Date: April 2020
Author(s): Benilda Batzin, Paulina Culum, Julia Fischer-Mackey
Publication type: Accountability Note
Published by: Accountability Research Center, CEGSS, REDC-Salud
The Guatemalan Constitution guarantees the right to health for all Guatemalans, but indigenous citizens face multiple barriers in accessing public health services. In addition to the transportation challenges and under-resourced facilities faced by rural communities around the world, indigenous Guatemalans face racial and linguistic discrimination and corrupt officials demanding fees for free public services. Two organizations that formed to combat these problems are the Center for the Study of Equity and Governance in Health Systems (Centro de Estudios para la Equidad y Gobernanza en los Sistemas de Salud, or CEGSS) and the Network of Community Defenders of the Right to Health (Red de Defensores y Defensoras Comunitarios por el Derecho a la Salud, or REDC-Salud). REDC-Salud volunteer health defenders educate citizens about their rights, provide accompaniment to patients, monitor health services, and advocate for health system improvements. The CEGSS team provides technical support and capacity building to REDC-Salud members and coordinates monitoring and advocacy at the municipal, departmental and national levels. In the following interview excerpts, Benilda Batzin of CEGSS and Paulina Culum of REDC-Salud describe how they work together to make government health systems more accountable to all citizens. Benilda and Paulina’s unique approach involves mobilizing established community leaders to engage on health access issues at multiple levels of government and forming alliances with groups including the national Human Rights Ombuds. As Maya Tz’utujil women from Sololá, Western Guatemala, Benilda and Paulina faced multiple barriers to civic participation and leadership. And yet, their commitment to bringing positive change to their communities have led them to initiate and join organizations and acquire new skills. Those skills and leadership qualities have been widely recognized and resulted in formal and informal opportunities to lead: Benilda was elected by her colleagues to become Executive Director of CEGSS and was invited to give testimony at the United Nations General Assembly; Paulina chairs her town’s Community Development Council, has served as the national chairperson for the Tz’utujil Women’s Organization and mentors young female activists. This Note highlights strategies and accomplishments of these leaders and their organizations while reminding us of the work yet to be done by activists and their allies to defend the rights of all Guatemalans.