Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres-GGM (Guatemalan Women's Group) [GTM28722.FE]

Interview with the director of the Guatemalan Women's Group (Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres-GGM), carried out in Guatemala on 13 March 1997. The GGM is a non-governmental organization that helps women who are victims of domestic violence. The GGM is the only non-governmental Guatemalan organization that has a shelter for abused women. The opinions expressed in this document are those of the Director.

Types of Services Offered by the Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres

The GGM was founded in 1988 to aid women who are victims of domestic violence by offering them legal, social and psychological support. At the time of the interview, the director said that the GGM would be opening the first shelter for such women in Guatemala in the near future (in its 24 April 1997 issue, Latinamerica Press reported that it opened on 4 April 1997). The shelter was intended to receive up to five women and their children (a maximum of five children per woman). The GGM's objective was not only to shelter these women but also to give them the means to be able to change their situation by explaining to them the reasons for, and causes of, the domestic violence directed at them. GGM hoped to give the women the tools to enable them to reach a decision to leave a home in which they are victims of violence and to go and live alone or together with other women who have had the same experience. The GGM has set up a support network with other Guatemalan NGOs to help illiterate women who are victims of domestic violence in order to, on the one hand, educate them so that they can fully understand their rights and, on the other, represent them before institutions that are responsible for protecting them. GGM also receives assistance from doctors and lawyers. It is very difficult for the Guatemalan population in general to obtain justice, and even more so for women.

Domestic violence affects women of all social classes in Guatemala, but the GGM deals mainly with middle and working class women. Nevertheless, the GGM has also handled cases of women married to millionaires and belonging to the country's wealthy elite. All the services offered by the GGM to women who are victims of domestic violence are free. GGM pays the costs of photocopying documents that are necessary for a judge to evaluate the case, any legal fees, the cost of a doctor's consultation if necessary and even transportation costs in some cases where the women cannot even afford the price of public transportation. In the case of upper middle-class and upper-class women who have been victims of abuse, GGM asks for a financial contribution to support its activities and help women who are destitute.

Procedure for Submitting a Complaint Relating to Domestic Violence to the GGM

The GGM receives the woman's complaint and offers her a legal consultation so that she clearly understands what her rights are within the marriage and which legal documents the family court will require to evaluate her complaint (identity card, birth certificate, marriage contract). Few women have these documents, however. Without them, neither the courts of justice nor the office of the public prosecutor of Guatemala can take on the case and undertake an effective investigation of the complaint. The GGM therefore impresses upon the women the importance of always having these documents with them, regardless of whether they are or have been victims of domestic violence. At first it may seem strange that women are not in possession of these essential legal documents, but in Guatemala women in general have never been made aware of the importance of having such documents in their keeping. Many marriages are neither registered nor recognized in Guatemala because a marriage certificate simply does not exist. Because of the general lack of education, most couples do not bother to meet with a lawyer to have their union legally recorded. Thus many women spend years in de facto marriages without being legally married. When a woman presents herself at the GGM office, the organization's representatives go with her to the registrar of births, deaths and marriages to verify whether her marriage has been recorded. When there is no record of it, GGM turns to the college of lawyers so that the situation can be remedied and the woman can receive a document that she can submit to a judge.

The GGM proceeds to draw up the person's complaint on a form (the Research Directorate has a sample of the standard form used by the GGM to document complaints of conjugal violence) on which are also entered the various measures to be taken to ensure that the woman is no longer mistreated by her spouse. Among these measures are those that concern the victim's safety or protection and prohibit the spouse from approaching the woman's place of residence or entering it, under penalty of incarceration if he refuses to comply.

The GGM also asks that other measures be applied, such as the payment of alimony. Furthermore, it asks that a deed of separation be drawn up or divorce proceedings instituted. These requests are submitted to a judge with appropriate jurisdiction, who summons the parties to resolve the problem. It should be kept in mind that, given the absence of a shelter in Guatemala, the victim of domestic violence initiates her complaint while she is still living with her husband, which sometimes places her in a vulnerable situation.

Measures That can be Taken Against the Abuser

According to the Family Violence Act (the Research Directorate has a Spanish-language copy of the Act which is aimed at preventing, penalizing and eliminating intrafamilial abuse), which has been in force since December 1996, the police can now go to the house of a violent father or husband and arrest him once the wife has lodged a complaint against him in due form. Unfortunately police officers have not received the necessary sensitization to domestic violence for them to intervene effectively. In practice, police still treat cases of spousal abuse as private acts that take place within the home and concern only the man and his wife. Article 16 of the Guatemalan constitution forbids police to enter a person's home. Many violent men prevent their wives from leaving the family home. GGM uses the recurso de exhibición personal which is a proceeding that allows the police to enter a home, following a court order, to verify the presence of a woman subjected to domestic violence. If the woman has suffered physical injuries that remain visible for longer than about 10 days, her spouse could be sentenced to prison. The GGM cannot appeal to the MINUGUA, since domestic violence is not within its field of jurisdiction. However, it can intervene indirectly by reprimanding a police officer for having been remiss in his obligation to act in a case of domestic violence. In most cases a woman who turns directly to the MINUGUA offices for help will be referred to the GGM or to the public prosecutor's office.

This response does not purport either to be an exhaustive study of the country under review or to provide conclusive evidence as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References


Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres (GGM), Guatemala. 13 March 1997. Interview with the Director.

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 24 April 1997.