Women Leaders and Transformation in Developing Countries
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Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1959- )

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1992) for work with Central American Movement for Indigenous People and Refugees

Guatemala Flag of Grenada

The Republic of Guatemala is in Central America and gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. It is a Constitutional Democratic Republic and its current president is Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen. From the mid-19th century and through the mid 1980s, the country was ruled by a series of dictatorships, often opposed by various guerilla groups. Guatemala's first democratic elections were held on July 1st, 1984.1

The majority of the people in Guatemala are descendants of Mayan Indians. The most widely practiced religion is Roman Catholicism, however Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are practiced as well "by an estimated 30% of the population."2 Although the majority of the people of Guatemala are indigenous, Spanish is the official language and is not necessarily understood by the indigenous population.

Picture of Rigoberta Menchú Tum Rigoberta Menchú Tum was born in 1959 in the culturally Maya Quiche village of Chimel. When she was very young, she began to work. Rigoberta. Menchú Tum was self educated and motivated to non violent action by the various hardships she has faced in her life. Sadly, her mother, father and brother were killed during a time of political upheaval in Guatemala because "their father opposed the landowners."3 Her father was burned alive in a building while involved in a peaceful protest.Eventually, she became politically active. It is said that she became, "an active political worker in labor, campesino and human rights groups as well as in the defense and promotion of the rights and values of Indigenous Peoples."4 In 1980, she was exiled from Guatemala and went to Mexico. In 1983, I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala was published. She has since published other books and poems.

In 1992, Rigoberta Menchú was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "in recognition of her work for social Justice an ethnocultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous people." Upon receipt of this well-deserved honor, she became, "the first Indigenous and the youngest person ever to receive this distinction. For Rigoberta Menchú Tum, this Nobel Peace Prize acknowledges the struggles of Indigenous Peoples. It is also a symbolic recognition of thevictims of repression, racism and poverty as well as an homage to Indigenous Women."5


  1. Background Notes: Guatemala, 3/98 <http://www.state.gov/www/background_notes/guatemala_0398_bgn.html> 6/25/99
  2. Ibid.
  3. Great Pacifists - Rigoberta Menchú Tum <http://www.nalejandria.com/utopia/english/RigobertaMenchuTum-eng.htm> 6/23/99
  4. Essay: Heroines of Peace (Nobel Institute) <http://www.nobel.se/essays/heroines/index.html#anchor62850> 6/23/99
  5. Rigoberta Menchú Tum (from Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation) <http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rmtpaz/frmt/bioeng.htm> 6/23/99

Map of Guatemala
Click on map to see full size version.
Click on inset for clickable world map.

Statistical Highlights
Total Population (millions) - 2000* 11.8
Population Growth Rate** 3.1%
Crude Birth Rate - Per 1000 pop** 39.6
Crude Death Rate - Per 1000 pop** 8.9
Life Expectancy (M/F)** 60/65
Ethnic Divisions: Mestizo/Indigenous** 56%/44%
Literacy Rate** 50%
G.D.P. ($ billion) 1989 est. 10.8
G.D.P. Growth Rate - 1989 est. 1.3%
GDP per capita - 1989 est. $1,185
* - Projected | ** - exact year unknown

Gender Equity Information
Women per 100 Men 98
Full Suffrage for All Adult Women Obtained in (year) 1946
Percentage of legislature consisting of women 14%
Percentage of cabinet consisting of women 13%
Literacy Rate (F/M) 47% / 61%
Life Expectancy at Birth (F/M, in years) 64.4 / 59.7

Development Information Score
(of 1.000)
(HDI of 174)
(GDI of 163)
HDI 0.615 111
GDI 0.549 113

Hear the Guatemalan National Anthem, from National Anthems of the World
Photograph of Rigoberta Menchu Tum is in the public domain. Reproduced with permission from Great Pacifists - Rigoberta Menchú Tum <http://www.nalejandria.com/utopia/english/RigobertaMenchuTum-eng.htm> 6/23/99
Flag graphic byJorge Candeias, courtesy of FOTW: Flags Of The World website <http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/> 6/23/99
   (Click on flag for full size version)
Map courtesy of theUniversity of Texas' Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/Map_collection.html> 6/23/99
Statistical Information provided by Guatemala Country Profile at Quetzalnet, <http://www.quetzalnet.com/quetzalNET/C_profile.html> 6/23/99
Gender Equity Information provided by Neft, Naomi and Levine, Ann D. Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries 1997-1998. NewYork: Random House, 1997.
Development infromation provided by the United Nations Human Development Report 1998 <http://www.undp.org/hdro/98.htm> 6/23/99
   HDI = Human Development Index; GDI = Gender-related Development Index; Click on an index name in the table to view the full chart for that index

Biographical profile ©1999 Hillary Cavanscki. Compilation of country information by Michael Cohen '01. Site as a whole is ©1999 Dessima Williams and CIMTech at Brandeis University. All rights reserved. Further copywright and contact information available at the site index.