Diakonia - People change the world
“We’ve been brought up to believe that women are the property of men,” says Norma Cruz at Diakonia’s partner organization Sobrevivientes. Photo: Markus Marcetic

Norma in Guatemala is fighting against violence

Every day Norma Cruz struggles with the darkest aspect of Guatemalan reality. Hundreds of women are murdered each year, and many more are sexually abused or physically assaulted. Norma and Diakonia’s partner organization Sobrevivientes is on their side. 

Norma Cruz had a totally normal life. She worked and lived happily with her partner, their son and her daughter, Claudia María, from a previous relationship.

Everything was normal, harmonious. At least that’s what Norma thought.
But then one day, when Claudia María was around 15 years old, she told her mother that her stepfather had sexually abused her. The abuse had begun when Claudia Maria was 5 years old and continued until she was 13. Norma’s world fell apart, but she immediately chose to believe her daughter.

Sought help but only found others in need of support

Norma and Claudia María set out to seek help. They didn’t know who to turn to and soon realised that there was no decent help available. Instead, they found a large number of women and children in similar situations – who had been raped or physically assaulted and, in many cases, lived in fear of their lives. Norma decided to help them.

Started helping others affected by viloence

She found herself a small office. The police and the authorities started referring women affected by violence to Norma, and her organization quickly grew. By collecting money from friends and selling personal property, they managed to continue but their resources were scant. So, to save money, Norma made a drastic decision. She closed the office and opened the doors to her own home instead, transforming it into a shelter, office and a place where people could come for legal advice. As the number of people seeking help grew, so did the number of people offering it, including legal advisers and psychologists.

Today Sobrevivientes, as the organization is known, receives financial support from Diakonia. Norma and her colleagues run a shelter in a secret location in Guatemala City, and psychological and legal assistance is available at the office in the city centre.

Sobrevivientes also works to prevent crimes against women and children through measures such as educational initiatives and campaigns.

Her ex-partner got 20 years

Norma’s ex-partner, Claudia María’s stepfather, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. This was a very successful outcome because very few sex criminals are sentenced to long prison sentences in Guatemala. For Norma herself, however, it was emotionally difficult – after all it was her husband, the father of her son, who had been convicted.

Domestic violence a taboo subject

We meet Norma in her office in Guatemala City, just before she heads off to an important meeting with judges at the Supreme Court. She still takes the time to talk to me. And despite the difficult situation, she remains positive.
“Women call here from all over the country. And we’re noticing that our struggle is bearing fruit. Things are happening in the legal system. They’re starting to take these issues seriously,” says Norma.

Domestic violence has long been a taboo subject, a problem within the family that you don’t talk about. But reports and articles about the situation of women are now being published. More women are daring to talk about and report violence.
“It’s important for us to talk about individual cases so that we can break the silence,” says Norma.

She doesn’t think that you should only look at the number of murders committed when reading the statistics.
“Instead, we count the number of lives we’ve saved, which is several thousand,” says Norma Cruz.

"I have a great deal of responsibility"

It’s not just about giving women the opportunity for a better life.
“It’s about having a life at all. About not being murdered.”
But despite being positive, Norma’s face is serious. She hardly smiles at all.
“I take my work very seriously. I know that I have a great deal of responsibility. People are placing their hope in us.”