the kitchen: mayan girls' challenges to remain in school in rural post-war guatemala
Christine Khrlobian is pursuing her bachelor's degree with a major in liberal studies and minor in history. Her scholarship focuses on social justice, human rights concerns, and group identity in Latin America and the U.S. She is continuing her education in the master's program at the University of California Santa Barbara in Latin American Studies, and plans on writing a book which documents the collective memory and experiences of the Middle Eastern and Armenian Diaspora in Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil.
This purpose of this research paper is to identify the causes that led to educational inequity amongst Mayan girls in rural areas of Guatemala. Over two million children in present-day Guatemala are not attending school, the majority of whom are young girls. The continual marginalization of their cultures, both physically and culturally, has devastated a mass of its citizens from receiving the necessary tools to not only live well but achieve greater success than their previous generations. By examining the historical, cultural, political, and socio-economic experiences of Mayan indigenous groups from pre-Columbian societies to present-day, it becomes clearer that the staggering number of girls without secondary education has been a systemic projection of disassociation by the state. This research hopes to piece together the complexities of girls' educational inequity, and furthermore bring better understanding to not only traditional perspectives of the state, but the voices of the very people it has tried to suppress.
Graduating the Kitchen: Mayan Girls’ Challenges to Remain in School in Rural Post-War Guatemala
By Christine Khrlobian
The history of widespread racism against indigenous cultures has resulted in a cyclical pattern of destruction, resistance, and rebirth. In the case of modern-day rural Guatemala, Mayan communities continue to face the challenges of this cycle. It is arguable that along with their traditions, it has become the foundation of their identity. Yet, deep within Guatemala’s highlands, the most toxic strategy of social exclusion is an institution of oppression that inhibits young Mayan girls from educational equity and accessibility. Guatemala is facing a crisis: over 2 million children do not attend school and the majority are Mayan girls in rural areas. Mayan girls are not able to gain equal access and complete various levels of schooling because of the historical and continual marginalization of their culture which has produced an ethos of resistance to formal education prescribed by the state. Poverty, domestic obligations, and cultural barriers forge a wall that prohibits female equity by holding girls back from not only attaining primary education, but also higher levels of education within the system. Due to girls’ strict roles of obedience within Mayan communities, parents’ attitudes and decisions highly influence their lives and shape much of their pre-marital life. Mayan girls’ challenges are manifested through Guatemala’s educational system as indigenous parents are faced with the decision of allowing their children to be amassed in modern forms of colonial instruction, or continue protecting their cultural traditions by resisting ethnic genocide. Therefore, both the parents' attitudes and girls’ challenges will be adjunctly presented, as one cannot exist without the other.
Pre-Columbian Mayan Societies
Before Columbus arrived to the Americas, Mayan societies in Mesoamerica were flourishing with stable family and gender structures. Though these structures were more fluid than Spanish hierarchal institutions, evidence suggests that members of their societies had established positions within their communities, forming distinct layers of class and systems of law. Mayan attitudes towards domestic structures were largely influenced by their connection to the natural world, worldview, Deities, and established identities for both men and women. For most Mayan women, motherhood was identified as the “peak of their existence,” (Kellogg, 2005, p. 67). Life, reflected through the mother’s body, was sacred and kept in high regard. As Mayans’ worldview falls within a cyclic form, connecting the heavens, earth, and underworld as part of one’s existence, motherhood was revered as the apex of what links all those realms together. It was for this reason that Mayan women were associated with being the ultimate caregivers and prescribed the duty to protect their culture by teaching their children traditional customs. This informal education was present through song, oral-traditions, and lessons to socialize children on appropriate conduct in society (Kellogg, 2005). Mayan women were seen as “guardians” of their culture and this was further solidified after the invasion of the Spanish.
