This weekend saw general elections being held in Guatemala. The Central American country, with a population almost the same size as that of the Netherlands, has in recent years been rocked by gang violence, corruption scandals, and US threats to end the provision of aid. Nonetheless public support for democratic reform remains strong, and there are inspiring individuals who give us reason to be optimistic about the future. This is the story of one such person NIMD has met through its Guatemala programme, local youth leader Nanci Paula Chiriz Sinto.
“NIMD has given me the tools to strengthen my political knowledge and leadership,” says Nanci Paola Chiriz Sinto, a young leader who promotes and defends the collective and individual rights of women and indigenous peoples in Guatemala. At only 21, Nanci was already deeply involved in politics. She became the National Secretary for Youth for Winaq, a political movement with roots in the indigenous communities of Guatemala.
It was in this role, and as the youngest representative of her party, that Nanci first came across NIMD. Her relationship with the organization grew quickly as she took on the role of Coordinator of the Youth Commission of the Permanent Forum of Political Parties, a multiparty dialogue platform supported by NIMD until 2015.
Sharing experiences and learning from others
In 2014, NIMD invited Nanci to share her experience as National Secretary for Youth for Winaq at the International Seminar for Equity and Political Equality for Women in Honduras. At the event, which was brought together young people from across Central America, Nanci described what it means to be a young indigenous woman in Guatemala’s political system, one which harbours deep inequality and exclusion under the surface.
Among the participants of the Seminar were many women who were members of two or even three groups facing discrimination in Central America. Listening to their stories, Nanci came to understand the barriers many women face when they participate in political campaigns. She understood how difficult it can be to thrive in a political culture where women are expected to stick to the traditional roles of mother, wife and caregiver. With her new understanding of the regional context, she learned the importance of building alliances between women and strategizing together.
The seminar also looked at the challenges that young people across the region face when they participate in politics. Tackling these two challenges together with other young and ambitious women made sense to Nanci. With her new knowledge and network, she felt more determined and empowered than ever to stand up for the rights of other young women and indigenous people in Guatemala.
Nanci was also the youngest participant in NIMD’s Women’s Political Rights conference, held in Tunisia in 2017. She found it enriching to learn from participants in such an international environment outside of her country. As she reflected on their different experiences, she started to understand the scale of the violence faced by women around the world, and the importance of making sure that societies do not see this kind of violence as normal.
“Often, we think that the insults and verbal attacks are just the cost that we, as women, have to pay for participating in politics. Women are fighting against a system which is not only patriarchal but also adult-centrist and racist. Faced with this, we have to come together as women and young people. I had the chance to forge alliances and friendships with other women. Sharing experiences made us stronger. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that we were from different political parties or different social groups.”
Opening space for the political participation of women and youth
Looking back, Nanci recognizes the valuable impact that these experiences made on her contribution to politics in Guatemala. She became more confident in herself and in her leadership skills, and she was motivated to have a real influence on the political participation of women and young people within her party. For example, during her party’s 2015 convention, Nanci was part of an internal dialogue process, which successfully led to the appointment of two new members onto the Executive Board as representatives of the Women’s Office and the Electoral Affairs office.
This involved many hours of dialogue and negotiation. Nanci recognizes that what she learned from NIMD helped her to set out her approach for the debate. Throughout the process, she contributed to a participative and tolerant environment, where dialogue was valued.
Her new confidence also helped her, as Coordinator of the Youth Commission of the Permanent Forum of Political Parties, contribute to gathering a series of recommendations and suggestions from young people from across the political spectrum. These were used as input to Guatemala’s existing National Law on Youth.
The Youth Commission proposed placing the real experiences and wishes of young people at the centre of this law. Since many young people in Guatemala face discrimination, unemployment and marginalization, the Commission felt it was crucial to hear their voices and respond to their needs.
In order to do this, the Commission carried out an analysis. Nanci and her team created dialogue platforms for youth representatives from across the political spectrum. Although it can be very difficult to reach consensus in interparty settings in Guatemala, the young people put their political differences aside and engaged in real discussions on the needs of young people in their country.
The Youth Commission used this session write a technical report identifying the needs of young people. Among other things, they identified a call for a holistic education, which would include physical, artistic, social and emotional learning. “It was a very difficult process, but it was also enriching, and our input was used in discussions about the law.”
For Nanci, NIMD’s work in Guatemala is crucial. NIMD helped her gain the skills she needed to contribute to the debate. She says it was through the experiences NIMD provided her that she learned the value of tolerance and respect.
“I believe NIMD plays a key role in strengthening democracy in Guatemala, by providing training for political party and civil society representatives. I was part of this process and I gained tools to strengthen my political impact and leadership.”
“The training that NIMD provides for political parties, women and youth gives them the knowledge and training they need to strengthen Guatemala’s political system.”
Supporting indigenous women
Nanci now uses her new skills to provide specialist training for indigenous women on human rights, justice, land rights and reporting mechanisms. For personal reasons, she decided to step down as National Secretary for Youth and she is no longer active in a political party.
Despite this, the support and opportunities that NIMD provided her have contributed to her personal and professional development as a young indigenous Guatemalan woman. Having taken part in NIMD’s many dialogues, she is no longer scared to talk publicly and with conviction about her political views and experiences within a party.
Though the progress she sees is incremental, with changes in her participants’ daily lives unfolding over time, she finds it rewarding to be able to support indigenous groups in this way. She emphasizes that “women and indigenous communities are a majority in Guatemala” – it is time for them to enjoy the same voice and rights as other groups.
Nanci shows her commitment to Guatemala through everything she does. Her life and her work to promote women’s rights and empower indigenous communities resonate strongly with NIMD. We know that leaders like Nanci are key to strengthening democracy and making a long-lasting impact in their country.
This story, along with others from our programmes around the world, is also featured in NIMD’s 2018 Annual Report. You can download it here.