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Sida's work in Guatemala

Guatemala is characterised by deep economic and social disparities. Sida works to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to make it easier for people to earn a living. Sida also works on inclusive economic development, the environment, climate and the sustainable use of natural resources. We also provide small-scale humanitarian aid to alleviate people's urgent needs.

Progress has been made

Justice for victims of civil war

In 2022, after a long legal process, 36 women from the indigenous Maya Achí community succeeded in achieving justice when five men were sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual violence and crimes against humanity during Guatemala’s civil war. The verdict is a historic victory for indigenous rights.

More mothers survive

The maternal mortality ratio has fallen sharply, but nevertheless the level is still one of the highest in the region.1 The under-five mortality rate has also fallen, halving in 20 years.2

Successful support during the pandemic

To alleviate the hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government set up a temporary social safety net with monthly payments to affected families. This helped to reduce the gross domestic product by only 1.1 %, compared to the regional average of 6.7 %.3

Challenges remain

Democracy is on the decline

Progress on democracy, human rights and the rule of law is deteriorating. The judiciary is now almost completely under the control of certain politicians, private actors and organised criminals. Corruption has worsened.4

Gender equality is regressing

The country’s government wants to pass a new law that would put women who have abortions at risk of 10 years in prison. The law also bans same-sex marriages and school education on sexual diversity and gender identity.

Increased poverty

Economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters in 2020 have led to increased poverty and reduced resilience to climate change, recovery is slow. Malnutrition has increased during the pandemic.

Development cooperation in Guatemala

Guatemala is an upper middle-income country characterised by economic and social inequalities. It has one of the highest levels of poverty, inequality and malnutrition in Latin America.6 Poverty is associated with exclusion, an insecure and precarious living situation and a lack of opportunities for political influence and power, particularly among women, indigenous and rural populations.

More than half of the country’s inhabitants belong to the Maya ethnic group, as well as the Garifuna and Xinka. Most people living in poverty lack access to land, secure employment on which they can live and basic social services.

Human rights, democracy, rule of law and gender equality

Guatemala does not live up to international standards in terms of gender equality and human rights. Basic social services such as education and health care are underfunded and do not reach all people. Independent media reporting on ongoing court cases and exposing corruption and abuse of power are under pressure. Recently, judges, prosecutors and lawyers investigating corruption have also become increasingly vulnerable and in several cases have been imprisoned or forced into exile.

Patriarchal structures mean that women often lack the power to make decisions that affect their lives, their economy and their own sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Recovery for victims of civil war

More than 20 years after the peace accords, much work remains to be done to heal the wounds of the 1960-1996 civil war and create the conditions for peaceful coexistence, truth and justice. One step in the right direction is the conviction of five former members of armed groups for human rights abuses during the civil war. They were convicted in January 2022 for, among other things, raping indigenous Maya Achí women. Further investigations higher up the army’s chain of command are expected. The verdict came about thanks to the cooperation and joint efforts of a range of actors, including support from Sida.

The women’s legal representatives from the Asociación Bufete Jurídico Popular de Rabinal (ABJP) have been working on the case for over ten years, providing legal, moral and psychosocial support and paving the way for the conviction. They are supported by the “Mechanism for the Indigenous people” project through Oxfam Ibis.

Article on the project at (in swedish)

A stronger judiciary

The judiciary is weak and many of those who have committed crimes remain at liberty. This makes it difficult for women, indigenous peoples and those living in poverty to assert their rights. Sida helps to strengthen the judiciary by supporting the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s Office, among other things by increasing the capacity of the authority to investigate crimes against women, such as disappearances and murders. This support also helps to ensure that legal processes can be conducted in local languages, thus increasing the access of indigenous peoples to justice. In collaboration with UNICEF’s Child Protection Programme, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has also established a special investigation unit to handle cases of child sexual exploitation.

Strengthening the rights of deaf and deafblind people

Deaf and deafblind people are a disadvantaged group in Guatemala. Thanks to Sida’s support to the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Congress has approved a law recognising Guatemala’s national sign language, Lensegua, and establishing that all deaf and deafblind people have the right to education in sign language (tactile for the deafblind). OHCHR has also supported radio campaigns on the rights of indigenous peoples, women’s rights and ending violence against women.

