Rigoberta Menchú is probably one of the most inspiring Mayan women of Guatemala. She is an advocate for social justice and human rights of indigenous peoples in Guatemala and is internationally known for her fight for justice for indigenous peoples.
During her childhood, Rigoberta faced poverty, racial discrimination and the
policy of extermination against the Mayan indigenous population. A large
part of Rigoberta’s family fell victim to this extermination policy. This is one
of the reasons that Rigoberta involved herself in protecting the human
rights of indigenous peoples on a national and international level.
Although Rigoberta suffered political persecution, she did not stop her fight
for justice. On the contrary, she fought even harder. Rigoberta has
contributed to the elaboration of the Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples at the UN, has taken place in multiple commissions at
the UN to raise awareness for indigenous and minority rights, and has run
for president in Guatemala twice, in 2007 and 2011. She is also the founder
of the first indigenous political party in Guatemala. For all of her work for
indigenous peoples, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, thereby
becoming the first indigenous person to receive this prize.
Rigoberta Menchú, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Photo: Carlos Rodriguez.
Thelma Cabrera is another inspiring indigenous Mayan human
rights defender and politician. She ran for president in 2019 and devotes her life to improving the lives of the poor.
Cabrera comes from a poor family and did not have access to any
education in her childhood, like many other indigenous women in
Guatemala. Inspired by her rough upbringing, Cabrera has taken it as her
aim to tackle malnutrition, illiteracy, landlessness, poverty and social
exclusion. She specifically focuses on providing education and healthcare
to underprivileged women in Guatemala.
Cabrera is active in a human rights organization working to improve the
situation of the poor in Guatemala. In addition, she is a member of the
political party Movement for the Liberation of Peoples for which she was
selected to run for president in 2019. She received countless death threats,
and her opponents used her lack of schooling to portray her as not credible,
but this did not stop her. She continued her quest for justice, stating that
she has ‘’much knowledge in the university of life’’ and continued to defend
the rights of indigenous and marginalized groups in Guatemala.
Thelma Cabrera at her rally in El Palmar, Quetzaltenango. Photo: Carlos Sebastián.