Today was an amazing day. One of those unexpected, joyful events happened here in Guatemala. An event that will have a lasting impact on my experience living here in Xela for a week to learn Spanish and understand Guatemala’s rich culture.

Being away from home, I completely forgot that March 8th is a special day for women around the world. It is International Women’s Day. Thus, I was fortunate to be here on “El dia de la muter” and witness the grand celebration that is happening all across Guatemala and the world today. The celebration and promotion of women’s rights and an end to violence against women.

Since I’ve been in Xela, I’ve learned a lot about a woman’s life in Guatemala. My fantastic Spanish teacher, Lili told me some surprising details of what it is like for most women to live in Guatemala. There are several issues regarding women’s rights that need to be resolved yet are very complicated since many problems are engrained in their Latin culture. Guatemala, like most latin countries, has a strong culture of Machismo and is very conservative. Thus women are not always treated as equals. Most women in Guatemala, regardless of status and/or profession do not understand their rights or if they do understand them are afraid to do anything. Violence against women is very common and tragic. Many women suffer beatings and some are even killed if they do not comply with their husbands wishes. The murder rates are high thus women are afraid of reporting domestic violence to the police.

To further aggravate the problem, many women working at factories are exploited in their jobs earning under minimum wage and working long hours with no benefits or health insurance. They are trapped in a horrible situation and are also often sexually abused by their bosses. Oftentimes, they have to submit or else they will be fired.

Lili also told me that it is quite common for men to have mistresses that they frequent or even prostitutes which greatly puts women at risk for developing diseases or other health problems. Generally, women are expected to produce a large family and sometimes if a woman refuses or tries to use contraception, she is beaten or even killed.

Mayan women have it even harder as almost 90% are illiterate and uneducated. Many Mayan children today still do not attend school further aggravating the problem. Most Mayans are very poor and live a hard life outside of the city in farming communities and villages. Although they still maintain a rich culture that has lasted for centuries, the life of a Mayan woman is quite hard.

Despite the law created in 2007 to protect women against violence, little has changed due to fear and a vicious cycle of being trapped in a culture that hasn’t changed much in regards to women’s rights. If a woman is poor, uneducated and has no job along with five or six children, how could she possibly leave her husband? She must accept the violence.

On a positive note, many groups have formed to help educate women on their rights and support women who suffer mentally and physically from abuse. Women have services available at their church and at local and governmental levels, if they choose to speak out. Furthermore, today was the largest demonstration and celebration of El dia de la mujur en Xela. There were women, girls and even men and boys all together, representing all walks of life. It is not only a Mayan problem. Violence and mistreatment of women is very common and happens to many Guatemalan women.

It is a tragic problem that will take some time to solve since it is so engrained in the culture. Lili believes that boys and girls must be educated at a young age that they are equal and they must treat each other with respect. That is the only way that women will ever have equal rights. Let’s hope all women can have the same rights as men and be treated fairly with kindness and respect!

Here are my photos from the spectacular celebration in Xela, as women from all walks of life came together to celebrate and fight for women’s rights, together as one.

A Mayan woman walking down the street.

My teacher Lili and I were studying in a cafe when we heard the drums from the procession. We raced over to the main square and to my surprise, we saw the fantastic celebration of El dia de la mujer.

There were clowns and kids on stilts. The atmosphere was jovial.

Plus there were many Mayan women from the countryside along with their children.

Plus there were even men supporting women’s rights. I love this photo of the men wearing their traditional sombreros.

Women handed out fake flowers to all the women at the celebration.

The silly clowns making it a festive ambiance.

Photo of me with the clowns (above) and my teacher Lili below.

Following are pictures from the parade.

It was a beautiful day of celebration which went well into the night with song and dance. To see such solidarity among women was quite an amazing experience. I hope that women in Guatemala and around the world can have a better life without violence, lack of respect and suffering. All women are created equal to man and the world will be a much better place when women receive the respect and rights they deserve.


  1. These are lovely photos. I hope that women around the world can live a life equal to that of her husband or partner. Thank you for bringing these issues to the forefront. Safe and happy travels.

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed it! I was so excited about the day that I rushed home and spent hours downloading and sorting through all the photos. It is stuff like this that makes travel so amazingly wonderful. It really was a great day!!!!! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Beautiful shots – and such a blue sky! It’s a pretty big day here in Shanghai as well – most government workers and some other companies give 1/2 day leave and there are shopping discounts and special meals and knowing that it’s an extra day to treat women extra special. I think that the US should start celebrating it!

  3. Hi,
    Do you have any advice for women traveling alone to Xela (for a language program) in terms of clothes or cultural cues?

    1. Very good questions! First of all, I would dress so you don’t stick out. I wore jeans and t-shirts (but not low cut or tight) and usually had a light jacket or sweater. You will be fine as long as your clothing isn’t too tight or too revealing to attract attention. The second piece of advice is to not walk anywhere alone at night. My family lived only five blocks from the main square and I did walk alone but never past 8 pm. Other than that, just mind your valuables and I did not bring a purse (wore money belt). You will love it! I felt very safe as long as I kept in the main part of town and didn’t wander off at night or to areas not without a lot of people. If you haven’t picked your program yet, I loved CASA XELAJU!!!!! Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions!

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