Patrilineal ties in Mayan societies were deeply rooted prior to Spanish conquest. The men ruled over the home, and had the final say regarding financial and domestic affairs. Mayan women were also not allowed to own or inherit land, and whatever plot the family owned was passed “from one generation to the other through the male line,” (Socolow, 2015, p. 21). Whatever the women did own was connected to the home. Various household objects, domestic animals, and clothing were typically under their care, as it fit within their role (Socolow, 2015). Even today, married women move into the man’s family home, and have the guidance of their mother-in-law on all domestic matters, whether they like it or not (Metz & Webb, 2013). Though, ancient patrilineal ties were present, they did not produce “gender asymmetry, but rather a flexible system that recognized women’s contributions to households of their reproductive capabilities and productive labor,” (Kellogg, 2005, p. 41). Nevertheless, it is not to say that men’s attitudes or treatment of their wives and/or daughters were always “sacred.” Caciques gave away their daughters or other single women as jewels to top-ranking officials in other indigenous communities, as well as conquistadors such as Hernan Cortes and Pedro de Alvarado. These practices were generally used to “maintain or create political ties with fellow leaders,” (Kellogg, 2005, p. 62). The act of giving a young woman consolidated a deal, similarly to the way marriage was perceived. It is also true that some pre-Columbian women were treated as commodities or beaten by their husbands, but it should be noted that subjugated women were not part of a widespread institution to formalize their exploitation. That is a concept instilled as consequence to Spanish rule.
Politics and Social Order in Colonial Guatemala
As a way for the Spanish Crown to harness control in a far-off colony, Mayan’s were kept in subordination through a rigid hierarchal structure defined by racial status. In effect, they were forcefully displaced and pushed to the highlands to till the land. Their lands were no longer their own, but expropriated to conquistadors as a reward for their services in the conquest (Few, 2002). These lands were thus converted to labor communities called ecomiendas, and required indigenous labor and forced tribute (Few, 2002). On a local level, cabildos (the government council) ensured that these revenues were received, and kept a tight account for how many Mayans worked the land and how much they owed (Gauderman, 2003).
Threatened by criollos and peninsulares (men of Spanish descent, either born in the Americas, “criollos” or in Spain, “peninsulares”) switching loyalty to their wives’ communities rather than the Crown, the Spanish established the castas system.
As time went on, the Crown became aware of the mixing between mainly indigenous women and Spanish men. Threatened by criollos and peninsulares (men of Spanish descent, either born in the Americas, “criollos” or in Spain, “peninsulares”) switching loyalty to their wives’ communities rather than the Crown, the Spanish established the castas system (Juarez-Dappe, 2016). Several castas paintings illustrate the outcome of this mixing (the offspring produced), and outlined one’s place in society as defined by racial standards. The more one mixed with individuals with indigenous or African descent, they moved down the social ladder and were depicted as violent and impoverished beings. These colonial structures were early signs of institutionalizing poverty and racial subordination amongst the Mayan communities, and further marginalized their legal and political status in the colony.
The roots of government impunity reached even further through the Castellanizaciόn of Mayan communities. Spanish authority embarked on regulating Mayan culture, livelihood, and religion through this process that began as early as their first settlement in 1524 (Helmberger, 2010). Non-coincidentally, the council of Indies was also established the same year to then police Mayan communities by appointing top officials, investigative officers, and passing legislation that benefited the Crown, further disenfranchising Castas and Indías (Helmberger, 2010). Any wrongdoing by Spaniards was passively ignored, and a case that did make it to the courts was judged by fueros, or members of their own peers. The church and military also enjoyed these privileges (Hill, 1992). Spain as a foreign power, became the “new father,” regulating domestic affairs and dispensing indigenous fathers as the heads of the household. Additionally, language policies were adjunctly imposed to obliterate any Mayan languages for the “purpose of making them Catholic and good productive workers for the Crown,” (Helmberger, 2010, p. 69). Conversion was the foundation of their legality to erase Mayan culture, but not primarily for the sake of religion. This was a strategic maneuver to destabilize Mayan communities and Hispanicize their culture to ensure consistent flow of precious metals back to the metropole.
