NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Kimberly Bautista, Director/Producer of the documentary film Justice for my Sister and the Founder/Director of el Colectivo Justicia para mi Hermana.
Justice for my Sister is a 70-minute documentary I directed about violence against women in Guatemala. At its core, Justice for my Sister is a David versus Goliath story. A courageous woman named Rebeca takes on a giant system to demand answers for her sister’s brutal murder and she has all the odds stacked against her — yet her resilience and power is unstoppable. Violence against women, and specifically femicide (gender-based killing) is an epidemic in Guatemala: nearly 6000 women have been murdered in the last decade and only 2% of the killers were sentenced. This film documents one of the few successful cases from beginning to end.
During the production of the film, the I became the target of robbery and rape by an organized criminal group. Doing work of this nature in Guatemala is very dangerous, but because the criminals were never held accountable, it is unknown whether I was targeted because of my work, or if it was simply a random act of violence. Either is a possibility, and a reflection of how widespread violence against women is in Guatemala.
This experience fortified my determination to address this problem on various levels. Together with Rebeca, my crew, and other friends, we formed a Collective in Guatemala. To date, we have brought the film and violence prevention workshops to over 130 communities on a national scale, and reaching over 7,000 viewers. Survivors Connect partnered with us to launch an SMS-based texting service. There are two phases of the project: audiences can subscribe to the service to receive news, tips, updates, and inspirational quotes on how to prevent violence and other activities related to the film on a bi-monthly basis. Audience members have responded positively to the bulk messaging and text back affirmatives and from time to time, the colloquial equivalent to “Right on!” (“A huevo!”).
The second phase allows women to communicate directly with our team via text message for a referral or advice. When a woman wishes to report threats or harassment, or is in need emotional support or reference, she can send an SMS message to our service. From there, an operator will answer with information, responding to every situation accordingly. Typically, the operators receive messages from women who are in abusive relationships and want to leave their aggressor. We have strategic alliances with the local authorities and Embassies in Guatemala, which also gives us leverage to advocate for audience members. We can call the public prosecutors on behalf of those that contact us on via text message to put political pressure on the authorities to follow up on their cases.
The documentary film is the centerpiece of a three-prong holistic campaign that is propelled the Guatemalan Justice for my Sister Collective, a team of 15 young Guatemalan women and men.
1. Visibility: The Collective holds community screenings in schools, universities, women’s shelters, women’s associations, youth groups, public spaces, municipalities, unions, institutions of the State, and prisons to sensitize audiences to the issue of violence against women.
2. Prevention: The Collective prevents gender-based violence by offering trainings and alternative workshops that include theater techniques and art therapy to communities, teachers, and authorities in the justice system. We also prevent violence by way of our mini-campaigns and blast text-messaging with Texting Peace.
3. Intervention/Advocacy: Both in the workshops and by way of the text-messaging campaign, audiences can ask the Collective for references to report and follow up cases of rape, domestic violence, forced prostitution, economic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence. The members of the Collective and operators of Texting Peace are equipped to provide advice and counseling directly to audiences.
In a country where the general population feels hopeless next to corruption and increasing violence, the film has given women and men hope that justice is possible. It has opened up dialogue and helped audiences to cope with their violent past, and even helped some to recognize that they are currently in an abusive relationship when they were previously in denial. It’s amazing to see how audiences receive Rebeca when she is present at screenings. They see their own stories reflected in hers, and feel inspired to be as courageous as she has been. “We must all be Rebecas!” one audience member passionately shouted after a screening.
The Justice for my Sister Collective in Guatemala is in the process of becoming an official non-profit. Please help us become a sustainable organization and campaign so that we can continue bringing visibility, prevention, intervention, and advocacy to this important life or death issue. If you are interested in working with us to bring our campaign to the United States, please let us know.
Photo courtesy of Justice for My Sister.