When Hurricane Iota wreaked havoc on Guatemala in 2020, it severely impacted Alta Verapaz, a region already vulnerable to natural disasters because of widespread deforestation. The resulting displacement, infrastructure destruction, flooding, and agricultural loss compounded the existing gender-based inequalities and violence.
During that period, Dayana Chinchilla, a social worker employed by Fundaeco, recalls a particular incident when a mother enrolled in her program shared the distressing news that her sole means of livelihood, a cardamom field, had been decimated by the floodwaters. Consequently, she was no longer capable of paying for her daughter's education. Fundaeco witnessed firsthand how inequality between men and women were exacerbated during these types of disaster events.
This mother’s experience was unfortunately not unique. According to UN Women, studies have shown that the loss of livelihood produced by natural disasters directly affects the more vulnerable populations, elderly, women, children and particularly those who live in poor rural areas. Guatemala is one of the top 5 countries highly vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change events, impacting its economy and people's livelihoods.
At the same time, Guatemala has high rates of gender-based violence and inequality. 23% of women report verbal, physical, or sexual based violence; more than 4,000 girls 10-14 years of age give birth every year; it has the third highest rate of femicide in the world; and 48% of rural women are illiterate compared to 25% of their male counter parts.
These two intersecting realities in Guatemala, as in many countries of the world, require environmental organizations to have a nuanced approach to climate justice work. Out of this need, Creative Action Institute implemented a new course for grassroots environmental leaders this year, Gender and Climate Change.
During the course, Fundaeco and 15 other participating organizations from across Latin America found a platform to share experiences and strategies for dealing with similar issues across the region. The program took a deep look into how climate change exacerbates already existing gender inequalities in local communities, as well as globally.
“The process of exchange helped us learn from the experience of other organizations, to ask ourselves what are we doing, and how can we improve?... the course deepened our understanding of climate justice and strengthened our work,” shares Dayana.
For her and others that are working in community-based conservation efforts, they see frequent examples of how climate change and weather disasters exacerbate existing gender inequities. In a country like Guatemala, where agriculture is a major source of income and sustenance for most families, changing weather and climate patterns affect crop yield and cause economic hardship. And when families have little money, they often prioritize boys over girls, in terms of education and opportunity. Dayana says, “We have communities where there is no water and women must walk up to 1-2 hours each day to carry water… They are the first ones to wake up and the last ones to lie down. But their work is devalued because of the same circle of violence in which many of them find themselves in their homes.”
She goes on to explain how climate disasters can also intensify abuse,
"When disasters happen or, for example, during the COVID pandemic, many women and girls can find themselves confined with their abusers and isolated from others."
However, Dayana, also sees the enormous role women play in climate change solutions. She says, “For us, women’s role in conservation is very important for our program. We find women to be much more committed to a project – when they commit, they commit – and are open to changing their mindset. Women can play a much larger role in local conservation efforts.”
Fundaeco also recognizes that protecting forests to reduce deforestation can help increase community resilience to climate change. Last year, Fundaeco led a Creative Advocacy Practicum with CAI in Peten, Guatemala that involved creating an arts parade with women and youth to engage the community in advocacy efforts to protect a local forest.
Recognizing the crucial role women play in conservation efforts, Fundaeco integrates environmental education into all of their social programs: they offer educational scholarships to girls, sexual and reproductive health education and services to rural women, small business programs - weaving environmental education throughout.
She goes on to share that the courses that Dayana and her co-workers have taken with Creative Action Institute have innovated and markedly improved their effectiveness as an organization. “We are now sought after by other institutions to lead workshops because they tell us that our workshops are very interactive, fun, and they like that we’re focused on finding solutions. But we are just implementing what we learned from Creative Action Institute - how to use different art techniques and materials, how to use interactive and ludic activities to grab people’s attention. It fortified our work.”
An example of this impact is seen in Fundaeco's revamped women's health workshops, where they introduced simultaneous art activities for the children of women participants, allowing mothers a chance to fully participate in workshops and receive crucial women’s health services. Fundaeco credits Creative Action Institute’s methodology with helping them think outside the box and to meet participants where they are to engage with them more effectively.
“CAI has been one of the few institutions that has helped us to strengthen and innovate. For us, the courses have been very gratifying, and fill us with joy… it was an unforgettable experience, especially around the topic of the environment. We came away with new ideas that we learned through exchange with other institutions.”