The purpose of this research is to provide a brief historical context of the 36 years of civil war in Guatemala, and the affects that war had on women. This paper will provide a forum to investigate women's role in war, as voluntary combatants and part of the armed guerilla resistance. What was their participation in the guerrilla struggle and what were their motivations behind that participation? By comparing and contrasting the situation of women before, during and after their time involved in the violence in the country, I have documented the role of women as combatants; the motivations that drove them to fight and participate in revolutionary movements and the barriers to their participation; their leadership and military capacities; and their significance in contributing to the evolution of their country. Primary research is focused on one specific case study, that of a personal friend of mine, a female community member of a rural returned refugee community in Guatemala. "Sandra Ixil" was a combatant and active member of the guerrilla forces of the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) during the time of the most brutal violence in the country. Secondary research is used as corroborating evidence to provide common themes in the research. There were many sacrifices made by people participating in the armed guerrilla struggle in Guatemala. Those sacrifices were more augmented for women, especially indigenous women, due to their place in society, as well as their stereotypical roles as nurturers and peacemakers. Women in particular experienced and enjoyed new liberties whether they had fled for refuge or if they had remained in the country during the war. For those women who did actively participate in the struggle, especially indigenous, their motivations were diverse: to fight against the centuries of racism, cultural imperialism, marginalization, and exploitation their peoples seemed powerless to; the feeling of hatred and a sense of urgency to avenge those responsible for taking the lives their loved ones and perhaps their need for an identity that was lost; their undeniable longing for liberation for all humankind, and to play an active part in ensuring a better future for their children. Whatever the case, women, through their active participation, led lives equal to those of men: fighting for the same cause, in the same military units, sharing the same feelings and beliefs and hopes for the future. Further, due to the patriarchal society of Guatemala, from this participation women were not only liberated in a sense that they became more self-confident, skilled in duties never open to them before; via the education and life's learning that guerrilla struggles offered, they became more aware of their rights as women. The struggle in Guatemala was not a women's movement; it was a people's movement. There is no authoritative conclusion as to why in general women's initiative diminished once returned to their life of 'normalcy' in Guatemala. Although for some, like Sandra, they were not able to nor did they wish to return to what life was like before the war tore their lives, their families and their country apart. Women became empowered. If there is one thing I hope to relay in this research, it is to validate the contribution made my these incredible women; no matter what path they chose to follow during that time or since then, they have chosen the best and only path for themselves.

Related Files Map of Guatemala.doc (302 kB)
Map of Guatemala