While the 8M women took to the streets to march for their rights in Guatemala, that same day, the legislative branch approved Bill 5272. This number represents the bill that proposed increasing penalties for abortion, prohibiting same-sex marriage and prohibiting sexual diversity education at public and private institutions for girls, boys and adolescents.
This bill, which was approved by 101 of 160 legislators, represented a setback for diversity and non-discrimination, essential elements for any democracy.
Why approve and a few days later shelve a law?
Bill 5272 was formally introduced in April 2017; that is, it was presented at the Guatemalan Congress 5 years ago, but the vote was held in 2022. However, three days after its approval, on March 11, 2022, the President, Alejandro Giammattei, called on lawmakers to shelve the bill. The reasons? The President argued that international treaties to which the country is a party, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), were not being followed, and that the bill violated the Political Constitution of Guatemala.
Collective action of defenders of LGBTIQ+ rights
In this national anti-rights narrative, the work to recover civic spaces from the local level has been one of the proposals of organized civil society, such as the SOMOS association and the Visibles organization. Part of their work has involved diagnostic studies to understand the social fabric and determine how to create the conditions necessary to articulate an active, multifaceted citizenship.
Thus, while Bill 5272 was growing stronger, SOMOS was training (and still trains) LGBTIQ+ leaders in various cities in Guatemala, strengthening young people’s technical capacities for negotiation and political dialogue at the municipal and community level. In addition, the association worked on expanding networks, providing human rights and sexual diversity training to 25 agents of the National Civil Police, who, representing six police stations nationally, will replicate the training model with police staff. This represents a key point in dealing with people who are the first point of contact and who articulate access to justice for women and LGBTIQ+ persons.
Meanwhile, Visibles joined in the mobilization of student associations and developed campaign material in response to the political situation. In addition, adding to the counter-narrative, they produced the Vidas Trans [Trans Lives] campaign and the Somos Familia [We are Family] strategy, which shined a spotlight on values such as respect and promotion of diversity, seeking to raise awareness among a broader part of the country’s population. This comprehensive campaign highlights the fact that democratic exercise involves understanding different points of view and, furthermore, that this must start from home. This is also supported by the results of the Realidades compartidas [Shared Realities] study, in which the organization identified that in different settings—family, education, health, work, interpersonal and public and institutional spaces—about 45% of bisexual persons, followed by 34% of gay men, 33% of pansexual persons and 18% of lesbian women, stated that they had experienced some type of discrimination during the last 12 months.
What to do in the face of challenges to come?
When spaces for dialogue are closed, creativity is required to find new channels. Historically, Guatemalan civil society has sought to confront this.
Positioning the narrative in favor of human rights of the LGBTIQ+ community and women has been one of the paths to generating advocacy in the current situation faced by Guatemala. The next steps have different strategic lines to follow, and civil society organizations continue to expand action networks at the local level, with the long-term goal of generating an impact at the national level.
Both organizations and movements in defense of LGBTIQ+ and women’s rights have co-developed and strengthened community networks, through which they articulate new routes of consensus and political participation. Their work shows us that in the face of legislative discourse, dominated for years by an anti-gender and anti-diversity agenda, which reflects a crisis of democracy and representation, organized civil society continues to work and fight for their voices to be heard and their rights to be respected.