Courage in Guatemala: How One Woman Makes a Difference for Many

Gender-based violence exists in every country around the world. But in Guatemala, it is particularly bad. Guatemala ranks third among the top 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide, according to a 2014 report from a Geneva-based organization

Yet every day, women and men in Guatemala work to prevent and respond to this violence. Norma Cruz is one of these women. She co-founded an organization called Survivors Foundation to give women and girls who are victims of domestic violence, rape and assault, and other kinds of gender-based violence the emotional, social, and legal support they need to seek justice and protection.

In 2009, the State Department honored Cruz with the Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award. Since then, she has continued her important work, despite immense security challenges for women in her country. We recently reached out to her with some questions about courage, the award, and what she has been up to recently.

In a perfect world, women and girls would: live without violence and discrimination.

In three words, what does courage mean to you? Behavior, attitude, and action.

What’s your favorite memory from the International Women of Courage Award ceremony? The shared moments with other women of courage, hearing their stories, their fights, their suffering, but also the internal strength with which they continue on during difficult moments, and the changes that they fight for in their countries.

What other International Woman of Courage stands out to you from your time in the United States?

One woman is Hadizatou Mani, who was sold at the age of 12 to a man for $500.  Another is Veronika Marchenko, from Russia, who fights for truth about the deaths of Russian members of the military who died as a result of cruel and inhumane treatment and conditions, a very modest person, who also spoke Spanish so we could communicate and share more.

Mutabar Tadjibayeva, from Uzbekistan, jailed for criticizing the government, fights for human rights and never stopped criticizing [government] abuses, a modest person, who’s life story was very strong: being in prison for telling the truth.

Reem Al Numery, from Yemen, who, when she was 12, was forced to marry her 30-year-old cousin.  She raises her voice in favor of children who face the same experience.

And those who stands out for their work in a similar field of violence against women: Wazhma Frogh, from Afganistan, Suaad Allami, from Iraq, an attorney who fights against the violation of human rights of women, and Ambiga Sreenevasan, from Malasia.

All are very brave and committed women.

How did the International Women of Courage Award change your work? The award is very prestigious, and is given to women whose work impacts society, with the award this work was bolstered because it is international recognition, which is valued in our countries.

What’s the secret to getting things done and making progress on the issues that matter to you? Believing in what you do, never giving up, persevering until we achieve our objectives.

What do you think is the biggest barrier to progress? Inequality that exists in our societies, the lack of opportunity, the corruption that doesn’t allow the state’s resources to be appropriately invested.

What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of? Are there any projects you’ve worked on since the award? Giving life to the law of the Alba-Kenneth Alert System [similar to Amber Alerts] for the search for lost children.

[Since receiving the award] Strengthening our shelter that protects women and the legal, psychological, and social assistance center.  In addition, the awareness-raising and prevention programs against violence against women, and the economic empowerment programs for women who suffered violence.

Who is your role model? Mother Theresa of Calcutta, for her commitment and service to the most poor.

About the author: Regina Smedinghoff serves as a Policy Advisor on Western Hemisphere affairs for the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues

Editor's Note: This blog is part of a series that will -- surrounding the 2016 International Women of Courage Awards -- explore the insights of courageous women's rights advocates from around the world.

Norma Cruz. [Photo courtesy of Norma Cruz]
March 25, 2016

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