5 inspiring women from Guatemala

Jürg Widmer Probst Guatemala Culture - women from Guatemala

Almost two-thirds of the population of Guatemala are indigenous people, but their achievements often get overlooked in historical canon. And for women from Guatemala the lack of recognition is even more significant.

While there are some famous women from Guatemala, including Nobel prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, there are many more who have significantly changed history that you may not have heard of.

5 women from Guatemala who deserve to be remembered

  1. Kalomt’e K’abel

During the Classic Maya era in the 7th Century, Kalomt’e K’abel was both queen and warlord. It’s thought she was even more powerful than her husband, Wak K’inich Bahlam II. Her remains were discovered in 2012 after a decade of excavation at Peru-Waka, near the Belize border. Archaeologists uncovered her tomb, where they found her other moniker ‘Ix Kam Ajaw’ inscribed on various artefacts. This other name translates as ‘Lady Snake Lord’. They also found jade jewellery, knives and plenty of other treasures in her tomb. Historians now think Kalomt’e K’abel was the most powerful person in the Mayan community known as the kingdom of Calakmul.

  1. Alaide Foppa

Human rights advocate, poet and feminist, it’s presumed Foppa was killed during the civil war in Guatemala. Born in Spain in 1914, Foppa’s mother was Guatemalan and her father of Italian descent. After being raised in Europe, she obtained full Guatemalan citizenship and relocated there. She was forced to flee to Mexico after the US overthrew the Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz and replaced him with a military dictatorship. There she taught courses on the sociology of women in Latin America and joined Amnesty International. She was denounced as a subversive and went missing in Guatemala City in 1980. It’s likely she was murdered by the military government under General Romeo Lucas Garcia.

  1. Myrna Mack Chang

Chang was a Mayan/Chinese anthropologist who fought for the indigenous people of Guatemala during the civil war. She was murdered by the military government death squads on 11 September 1990, just two days after she published research on the tyranny the indigenous people were suffering under the Guatemalan Government.  Her sister went on to lead the transformation of the country’s justice system, culminating in the 2003 International Court of Human Rights order that Guatemala recognise its responsibility for Chang’s murder. This case changed the way human rights cases are judged in Guatemala.

  1. Thelma Cabrera

Cabrera is a Maya Mam politician who stood for president in 2019’s elections in Guatemala. She was born in El Asintal on the West Coast of Guatemala and was brought up in poverty before being married at 15. She became a member of a grassroots organisation set up to represent the country’s indigenous people living in poverty. The organisation is called the Comite del Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) and elected Cabrera to run for president for their new political party called the Movement for the Liberation of Peoples (MLP). She is only the second ever indigenous person to run for president in Guatemala and won a historic 10.3% of the vote.

  1. Lucia Xiloj Cui

A Maya Q’echi’ lawyer, Cui is known for her determined fight for justice, particularly for sexual abuses committed during the civil war in Guatemala. In 2010, Cui began collating testimonies covering the genocide of the Achi people during the civil war. More than 5,000 people were murdered, equating to 20% of the Achi population. She uncovered 36 cases of Achi women who were sexually abused by men in the military in 1981, and she took it to court. It has faced endless setbacks but was reopened in February this year and Cui fights on.