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Women’s Rights Advocate Fights Impunity of Gender Crimes in Guatemala

BY Talea Miller  March 7, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST

Norma Cruz in her office

Norma Cruz is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and prosecution for violence against women in Guatemala. Her line of work has made her a target for threats in a country where nearly 45 percent of women experience violence in their lifetimes, reports the UN.

Cruz sat down with Ray Suarez during the NewsHour’s trip to Guatemala. Below are excerpts from their conversation, through an interpreter:

RAY SUAREZ: Why did you first get involved? What made you take up this cause?

NORMA CRUZ, SURVIVORS’ FOUNDATION: I got involved in this cause, accompanying women victims of violence, because my daughter suffered sexual violence. And I started a battle so that her aggressor would be judged, and her case wouldn’t be kept in impunity. 

It was my searching for justice that I learned that there were many women in my country who were suffering all kinds of violence. We had to face the justice system’s limitations…it was then that we started a process to bring to life Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors’ Foundation).

RAY SUAREZ: Did your daughter’s experience teach you something about the way sexual violence is treated in Guatemala?

NORMA CRUZ: It showed me that when we are dealing with this kind of violence, we have a very conservative society that prefers that all be kept silent.

RAY SUAREZ: So when these attacks happen, do the women come forward, and if they come forward, are they believed? Are these cases taken seriously?

NORMA CRUZ: The doubt always exists, about women telling the truth. There are two dimensions to this: the first is that they don’t believe her and second, she is considered guilty of what has happened.  To this date it continues to be a battle so that these cases don’t stay in impunity and denunciations that are brought forward are taken seriously.

RAY SUAREZ: Why Guatemala? What is it about this country that contributes to the problem?  

NORMA CRUZ: I think we have been dragging a whole past of violence, and that has generated among us Guatemalans, men and women as well, a passive attitude against violence. We accept it, and even accept that we may loose our lives any minute. There is also impunity. In a country where women are beaten, violated and killed, and nothing happens and nobody is interested, the message it sends is that violence may go on.

RAY SUAREZ: But if you are a young man today or becoming a young man, you were born after the civil war and the killings and the persecution of the Indians. You have no personal memory of the country’s past…

NORMA CRUZ: I think that in Guatemala we have been educated in such a way, men believe that women are their belonging, an object they acquire, and they can do with it what they want.  And women, we have been educated to accept that violence… that this is our destiny, that is the way God wants it, and because that is the way society has established it. 

These two positions make it possible that nowadays, in my country; women are not only hurt sexually, even in public spaces, like a bus, for example, in front of other people, but that our lives are being taken away.

RAY SUAREZ: Could you describe the case you are working on now? Tell us the story of this particular woman.

NORMA CRUZ: We are talking about the case of Mindy Rodas, a 21-year-old young woman. She got married when she was 15. During her marriage she was a victime of violence and she decided to separate from her partner….

In 2009, this man attacked her and took off her face. This is very important because when taking her face off with a knife, he was leaving a mark on her for the rest of her life, for her not to be able to redo her life. That left her with life long wounds but also a  psychological trauma in her family, in the community, in society.

Recently, in December, her disappearance was reported and on January 17, it was established that she had been murdered, with the same signs of violence with which her face was taken off… This is a case that has struck us much and hurt much.<-->