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By Louise Morris 

This series of articles aims to highlight how alternative media can be used to provide a space for women’s voices, rights and empowerment in Central America while recognising the limits to accessing media and participating in producing media content that many women still face.

The rapid increase and spread of Information Communication Technologies and Internet access globally has made it easy to slip into digital determinism – the optimistic attitude that every problem finds its solution through technology. Advances in technology have revolutionised journalism, leading to 24 hour reporting and a plethora of alternative news sources – world events now reach Twitter faster than the mainstream press.

Social Media has also been influential for grassroots reporting in countries where the press is censored or controlled, and has opened up new channels for political critique, as it removes the traditional hierarchy between citizens and politicians as they can connect directly to leaders online. NGOs and charities have placed increasing emphasis on Social Media campaigns, and signing online petitions has become so commonplace it has borne the term “clicktivism”. While it is certainly true that there are many benefits for activists using ICTs, such as the easy ability to reach an international and potentially sympathetic audience, as well as facilitating alternative media production, there are also severe limitations which are not always acknowledged in campaign strategies. Internet access is growing in Central America and a number of interesting projects have made full use of technological developments to aide their purposes.

Several also focus on making technology available to a wider range of people – not just the educated, upper-middle classes. Beyond Access is a global organisation who promotes the value of libraries to development, primarily for their role in allowing “access to information and technology, support to use it, and physical spaces to connect with others”. The benefit of their work can be demonstrated through Rija’tzuul Na’ooj, a member library in Guatemala which founded a business centre for local female artisans, providing training and computer access.

Hackaton by Chicas Poderosas


The courses, which teach indigenous women how to use the Internet to track market trends, seek customers and sell their work online, have been extremely popular. Participants have managed to successfully expand their businesses, helping those whom tourism often exploits to carve a niche in the tourist industry for themselves through expanding their reach online. Chicas Poderosas has attempted to train women in a different sphere of production – the media. The project aims to increase the number of women in news rooms in Latin America, traditionally areas dominated by men, by giving women skills in data journalism and multi-media production.

Last year the shocking state of reproductive rights in El Salvador became known internationally through the tragic case of a woman referred to as Beatriz. Despite Beatriz’s life being endangered by her pregnancy, which was also non-viable, Salvadoran authorities refused to allow Beatriz a life-saving abortion. The news trickled from local human rights organisations to international ones, who with their tireless online work, popularised the #SaveBeatriz hashtag, putting pressure on Salvadoran authorities to uphold their international human rights obligations. Due to the story’s ubiquity on Social Media, it was even picked up by mainstream news outlets globally. Ultimately Beatriz had an obstetric intervention after almost 7 months of angst and deteriorating health – different parts disagree on whether it was a last minute emergency abortion (hysterotomy) or a birth through a c-section. In Mexico, computer software has been utilised in a different manner for a campaign purpose; mapping technology has proved vital for an initiative to track the devastating numbers of Mexico’s disappeared. Primarily blamed on the violence of drug cartels, 27,000 people are missing according to the country’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), although the map’s co-administrator Manuel Robles believes the actual figure to be closer to 30,000. A significant proportion of the disappeared are women – the frequent conflict in the areas of Mexico dominated by cartels has fostered a climate of impunity and machismo which has led to a horrific increase in the murder and rape of women. Endemic corruption in the police force and government structures means that these cases are rarely reported, those who have pushed for prosecutions have been themselves attacked.


