Maria Estella Gonzales Gocon travelled all the way from Guatemala to come to COP 17 in Durban and join the Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly.

Maria is an Actionaid Project Manager for the Women’s Land Right Project Guatemala, which helps rural women to get access to land in Guatemala. She has come to the COP17 in Durban to find out more about the situation for African Rural women and has noticed many similarities.

It has been an amazing experience. I can see that things are very much alike. We face many of the same problems in terms of how the land is controlled and belongs to men, and how the system affects women yet advantages the men.

The main problems in Guatemala are related to land. With land only in the hands of a few, many people are unable to grow food and since women are not aware of their right to own land and therefore they do not try to claim it.

“It is a few families who own all the land in the country", Maria explains. "Most people are farm workers working on sugar plantations and these days we’re having a lot of problems because of this widespread monoculture which has depleted our soil. Peasants and rural women are very affected by that.”

Climate change has much affected farmers in Guatemala, especially women. Eratic and unpredictable weather patterns produce much lower yields from crops which makes buying food very expensive. “Our staple diet of corn and beans is less and less," Maria says, "so many people are replacing corn with Masepa which is less nutritious, and getting sick from the lack of fruits and in the beans".

Many children are now missing school because of poor nutrition. So climate change is also affecting the education of the children.

The programme first works on the training process for women to know about their rights, and once they understand these then they learn how to claim them. “We start by working with them on specific subjects such as human rights and land rights and about leadership skills," Maria described. "Second we work on advocacy plans on the regional and national levels and we also develop baselines to determine the conditions of these women in the three regions of Guatemala.”

Seeing the similarities with women in Africa has inspired Maria: "We really have similar situations, but we also have the power to fight for change and our rights". She loves saying the words Amandla (which means 'power' in Zulu) - "the meaning here is the same as for us".

We’re demanding the empowerment of women and we’re fighting for life, we are fighting for food, we are fighting for water and that means that we are fighting for the generations to come.

Seeing the similarities with women in Africa has inspired Maria: "We really have similar situations but we also have the power to fight for change and our rights". She loves saying the words Amandla (which means 'power' in Zulu); "the meaning here is the same as for us". Despite being so far away from her own country she has been overwhelmed by how open everyone is and how at home she feels: “I really love how the women here share their voices to be heard through songs and dance. It moves me so much it makes me feel happy. It made me realize how much we have in common, you and us, even if we’re from different continents".

I am far from my place but I feel at home here. I’ve never felt this kind of welcome and this kind of friendship.

Maria is calling for personal commitment. She boldly asks: "The Governments have legal frameworks and policies but what will be your commitment as a person in making this a safe planet?" 

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