After Guatemala’s independence in 1821, efforts to continue Castellanizaciόn remained rampant. Spanish monolingualism served as the driving rhetoric for “nationhood and the vehicle for unifying a fragmented peoplehood,” (Helmberger, 2010, p. 70). Government officials tirelessly pushed for the extermination of Mayan languages thereafter, and attributed indigenous tongue as anarchic to the benefit and modernity of the nation. However, this widespread pledge to eradicate Mayan language was unfeasible. Officials simply did not have the infrastructure to organize substantial schools to provide the instruction in Spanish literacy or enforce it on a mass scale. As Richards and Richards demonstrates, “Illiterate and monolingual, the Maya were integrated into the State system only to the extent which was needed to provide the physical labor to drive the country’s export agricultural economy,” (1997, p. 195). The monolingual utopia elites craved, simply became the path that acculturated Mayan identity to cheap physical labor. In the passing years, this notion stuck, and when Mayans could not speak Spanish fluently, they were deemed lazy or ignorant.
Controlling Mayan Women’s Bodies
Historically, Spanish rule over what is now Guatemala, limited Mayan girls’ possibilities for equitable education by first institutionalizing their peripheral role in society. The crown’s attempts to monopolize their control over indigenous women, resulted in disengaging them both socially and politically. As part of the crown’s legalizing aspect to conquest, converting indigenous people to Catholicism remained the excuse to further establish militarized and ecclesiastical policing of women’s bodies (Chaves, 2000). This institution, called the Inquisition, was a powerful governance that aimed to ensure full obedience and conversion of indigenous people, specifically female healers (curanderas) they deemed as “sorcerers” (Few, 2002). Curanderas were fiercely policed by the Inquisition out of fear their control would be relinquished by healers’ popularity through alternative practices. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Inquisition not only reveled in targeting civilians accused of heresy, but soon developed to actively police any such activity attributed as a crime against local authorities and the Spanish Crown (Kellogg, 2005).
Spanish conquistadors also destroyed indigenous sacred spaces by exploiting women’s labor and bodies. Mayan women were forcefully taken from their families, serving as personal slaves throughout the duration of Spaniards’ campaigns (Sherman, 1979). At first meeting, they were made to prepare their food, draw water, and heal wounds garnered in battle. By the mid-1500s, indías were also made to do heavy labor, hauling various goods upon their backs like human caravans. These women were referred to as tamemes. Some reports linked tamemes on journeys that lasted up to 70 leagues, carrying bushels of maize, buckets of water, all while supporting the weight of their children on their backs (Sherman, 1979). These women’s bodies were broken, suffering devastating health conditions. This task was typically done for scrap pay or nothing at all, and further cemented their subordinate role in a new society.
This was intentional to marginalize the entire indigenous population. If a governing power oppresses women, the families will soon follow.
Spanish authorities continued to subordinate Mayan women by sexual coercion and abuse. Though high-ranked conquistadors were given young women as wives or gifts by caciques, many Mayan women were forcibly taken by Spaniards as concubines (Sherman, 1979). Many Mayan girls were subjected to rape and otherwise sexually harassed throughout the expansion. Rented out for a meager sum or bartered like chattel, young Mayan women were consistently stripped from their husbands and children, or left as orphans: “Girls rented out for only a peso a month were called ‘alvahacas’ (basil, or albahaca); the more attractive ones, the ‘rosas’ (roses), brought two pesos monthly; and the most desirable indías were known as ‘clavellinas’ (pinks), going for three pesos a month,” (Sherman, 1979, p. 311). Whether it was spinning cloth in a locked chamber for months, lugging food and water for days, or sexually abused as concubines, Mayan women were historically situated as the most subordinated class of people. This was intentional to marginalize the entire indigenous population. If a governing power oppresses women, the families will soon follow.
