Adelma Cifuentes, a young mother living in rural Guatemala, spent twelve years at the hands of an abusive husband. Emotional and psychological torment quickly escalated to intense beatings, and even a gunshot wound that resulted in amputation of her arm. Attacks continued on the young woman until her husband threatened to rape their daughter unless she fled. While this case may sound unbelievable, in Guatemala stories just like Cifuentes’ are common. A 2012 survey reports that gender-based violence is at “epidemic levels” in Guatemala. To go along with this claim, Guatemala is ranked third in the killings of women worldwide; a startling statistic (Guinan, 2015).
Stemming from the history of the country’s 36-year-old civil war, Guatemala is still deeply entrenched in discrimination, as well as impunity. Military groups of men that committed crimes such as rape during the war were then integrated back into the community, with no consequences, and remained in control with lots of power, and with the same harsh view of women. CNN reported from Guatemala in April of 2015, “despite the high homicide rate, the United Nations estimates 98% of cases never make it to court. Women are particularly vulnerable because of a deep-rooted gender bias and culture of misogyny. In many cases, femicide — the killing of a woman simply because of her gender — is carried out with shocking brutality with some of the same strategies used during the war, including rape, torture and mutilation.” Just last year alone, 759 women were murdered, with an increase of 7% from the year before (Bessler, 2014). It is also believed Mexican drug cartels and local gangs are also contributing to the terror faced in Guatemala, and this only adds to the lack of laws enforced there. Furthermore, crime often goes unreported, for fear of retaliation.
Another challenge facing the women of Guatemala is the patriarchal society. Representative of U.N women in Guatemala, María Machicado Terán, mentions, “80% of men believe that women need permission to leave the house, and 70% of women surveyed agreed.” This then results in a sense of condoned violence, as well as blame being placed on the victim, rather than the perpetrator. UNICEF reports that condom use by young people with multiple partners is a mere 27.3%, which means sexually transmitted diseases are commonly transferred and unplanned or perhaps unwanted pregnancies result from rapes and sexual assaults on Guatemalan women. Supporting this statistic is an article published to thinkprogress.org. “Guatemala has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the whole Latin American region, largely because many teenagers are raped by family members. Last year, there were 61,000 girls aged 10 to 19 who became pregnant,” shared the article by Abigail Bessler.
The prevalence of violence, trauma, and the various health issues created by them is greatly due to the component of intergenerational trauma. In the case of intergenerational trauma, someone who has suffered a traumatic event can sometimes experience a secondary effect in their life, most commonly one that affects their family and mainly children (Bombay, 2009). Therefore, this intergenerational trauma may offer challenges to the biochemical and mechanical aspects of health due to the obvious effect mental and emotional health has on the individual’s overall well-being. While violence and the trauma endured may have a direct effect on the victim such as stress, anxiety, and depression, a victim that has children can also cause changes and damages to them as well as a result of the stress, anxiety, and other factors. The decreased health status of the care provider may cause them to be deemed unfit to properly care for or raise the kids, therefore causing the children increased anxiety and stressors (Bombay, 2009). This passing along of stress and trauma from one generation to the next can cause major concerns to a society’s well-being. Therefore, it is extremely important to break the re-occurring cycle of intergenerational trauma and will hopefully increase the overall health of the community at large over time.
At the center however is the issue that trauma, violence, and stressors are not quite as typical when thought of as a health issue addressed in the field of medicine. Normally medical professionals assess physical abnormalities of the human body, and these other issues are viewed as psychological, normally addressed outside of the normal biomedical field. Often times, physical, mental and emotional side effects can result from violence, trauma and stress, each taking a toll on the person as a whole. Biomedicine itself is in a way less holistic, yet could become more so by treating traumas that result in mental, physical and emotional illnesses, therefore coming closer to reaching a main goal in biomedicine, an overall healthier community, society and population as a whole.
Bombay, et al. “Intergenerational Trauma: Convergence of Multiple Processes among First Nations People of Canada.” Pp. 6-30. http://www.naho.ca/jah/english/jah05_03/V5_I3_Intergenerational_01.pdf
Guinan, Julie. “Guatemala: Gender-based Violence at Epidemic Levels – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 30 July 2015. <http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/02/world/iyw-guatemala-gender-violence/>.
“Statistics.” UNICEF. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015. <http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/guatemala_statistics.html>.
“Why The World Should Care About The War Against Guatemalan Women.” ThinkProgress RSS. N.p., 20 June 2014. Web. 30 July 2015. <http://thinkprogress.org/world/2014/06/20/3450611/guatemalan-girls/>.