Map of reported disappearances in PorTodxsLxsDesaparecidxs. Filters allow to check per groups (the pink filter is for women and children)

Map of reported disappearances in PorTodxsLxsDesaparecidxs. Filters allow to
check per groups (the pink filter is for women and children)

#PorTodxsLxsDesaparecidxs aims to circumvent this by mapping civilians’ reports alongside official statistics, although they are careful to cross-check all information to maintain credibility. Technology has also been adopted as a subversive protest tool in the Central American region. Several “hacktivist” groups have sprung up, most notably in Honduras and Guatemala. Modelling themselves as a regional group inspired by international hackers Anonymous, these activists hack government websites, posting messages exposing corruption and calling for an uncensored press. Despite these successful examples incorporating technology into development initiatives, there remain problems to their efficacy. There is a growing awareness of the Digital Divide – both between countries of the Global North and South and even between citizens of First World nations. In Central America, although Internet access has increased, it is still only available to 32.6% of the population overall, and falls as low as 11.7% in Nicaragua. This is largely due to the prohibitive cost of either owning a device with Internet access or visiting an Internet café which have become relatively widespread in the region. However, Internet cafés can be intimidating places – they are often run and populated by men, possibly putting some women off from using them.

The primary language of the Internet is English, another factor which segregates the connected (usually middle-upper class, educated, English speaking) and the unconnected. Although Spanish language content is increasing, this does not aide the high numbers of Central America’s indigenous population, many of whom only speak their indigenous language. Digital literacy is another barrier – one often taken for granted – and demonstrates why initiatives like the Beyond Access library schemes are so valuable as they teach people how this technology may be of actual use to them and show them how it operates, in terms relevant to their daily lives. Online safety is also worrying, particularly in authoritarian countries – a new law in Honduras even legalises government interception of personal messages sent online, while harsh laws against cyber crime in Costa Rica and Guatemala can also be applied to restrict online activism and whistle-blowing initiatives.

The option of anonymity online has led to an increase in Internet abuse, especially targeted towards women (for more information see: Take Back the Tech and Gender IT) and fraudulent Social Media accounts have been set up to discredit organisations. Of course, aside from all of these barriers, a central question remains: What is the point of campaigning for Internet access when half the world’s population live on less than $2.50 a day? In Central America high poverty rates mean that most people’s concerns focus more on the means for their family’s survival, rather than getting connected. ICTs are certainly valuable tools and have led to successful developments both in the methods of campaigning and for the campaigns’ recipients.

I would argue they are most useful for facilitating global networks which can raise awareness of injustices that may be otherwise overlooked, using online campaigns to put pressure on governments to improve their human rights records. However, organisations and activists must not be lured into digital determinism. It must be emphasised that online activism needs to function symbiotically with a continued focus on street protests and community work to achieve better chance of success, and to avoid excluding the less connected percentage of the population they purport to help.

by Quimy De Leon – Community Newspapers

translated by Verity Powell, CAWN

The courtroom of “Primera Instancia de Mayor Riesgo B” was full on Tuesday 24 June 2014. Present were Mayan women, human rights defenders and journalists. The courtroom is on the 14th Floor in the Tower of Courts in the centre of the capital city. The court is presided over by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez. Today marks an historic day, as the first public hearing against army Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij begins.

The two men are accused of being responsible for the rape and sexual slavery of “15 Mayan Q’eqchi women, and the disappearance of more than 20 people.” [1] They are accused of crimes against humanity. Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón is also accused of murder, whilst Heriberto Valdez Asij is also accused of the forced disappearance of men and women.

The majority of people in attendance at the hearing were indigenous women, representatives from women’s organizations, human rights organizations and the media. The two accused men were sat together with their legal defence. The defence expected to make their first statement to the judge, however proceedings were delayed until 3rd October, when they will continue in the same courtroom.

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Translated by CAWN

Different groups of the Women’s Movement of Nicaragua address the authorities and the public to express our concern at the plight of femicide and sexual violence experienced by women in Nicaragua.

The Observatory of the Red de Mujeres contra la Violencia [Women Against Violence's Network], recorded a total of thirty women killed in the first quarter of 2014, of whom five had previously had mediation. This is alarming and should put on alert all institutions of the State of Nicaragua, as we experience violence against women constantly, and it becomes particularly acute in times of emergency, since disaster prevention measures pay no specific attention to women in these circumstances.