Feminized Indigenous Labor in Colonial Guatemala
With the introduction of Iberian women, Mayan girls were formalized in domestic service as cooks, wet-nurses, and cloth spinners (Socolow, 2000). By the late 1700s, women’s needs to pay tribute or cover their debts resulted in settling for horrid working conditions: “In Spanish households, there were two or three indías for every task. When he (the husband) tried to restrict the number used for service, the Spanish women complained and said it was treason” (Sherman, 1979, p. 313). At this point, indigenous women’s existence had been diminished to chattel and servitude in the Spanish home.
Mayan women were also heavily recruited as wet-nurses to preserve the health of the Spanish child, but to great cost. Mothers were forced to leave their infants with relatives who were also nursing to nourish and raise the child. In 1797, this practice was so common that many court cases contesting mistreatment of these women were noted as “criar a media leche, the practice in which a woman breast-fed two children, or criar a leche entera, a woman who was suckling only one child,” (Komisaruk, 2007, p. 5). This deposition came in response to Jocotenango’s parish priest, requesting an appeal to the Audiencia (the Spanish court) to stop recruitment of indigenous wet-nurses in fears that it’ll lead to starvation of native infants (Komisaruk, 2007). This in fact was the case as many children were left to starve or were malnourished as a consequence of absent mothers. It is clear that the Spanish child was put above the Indian child, as they were deemed insignificant compared to their fairer, European counterparts. These practices synchronized indigenous women’s identity with inferiority, and established the domestic sphere as the legal grounds to exploit them.
Indigenous women working in far-off cities as domestic laborers is not a new phenomenon. As tribute, Mayan women would migrate to the capital city to work as domestic servants in colonial Guatemala (Gauderman, 2003). As early as the age of six, young girls would travel to wealthy families’ homes to cook, clean, spin cloth, along with other domestic duties. Some workers would be paid wages, while others served as a trade-off for the tribute they owed to local authorities.
A court case from 1807 broadens the realities of these young women’s lives, highlighting Francisca Victoria García, an indigenous girl who filed an appeal against her father whilst threats of losing her inheritance (Komisaruk, 2007). García had migrated to the capital at the tender age of six, to work as a domestic servant in Spanish homes. For twenty years, she earned wages to send back as remittances to aid her family. Garcia’s family had gotten into a dispute, and wrote her out of their will to inherit any property. Since Garcia had lived in the capital for so many years, she spoke Spanish, married a mestizo, and appealed to Spanish authorities in the capital to litigate her complaints. Her family objected to her actions, citing her “Hispanized” desires as disloyal. Garcia’s father justified his stance by claiming she had failed to abide by his authority, and at one point been “huida (gone, run away)” for so long that she had no knowledge of her mother’s passing (Komisaruk, 2007, p. 7). Garcia rejected this claim, stating that her remittances had paid for portions of the family estate, and thus rightfully belonged to her. This court case reveals how indigenous womens’ migrations to work, may lead to further Spanish acculturation and create rifts between the family. These rifts disrupted the patriarchal order in the household, and reattributed the power of the father to the state.
The Inequity of Mayan Communities and Educational Structures in the 20th Century
During the 1940s, the Guatemalan government established the “Instituto Indigenista Nacional” (IIN) to combat reformist movements aimed at aiding Mayan communities attain equity and social justice (Helmberger, 2006). The IIN was a direct response to these challenges the state coined as the “indian problem.” Within this Instituto were policies that furthered Castillian procedures. Advisors “developed a Mayan language alphabet in which, among other things, diacritical marks were deleted, geared toward sound or spelling patterns in Spanish, to the point that those Mayan dialects and languages that were not translated to Spanish easily were left unwritten,” (Helmberger, 2006, p. 70). Castillo Armas (US backed authoritarian ruler) took over in 1954 and began efforts to assimilate indigenous people in the Q’eqchi’ area because they were considered to be the “primary hindrance to national economic development,” in other words, modernization (Richards & Richards, 1992, p. 197). The political elite believed that to be a modern country, it was necessary to eradicate indigenous culture altogether.
