Promoting the construction of houses with cultural relevance


With a shawl on their head, rubber boots, Mayan clothing, and a great desire to have their own home, dozens of women come together in the K’loj qya Aq’unal te Kójla (Fighting Women of Cajolá) project.Dignified, adequate, and healthy housing in rural areas is a human right. As an organization, it promotes the construction of houses with local materials as an alternative to benefit indigenous women from the municipality of Cajolá, Quetzaltenango.

The current reality of the indigenous peoples and rural communities of Guatemala is one of extreme impoverishment; this is the result of a historical process.

The State of Guatemala maintains a historical debt with the majority of the population that is reflected in the current political and administrative structure that has deepened the inequality gap, being unable to guarantee the rights of its population.

The neglect affects men and women in different ways, but with more recurrence the rights of women; as in social housing management processes, given the dominant gender roles and the general power imbalance between the sexes and between different groups in all spheres of human society.

Cajolá with a woman’s face

Women, especially those who belong to indigenous groups, are not guaranteed their right to decent and adequate housing. This is due, among other reasons, to tradition, lack of knowledge of their rights, discrimination, and lack of political will from the local and central government. However, it is important to state that contrary to the first statement, women also assume an active role in their social development in three fundamental spheres: the home, work, and community organization, which calls into question the structure of gender power.

According to data from the XII National Population Census and VII Housing Census 2018, the municipality of Cajolá, Quetzaltenango has a population of 14,948 inhabitants, 95% self-identify as the Maya Mam population. The municipality reports 81.6% poverty and 25.4% extreme poverty. Likewise, 2,916 households are identified, where there is a 40.02% female head of household.

Of these single-parent households headed by a woman, 82% present a qualitative housing deficit (improvements, flooring, basic services) and 18% quantitative (new housing). Currently, the housing deficit at the national level is 2.2 million (CEPAL, March 2021), 60% qualitative and 40% quantitative. According to the Ministry of Communications, Infrastructure, and Housing (MCIV), the housing deficit in the country increases by 100,000 units each year.

Faced with this reality, the Institute for Social Economic Development of Central America (IDESAC) has spent several years promoting the social construction of housing in the municipality of Cajolá, Quetzaltenango. The program involves women, children, and youth, which allows the deconstruction of macho and individualist thoughts about the role of women with respect to construction work, land ownership for housing, their role as family organizers, and as an actor of social change with alternative, sustainable and resilient proposals in their territory.

IDESAC promotes the construction of houses with local materials as an alternative adapted to the environment, cost-efficient, and ecological.

The mission is to channel the demands of groups that have been excluded for economic, ethnic, gender, and socio-cultural reasons through inclusive and participatory mechanisms, improving the possibility of satisfying their critical needs culturally expressed in the recognition of the rights of native peoples, gender equality, and protection of natural resources and the environment.

Cajolá fighters

This is how, in conjunction with the K’loj qya Aq’unal te Kójla Housing Manager Associative Group (Fighting Women of Cajolá) made up of Maya Mam families, where 76% are mothers who are heads of household, a pilot construction project was promoted of homes, kitchens, and bathrooms with an earthquake-resistant system with local materials (adobe) with mutual aid and community cooperation with the technical advice of IDESAC and support from Misereor (Episcopal Work of the German Catholic Church for development cooperation).

The objective is to achieve access for their families to decent, adequate, and healthy housing, through access to financing programs or the granting of state subsidies. This is a viable model for the diversification of programs and for the incidence in public financing policies, in coordination with other social, community, academic, and housing sector organizations, in the South West and at the national level. To date, 25 homes with toilets have been built. Each house carries the effort and work of the Mayan Mam women.


Through community organization and self-management, the K’loj qya Aq’unal te K’ojla Housing Manager Associative Group, 25 families (150 beneficiaries, mostly boys and girls from 0 to 12 years old) have managed to solve and improve their quality of life, strengthening their capacity for resilience, in the home environment and the security of where to live.

This is an experience that recovers ancestral practices, the materials used contribute to the care of the environment and the participation of the beneficiaries throughout the construction process and strengthens the local organization and awareness of the right to access housing as a human right that the state must guarantee.
It must be recognized that women, especially women from rural and indigenous communities, must be empowered to improve their quality of life.

Strong economies

The United Nations (ONU) General Assembly designated October 15 as the International Day of Rural Women, in which it recognizes “the decisive role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in promoting agricultural development and rural areas, the improvement of food security and the eradication of poverty”, they point out.

In addition, they promote the empowerment of rural women and girls to build a prosperous, equitable and peaceful future for all on a healthy planet. It is necessary to achieve gender equality, ensure decent work for all, eradicate poverty and hunger, and take climate action, according to the ONU. In the country there are Technical Field Schools for School Feeding (ETCAE), which is based on non-formal education for adults. This is aimed at rural families seeking empowerment, community development and sustainability of family farming.

In the case of the communities of Cajolá, the organizations contribute their grain of sand for the good living of the women. It is a reflection of the importance of empowering women, since it allows building strong economies, establishing more stable societies, ensuring human rights and improving the quality of life of families. In addition, the work carried out by women provides a return in the development of the community to which they belong.
Let’s celebrate and dignify rural women.