mural from ex-combatant community Guatemala

Dr Sanne Weber

The ESRC IAA mentoring scheme was really helpful in making crucial steps towards generating impact based on my research with female ex-combatants in Guatemala. The aim of the project was to communicate their experiences before, during and after their membership of the guerrilla movement in Guatemala. These stories have not received much social or scholarly attention so far, despite showing women’s agency as social and political actors, which could help to change ideas about gender roles in a strongly patriarchal society like Guatemala. At the same time, many women are also victims of the conflict. Recognising these more complex gendered conflict experiences could foster societal dialogues, and help promote reconciliation.

I planned to publish a Spanish-language book or other society-oriented output (such as an exhibition) to make their stories available to a wider audience in Guatemala. This book aims to generate impacts on societal understanding, learning and participation (through generating social and media attention for an under-researched aspect of Guatemala’s recent history with an important gendered perspective) but also impacts on the social welfare of groups of individuals (through the recognition of female ex-combatants’ stories and experiences). The participants decided to share their experiences in a book, as this would have a more lasting impact and can be used by schools and research institutions. The Civil Service for Peace (CSP), a GIZ programme, expressed interest in financing the publication and public launch of this output.

IAA funding enabled me to travel to Guatemala to hold workshops with participants and create the first draft of the book. Three workshops were held across the country to present ideas to the participants and receive their feedback, with a subsequent workshop being held with all participants where they all had the opportunity to meet. We decided their intended audience, the issues and themes to be covered, as well as the format (they decided to tell stories collectively, interspersed with short individual testimonies and images). These workshops made the elaboration of the book a participatory process, and contributed to their wellbeing by giving participants a sense of ownership over the book. Participants have expressed how pleased they were to finally feel that their stories were adequately recognised, and to be able to share this with family members.

Mentoring has proved a very positive experience. I have been able to brainstorm with my mentor, thinking through different ways of presenting the book or exhibition, which helped me propose ideas to the participants. My mentor has been particularly helpful in terms of planning the book’s societal impact. She has advised me on how to ensure that the book launch can generate media impact, which will be crucial for fostering debates about the gendered experiences of conflict. She has also helped me to consider how to communicate key recommendations through policy-oriented events and workshops in the UK, for example by collaborating with the UK’s select committees or APPGs. This will prove crucial in the next stage of the research and impact activity.