During the civil-war, Spanish became the official language of Guatemala, and enacted the Ministry of Education to adhere to the new mandate in 1965. This same year, the “Bilingual Castilianization Program” took effect, and aimed to transition Mayan children from speaking their indigenous tongue to fluent Spanish during their primary education (Helmberger, 2006). Teachers in the bilingual program were only trained in a four-week program, and lacked the necessary language and teaching skills to administer proper instruction in various Mayan dialects (Ferrer, 2006). Not only were these instructors poorly trained, but were mostly community activists that were fulfilling their hours in a civic field they preferred (Ferrer, 2006). The education system during the civil war was nonexistent or a contention of Mayan ethnocide due to the terror campaign incited by the State. From 1979-1984, armed forces targeted Mayan communities extensively, and further pushed indigenous peoples into the highlands to escape their grasp (Helmberger, 2006). Their new geographic location made educational access even more sparse as violence and remote living areas devastated development and literacy rates for most indigenous people. Additionally, it should be noted that “due to seasonal migration, indigenous workers had difficulty being in positions to take advantage of educational possibilities,” (Helmberger, 2006, p. 73). Both Rigoberta Menchu (1983) and international health director Michael Micklin (1990) spoke of the effects of how periphery communities led to issues of land tenure and increased migration of people searching for jobs in larger cities for domestic work, or simply other parts of the country for agricultural labor (Helmberger, 2006).
When the peace accords were finally signed in 1996, Mayan activist Miguel Raxche’ wrote that “a broad state policy that respects the cultural rights of the Maya is needed, not isolated programs such as PRONEBI that conform to the colonial vocation of the Guatemalan state and society.”
While the burden of war and forced displacement made it near impossible to gain access to education, the late 1980s-1990s saw a push for bilingual initiatives as international governments and organizations spoke-out against Mayan mistreatment during the war. Ironically, three years before the peace accords were signed and the war had come to an official end, one-thousand bilingual schools were established through the Programa Nacional de Educacion Bilingue (PRONEBI). Its mission was to promote Mayan culture and language as a significant piece in Guatemalan society (Richards & Richards, 1997, p. 200). As a state program, it is arguable how much of this initiative was truly designed to aid Mayans, or continue colonial pathways to monolingualism. PRONEBI has been contested by many indigenous activists and scholars that believe it is still an attribute of the old-world mindset. When the peace accords were finally signed in 1996, Mayan activist Miguel Raxche’ wrote that “a broad state policy that respects the cultural rights of the Maya is needed, not isolated programs such as PRONEBI that conform to the colonial vocation of the Guatemalan state and society,” (Helmberger, 2006, p. 75). Though, it is undeniable that its efforts have given a stepping stone to build the necessary dialogue and space for bilingual and acculturation concerns of Mayans.
The issue of the educational system was its foundation in Western values. As a way to promote competition in the international market, the state organized the educational system to fit a colonial model, which advanced Hispanization. Due to the neo-liberal economic model, which institutionalizes poverty within Mayan communities, funding for social services such as education has been extremely depleted (Waldron, 2006). International organizations or private programs have taken initiatives to promote and aid bilingual education in rural areas while the state is still lacking in offering adequate services to ensure equity and access. Though state educational law states that primary education is compulsory and free for all Guatemalans, the fact still remains that many Mayan girls begin school on average a year later than Ladino/as because of poverty which attributes to not being able to afford supplies, clothing/shoes, and/or transportation to the school because of their geographic location (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, 2007). The state is not concerned with these issues, because many indigenous girls are still in this same predicament as they were in the late 1990s (Ishihara-Brito, survey 2013).
Due to the history of Castellanizaciόn and ethnic genocide of the civil-war, Mayan communities became beacons of cultural preservation through resistance. Centuries of foreign powers ravaging their culture, families, and exploiting their bodies, only cemented any indigenous gender roles and traditions that survived. This was a reactionary stance to the marginalization of their identity, in a world where pieces of colonial institutions still remained. The state had created a paradox for indigenous families, where resistant cultural attitudes also created barriers to attain equal access to political, social, and civic engagement. This conflict of interest has become a pertinent issue that deeply affects Mayan girls’ ability to complete their schooling, specifically past the primary level.