The statistics have names of Nicaraguan women and will remain written in this and many other documents of demand, to create awareness among representatives, responsible for carrying forward laws and policies to reverse this situation of feminist alert.

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Translated by Yolaina Vargas Pritchard, from a Maquila Solidarity Network article

On the 2nd of March, the Central American Women Solidarity Network for the Maquila Workers (REDCAM) launched an agenda on maquila women workers’ rights in the region.

The regional launch took place in Managua, Nicaragua during the Annual Colloquium of the Movimiento de Mujeres Trabajadoras y Desempleadas, Maria Elena Cuadra (MEC). National launches also took place in Honduras and Guatemala.

More than 1000 women maquila workers and members of civil society organizatization supported the Agenda

The ‘Agenda of the Workers’ Rights for Women Workers in the Maquila Industry ‘ is a product of 2 years of consultation with women workers and women’s organizations and trade unions in the Central American region.

The agenda is supported by 14 national women’s organizations and 2 trade union bodies – the National Commission of Women’s Trade Union of Nicaragua and the Central American Coordinator of Maquila Trade Unions. The Women’s Central American Fund and the RSM are also signatories of the agenda. Continue Reading »

By Virginia Lopez Calvo

Between 1960 and 1996 Guatemala was engaged in a civil war. Hundreds of women were raped; some because of indiscriminate actions; many others fell victims of their political and social engagement.

Survivors give their testimony during recent trial of Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt, accused of planning systematic sexual violence against women.

Today we know that sexual violence was a strategy of the Guatemalan army at the time, as at least four levels of command were involved in its planning, including dictator Ríos Montt.

The most violent stage of the 36-year conflict was between 1978 and 1983, under the dictatorships of Generals Lucas García and Ríos Montt (1982-1983), when 81% of the violations took place, 48% occurring during 1982.

Women, mainly indigenous, were raped and sexually exploited by the Guatemalan military forces during the conflict between 1960 and 1986.

Recent research proves that sexual violence was planned by the highest military and political commands, particularly during the dictatorship of Rios Montt (1982 – 1983), to capture and sexually enslave women from communities for the leisure of troops. The bodies of women were utilized to dominate the indigenous communities and to ensure that land was expropriated from them.


Guatemala: Redress and Punish Sexual Violence During Conflict – Flyer distributed during Global Summit to End Sexual Violence (London, 10-13 June 2014)


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Profile pic for writing bioBy Louise Morris

Feminists from all across Europe came together on the 14 May, 2014 in Brussels, Belgium to listen to the research and innovative work of organisations in Nicaragua, UK, Spain, Austria, Tanzania, Colombia, Namibia and South Africa.

The vibrant discussions covered many of the key criticisms facing the media today. A hot topic was media’s historic and continual inability to represent women fairly, to encourage women media professionals and to leave behind damaging stereotypes of women in the press. As the pitfalls of mainstream media were discussed, the conference also focussed on the strong potential of alternative media to promote gender equality and as a tool to empower women.

Four speakers inspired those present with their practical experience and investigative work on Building an Inclusive Media.

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By Maisie Davies


The ‘war on drugs’ is an unwinnable war: it will neither reduce the consumption of narcotics, nor will it reduce the violent crime associated with drug trafficking. In fact, current prohibitionist policies, which focus on military solutions, serve only to destabilise producer and transporter countries, giving way to an increase in narcotraffick-related violence, often brutal and relentless in nature. The militarisation or remilitarisation of various regions, including Central America, has led to the considerably increased vulnerability of women.

In the last decade, the rate of femicide, that is to say, the killing of a woman because of her gender, has increased significantly in the Central American region. El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide in the world, while Guatemala comes third and Honduras seventh globally; these countries are considered among the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. While there are a multitude of factors contributing to these worryingly high levels of violence, it is clear that the increased militarisation of the region, associated with the war on drugs, has directly correlated with a rise in violence against women. Continue Reading »


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