Women In Mayan Culture
Womyn in Mayan culture and heritage have played a substantial role in shaping the identities of Mayan people.
There are just a handful of places in the world whose indigenous people can directly trace their roots all the way back to an ancient civilization. The Mayans are among this small group. Culture and heritage have played a substantial role in shaping the identities of Mayan people, particularly in regards to women. Traditionally, Mayan women live in extreme poverty with their livelihoods being constantly threatened by the deteriorating environment due to "modern progress" and industrialization. Development practitioners throughout most of history have basically ignored their work as farmers, artists, craftspeople and innovators. Most Mayan women who are employed work as domestic servants for non-Maya women who don't even pay them minimum wage.
Modern Mayan women, however, are currently banding together and strengthening their political stance in a variety of aspects. In 1997, more than 80 Mayan women representing 33 Mayan women's groups assembled at The First Mayan Women's Congress in Merida, Mexico. This first-time event opened many doors for Mayan women, and provided them with a forum to express important elements of their indigenous experiences and knowledge to various policy makers. Some of the issues addressed during this conference included the need for workspace for small enterprise, gender sensitivity training, regional communication, and women's changing roles in business, society and family. This event was just part of an ongoing effort to empower Mayan women economically and politically by making them an integral part of mainstream development.
Certainly one of the most notable and accomplished female Mayan leaders is Rigoberta Menchú Tum, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her efforts in the advancements of human rights, especially in regards to indigenous people. Not only was she the first Indigenous person to achieve this rate and prestigious honor, but she was the youngest as well. For Rigoberta Menchú Tum, national recognition of her work meant a chance to further spread the messages of her causes and bring issues like repression, racism and poverty, as well as many female-specific issues, to the forefront of the media spotlight.
The impact of government on women's issues is different for each social class. For some the sky is the limit, but for most their feet remain firmly on the ground. In the last two decades, Mayan women have initiated a movement of political and cultural restoration whose concerns reflect the region's great variations in environment; the depth of its history and ideologies and the economic and political repression of indigenous peoples in general.
There are a growing number of organizations for Guatemalan women forming. The Center for Mayan Women Communicators (CMCM) is a center in which Mayan women can unite and communicate about issues such that directly affect them. It is also a place for them to develop skills in communications technology to better enable them to represent themselves in the world and in the media. CMCM also lends and exchanges services with non-governmental and governmental agencies toward the goal of further developing communications technologies.
Another prominent Guatemalan organization is called Womanway. This organization is dedicated to empowering Mayan women through education, training, quality health care and technical support. This includes providing quality women's health care to women in Guatemala through a midwifery owned and operated clinics, as well as educating and training midwives by providing apprenticeship and fellowship and creating alliances with traditional midwives in an effort to improve education and care of Maya’s pregnant women.
Approximately two thirds of the Maya population are now women, with 33% being heads of their own households. Many Mayan women have become leaders within their families and even at the local government level but most lack the training and experience to participate at higher levels of government. This, like everything else in this region, is changing rapidly. Mayan society has already changed profoundly from the times of the ancient Maya when the kings and lords of the Maya had all of the power and responsibility for reshaping their culture, with women having virtually no part in this process. Today, Mayan women are a strong, dynamic force in Guatemalan politics, as well as efforts towards improvement of the daily lives of all Mayan people. By banding together they have created a united front on the issues that are important to them, and they are finally developing the confidence and education to express their views to the rest of the world.