OHCHR’s work in Guatemala

Health as a human right

The public health system does not reach everyone. Through the organisation Hivos, Sida supports the National Human Rights Ombudsman, Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (PDH), in collecting information on the functioning of the health system and formulating recommendations to responsible institutions. In 2021, the PDH received 4,000 reports and complaints from citizens, highlighting weaknesses in the public health system during the pandemic.

Training in gender equality

Guatemalan society is characterised by a macho culture. Influential actors openly question sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR), especially for girls, women and LGBTQI people. Through a programme supported by Sida, 3,000 women, including teenagers, trans women and traditional midwives, have participated in training on gender equality and SRHR. In addition, 2,700 women survivors of gender-based violence have so far received medical and psychological care.

More young people and women in politics

Women and indigenous peoples face discrimination and have little influence over the country’s politics. Organisations and individuals fighting for human rights face threats and violence. Sida provides broad support to civil society, including strengthening the participation of women, youth and indigenous peoples in politics. For example, both Diakonia and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) work to increase youth participation, including through training in democracy, support to youth organisations and promoting dialogue between government institutions, political parties and young people. The programme has a particular focus on young people living in rural areas and belonging to indigenous peoples, young women and young LGBTQI people.

Economic development that includes the most vulnerable

There are wide gaps in income and living standards, and poverty is widespread.7 The majority of the population works in the informal sector, where wages are low and working conditions are poor. A third work in agriculture, which is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as drought. Environmental impacts and competition for natural resources create conflicts between businesses and local communities. Around half of all children under five are malnourished,8 and the figure is even higher among indigenous peoples.

Thousands of new jobs in rural areas

Better job and income opportunities are needed in Guatemala’s rural areas. Sida is supporting We Effect and the Proyecto de Empoderamiento Económico de Mujeres Indígenas Rurales (PODEEIR) project, which has helped more than 7,000 indigenous women in rural areas increase their incomes and improve their access to food. The project has also improved the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises.

About the work in Guatemala on We Effect’s website

Promoting entrepreneurship among women and young people

Swisscontact works to create employment for young people and indigenous women. This is done, among other things, through mobile training in rural villages and through business development. In 2021, over 100 new small businesses were started, the majority of which are run by women. The project has also started a coaching process in career guidance and developed a digital platform to guide job seekers. In addition, women have accessed financial training to improve their personal finances.

Through the organisation Helvetas, Sida is helping to develop market systems that will strengthen local value chains. The Market Systems Development project implemented by Helvetas creates jobs in the agricultural sector, mostly for women, in the harvesting, packaging and grading of coffee and honey products.

Environment, climate and sustainable use of natural resources

Guatemala is severely affected by climate change and is one of the countries in the world most affected by extreme weather and natural disasters. This has a severe impact on agriculture and food production. People living in poverty are most vulnerable and most affected.

Demand for natural resources is high. Mining, hydropower, deforestation and unsustainable single-crop farming practices have a negative impact on the environment and biodiversity.

Local resilience to climate change

Through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Food Programme (FAO), Sida supports rural development to improve agricultural production and access to food. In addition, work is helping to manage water in arid areas, for example, three municipalities have constructed water storage ponds. This has enabled the establishment of sustainable forests and the production of Guatemalan plants used in ice forestry. The project is also working on landscape planning, restoration of forest ecosystems and sustainable and economic use of forests.

Through Rafael Landívar University, research on climate adaptation is being carried out.

Adapting forestry to climate change with seed banks

Agriculture and forestry need to adapt to climate change. Sida is working with We Effect, which promotes sustainable, climate-adapted and resilient farming through its partner organisations. For example, 250 women have organised seed banks to preserve indigenous plants that can withstand climate change. The work also includes producing organic fertilizer and protecting and caring for forests.

The work in Guatemala on We Effect’s website

Tackling the drought

Lack of water is a challenge in parts of Guatemala. Sida is supporting a project to harness water in Guatemala’s arid region. It is being implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Five municipalities and the Ministry of Agriculture are planting forests, growing drought-resistant coffee plants and manufacturing water pumps. In addition, thousands of families have developed rainwater harvesting systems to provide water during dry periods.

About the water project on Openaid

Governance of Sida's development cooperation with Guatemala

Updated: October 4, 2022