Teaching women's health in rural Guatemala

In rural Guatemala, one in three indigenous women have no access to health and family planning services. Wuqu' Kawoq - Maya Health Alliance brings women's health classes to the communities where Mil Milagros works.

Up, up, to the left!”

In the community of Los Manantiales, in Santa Lucía Utatlán, a small group of indigenous Maya women are playing pin the body part on the woman. One stands in front, blindfolded, while the others tell her where she should place the paper image of a fallopian tube. After much laughter, she successfully pins it in the right place and rips her blindfold off with a smile. The women are participating in their first Women’s Health workshop with Wuqu’ Kawoq – Maya Health Alliance. Lesson number one -  learning the female and male anatomy.

In rural Guatemala, indigenous women have little access to education, and even less access to sexual education. Teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy related deaths are rampant among the indigenous population. One in three indigenous women have no access to health and family planning services and many lack a basic understanding of their own anatomy.

“We don’t even know our own bodies.” – Ricarda, Women’s Health participant

Wuqu’ Kawoq is working to bring women’s health education directly to communities in rural Guatemala in their own languages. Two Wuqu’ Kawoq (WK) nurses work with the Mil Milagros Community Coordinators to implement the Women’s Health program in Santa Lucía Utatlán.

Women gather weekly in classrooms and participant’s homes for the six-week course with topics on anatomy, family planning, menstruation and menopause, healthy nutrition during pregnancy, cancer (cervical and breast), domestic violence and healthy relationships.

women participating in health workshop in Guatemala

“Talking about sex is a taboo within most families. We try to curate classes that are focused around their culture and that respect their beliefs. However, we believe that it’s very important that these women possess information regarding their bodies,” says Susana, WK nurse.

Family planning and the use of contraceptives is a topic many women don’t know much about. Often they are not able to access contraceptives resulting in unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Religious beliefs, pressures from family, and lack of education leave women unaware that they can have autonomy over their own bodies

“In regards to contraception, we often find ourselves at odds with the community belief system, religious ideas, interference by the mother-in-law, or machismo. Despite these challenges, our primary goal is to empower these women. To show them that they can make their own decisions regarding their bodies and their family.”

The workshops are not solely about physical health. Domestic violence is a very real and pressing issue in Guatemala.  According to the United Nations, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of violent deaths among women. An average of two women lose their life to violence every day. Toxic masculinity, referred to as machismo,  is still prevalent. 80% of indigenous women need to ask for their husbands’ permission to leave the home. The workshops show women that they have choices and can make changes.

“Here in Guatemala, domestic violence continues to be an enormous challenge and affects many women in the communities,” Susana explains. “Unfortunately, it has become seen as something normal when it shouldn’t be. As a result, the women don’t know what to do in these situations, which can occur within the home, their community, or elsewhere.”

At the completion of the course, the women are offered short- and long-term contraceptive options and given pap smears by the Wuqu’ Kawoq nurses. In Guatemala, cervical cancer is the most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age. Pap smears are often inaccessible for those living in rural areas and many of the women have never had one before. Providing access to this service is key in early intervention.

By the end of the six weeks the women have gained a comprehensive understanding of sexual and reproductive health, healthy pregnancies, cancer prevention, and interpersonal relationships. The women are empowered by their newfound knowledge and for the first time many feel they are in control over their own health and bodies.

Mil Milagros is thrilled to partner with Wuqu’ Kawoq to bring these essential workshops and services to the women in our partner communities. To learn more about Wuqu’ Kawoq – Maya Health Alliance, visit their website here.