In 2007, a study by Dr. Ishihara-Brito was conducted to assess rural, indigenous parents’ perceptions of their children’s schooling and educational quality. The study interviewed parents from four poverty-stricken indigenous communities: Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Huehuetenango, and El Quiché, which are home to Guatemala’s four largest language communities: K’iche’, Mam, Kaqchikel, and Q’eqchi’. These communities represent over 80 percent of the indigenous populations in Guatemala (USAID, 2006). The findings show how historical marginalization has influenced parents’ attitudes of the educational system in their areas. There is a general fear that the modern educational system in Guatemala is geared toward Latino ethics, leaving many parents skeptical that it can provide moral guidance or substantial curriculum on indigenous values (Ishihara-Brito, 2013). To these parents, a good education is the ability to provide a good path for the child, in Achi, one said choom laj be ku kami la kom, “the children will follow a good path,” when instructed (Ishihara-Brito, 2013, p. 5). Apart from literacy, education for many Mayan parents is providing their children with a strong sense of moral and cultural customs that act as a process of socialization. Historically, mothers were the ones who primarily offered this kind of education, and so formal schooling from the state must correspond with these values and understand Mayan cultural context to provide more quality education in these rural areas. However, all parents interviewed held a positive view of formal education, understanding that the key to finding work outside manual or domestic labor is acquired through literacy in Spanish (Ishihara-Brito, 2013).
Although parents recognized literacy as the gateway to a better life, their expectations for their children’s academic performance were low (Ishihara-Brito, 2013). For most parents, just having access to a school in the area was determinant of a satisfactory education for their children. When the children in this study moved past their parents’ educational level, it marked a milestone in the children’s progress. It’s important to note that half of these parents had about less than three years of schooling, while the other half had none. Due to lack of resources, funding, and qualified bilingual teachers, it is common for these children to repeat grades, and receive a lower standard of education than Latino students in larger cities (McEwan, Trowbridge, 2006). Usually, poverty-stricken families are also forced to pull-out their children from school, and so the mere fact of low attendance also attributes to gaps in their education. Even when the child completes all primary levels, they may not be at the same standard of non-rural children (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, 2007).
Girls’ Challenges to Remain in School
Young girls face many challenges to completing their schooling, the first one being the socio-economic level of their family. One-fourth of Mayan girls are classified by ENCOVI as extremely poor, and have the worst educational outcomes compared with all other data assessing children’s scholastic attainment (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, 2007). Only half of these girls of primary-school age have enrolled in school, and only 10 percent of girls aged 13 and above have completed primary education (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, 2007). In regards to moving on to secondary education, only 14 percent have been able to do so. Most schools in Guatemala are private institutions, and obligate parents to not only pay for tuition, but supplies, transportation, and uniforms. Many impoverished families do not have the luxury to provide for every aspect of their daughter's education, many struggling just to keep food on the table or shoes on their feet. When placed in this predicament, families are forced to choose between which child may remain in school, and which ones must work. If it is a choice between a daughter and a son, studies have shown that the boy is more likely to stay in school, by the sheer disproportion of boys finishing school at much larger rates than females. As of 2005, 39 percent of Mayan females aged 15-64 years old were literate compared to 68 percent of males (Shapiro, 2005). Many of these girls who are disenrolled for financial reasons, may also be obligated to then care for their siblings while her mother is off working. As Ishihara-Brito assessed, “parents must be convinced that the long-term financial benefits of their children completing primary and lower secondary school (the compulsory nine years of schooling) outweigh their short-term needs,” (2013, p. 8).
By ten or eleven years old (if not younger), rural girls begin to “contribute substantially to household work, including grinding maize, making tortillas, tending to younger children, and weaving”...the absence of a mother due to the feminized migration of finding work in larger cities, may increase the need for girls to take on these roles at a younger age.
