Two different worlds, but similar realities

Women’s participation in decision-making spaces in the Basque Country and Guatemala

By Entreamigos- Lagun Artean

Twenty years ago, women from the Basque Country found themselves in the midst of a fight to have their rights recognized in different spaces, including the political field. “At the time, we still didn’t have legislation that mandated equality on electoral lists. The first petitions arose from festivals and cultural spaces […] now, more and more of us are claiming our space,” comments Oihana Etxebarrieta Legrand, a journalist, educator, and member of the Basque Parliament.

Nalua Eibarko Feministak and Matraka are two organizations that are a part of the feminist movement in Euskal Herria, and are an example of how women are reclaiming political spaces. Both organizations are known in Eibar for their activism, laying claim to the rights of women from a local perspective, while supporting fights taking place elsewhere. What is today a reality in the Basque Country is still a dream for Guatemala, as the current political participation of women in this country is just beginning to blossom, though under difficult conditions. 

Two different contexts; similar needs

Olga Cumatz and Nicandra Sicajau, from Asociación Oxlajuj E, and with whom Entreamigos- Lagun Artean has collaborated in Guatemala, discuss their current situation: “In Sololá (the community they live in) authorities give speeches saying that women can participate in politics, but in reality, they are not given the chance. When meetings are planned, their schedules and the fact that they have many responsibilities at home are not taken into consideration.” Many of them even have to ask their spouses permission to participate, which shows how there is control of and violence against women.

Oxlajuj E works with groups of women to change this reality. Its members are found in 11 different communities in Sololá, empowering women at the municipal level. They promote women’s participation at low levels with the hope that they grow to become future municipal leaders who are gender conscious. One clear example is that of Angélica Mendoza Levy, current Director of Sololá’s Municipal Office on Women, who started supporting women years ago with Oxlajuj E.

Matraka, a feminist group formed in the Basque Country in September 2020, confronts these new realities and oppressions that young women face, trying to eliminate dangerous conditions, hypersexualization, controlling families, the imposition of heteronormativity, and other problems. The main goal of Matraka is to create a safer, more feminist Eibar and Euskal Herria through projects like one that established new protocols in bars and taverns, while also facilitating tools to combat violence.

Nalua was formed under similar conditions. “In 2014 in Eibar, there were many women’s associations (8 or so) but not a single active feminist women’s collective. This group was formed to make our town more feminist, to report the machista violence we suffer each day, and to proclaim that if there is indeed a revolution, it will be feminist. In other words, we wanted feminism to be present in the streets and wanted people to reflect on questions that until now they had not considered,” the group said.

Facing challenges

Entreamigos- Lagun Artean has been promoting a process to transform the reality in Guatemala and the Basque Country, so that women in both countries can acquire new resources and tools to influence local change. This process, called Eragin Guneetan Murgilduz, is a collaboration between Nalua, Matraka, and women’s groups in Guatemala, so that they can unite in their fight and share learning and experience.

However, one challenge is that of strengthening and consolidating groups participating in the exchange so that the fight of Guatemalan women can be known in Euskal Herria and vice-versa. This would allow alliances between the two places to be created, fighting for the rights of women through occupying public spaces and participation in local politics. Oxlajuj E’s model, with its political school, could be implemented in Eibar, offering resources and tools to increase women’s participation in politics at the local level.

With the promotion of these exchange processes between women, training opportunities where women and groups can reflect on a variety of topics (involvement in local politics, sustainable leadership, feminist leadership, power relations, etc.) become possible. These spaces are open not only to Guatemalan women who work to claim their rights at the community, local, departmental, or national level, but also to Nalua, Matraka, and those close to their networks.

The work is hard, but there is strong desire to continue. “We will keep spreading our message, responding to aggressions. We have many challenges ahead of us that we want to tackle from an intersectional perspective, taking into consideration our own context and role with privileges and oppressions,” said one of Matraka’s members. Nalua stated that “keeping the collective alive and well is one of our greatest challenges, so communication and confidence are essential.” 

Positive experiences in participation

Matraka finds the exchange experience promoted through Entreamigos-Lagun Artean to be very enriching. Beyond learning about and from the experiences of other women, constant training in feminism, organization, and power has provided knowledge applicable to its activities. “We are learning how to stay united, how to lead the collective, and how to take care of each other. It has been really interesting. We are giving a name to situations and actions that until now have been invisible. This means we can work on them,” commented Nalua.

They add, “Survival of the group is a challenge. Our daily effort can be overwhelming, but we keep our promise and goal in mind and find the strength to carry on. We fight to show that feminism is a way of life. This is more than just a fight, though. It is also a source of pleasure and rebellion. We incorporate all that we have worked on into all that we do from day to day and will keep asking questions, supporting others, reporting aggressions, and caring for and healing all that surrounds us here in Eibar.”

Results come slowly, bit by bit, as the women conquer decision-making spaces. Take for example Angélica Levy, who says: “We cannot change the situation overnight. We have to dream big. What is essential and most important is education to change the patriarchal system. We women have the abilities and strength necessary and show that in many ways.” Oihana seconds this: “There are many women in the world who are fighting for equal participation and to make our voices heard. You can always count on us. Your fight is our fight.”