Per qualitative studies such as Ishihara-Brito’s and Center for Global Development, Mayan parents aren’t necessarily convinced that their girl’s education is required post-primary level. When money is not the primary issue, domestic obligations required of young girls have been shown to deter them from remaining in school. By ten or eleven years old (if not younger), rural girls begin to “contribute substantially to household work, including grinding maize, making tortillas, tending to younger children, and weaving” (Ishihara-Brito, 2013, p. 10). Though these responsibilities have cultural ties, it may be that the absence of a mother due to the feminized migration of finding work in larger cities, may increase the need for girls to take on these roles at a younger age. This is more evident with girls passed primary-age. Among teenage girls, the most frequently cited reasons for nonenrolment in school were household chores (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, 3).
Apart from domestic obligations, Mayan girls also have cultural barriers that limit their opportunity to attain or complete their education. As a culture of resistance to state control, Mayan’s strong sense of feminized gender roles juxtapose the basic premise that underlies Guatemala’s Ministry of Education, which requires all Guatemalan children to finish nine years of school (McEwan, Trowbridge, 2006). It can be argued that the state is not doing nearly enough to provide equal access to fulfill this claim, though evidence also shows that cultural attitudes towards the unimportance of girls completing secondary education is sound. In addition to marking the life-stage at which girls begin to assume gender-based adult work roles, age 12 “signals the onset of puberty and parental concerns about their daughters mixing with boys,” (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, 2007). On a financial scope, feminine hygiene products may also be a burden for families to provide menstruating girls with the necessities they would need to remain in school, but further research will need to be conducted on this matter. Age 12 marks the sharpest decline in Mayan girls’ enrollment rates. A quantitative survey taken in 2007 showed girls’ enrollment rates at 40 percent, steadily dropping to only about 10 percent by age 18 (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, figure 1 p. 2).
When asked about constraints to girls’ social participation in school, most parents feared that “adolescent girls’ interactions with boys may potentially lead to damaging their reputations” and subsequent marital prospects (Colom, 2004). In other words, they may be put at risk for out-of-wedlock pregnancy, which is highly stigmatized in indigenous societies in Guatemala. By age 18, almost 40 percent of Mayan females are married, “nearly twice the percentage of Ladina females of the same age” (Hallman, Peracca, Catino, Ruiz, 2007). As historically predetermined, for many Mayan families, motherhood and marriage is the apex of a woman’s life, which explains why many parents interviewed deemed their daughter’s education beyond primary-age unnecessary. Issues of poverty do affect parent’s attitudes as well, but because many expect their daughters’ future roles to be mainly wife and mother, advanced education is deemed unneeded and a luxury that may not succumb to benefiting her role within the family.
Though the majority of Guatemala’s 2 million children not attending school are Mayan girls, they remain invisible in a country that refuses to legitimize their value. It has been studied and noted by various scholars, how countries that limit girls’ access to secondary education is a deterrent to the countries growth, and results in stronger dependency on social services to remain afloat. Though there are programs put in place to aid Guatemala’s most vulnerable population, girls continue to be denied real state organization that will implement an educational system to raise their social, economic, and political status. This reprisal against Mayan communities just solidifies the argument that colonial attitudes against indigenous populations is still a determining factor for dislocating their communities from the country’s core. Extreme isolation and machismo cultural attitudes are pervasive within this community, and will only continue to shape Mayan girls’ roles as fitting for the kitchen.
Mayan girls’ educational inequity is a crime against their humanity and just as devastating as a natural disaster or human rights crisis. The longer it takes for the Guatemalan government to realize this, the deeper these communities will suffer. Though there are cultural barriers and domestic obligations inhibiting girls to complete secondary education, the root of the conflict lies within their impoverished state, produced by years of disenfranchising their rights. There is a dire need for these girls to not only attend, but remain in school, so that they may pull their families out of poverty and induct social and political change for their communities. Their voices are not chaff swept in the winds’ discernment, but melodies that bare the weight of their ancestors with each passing breath. It is time for Mayan girls to graduate the kitchen, and lift their school books in defiance.
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