Nearly 20 years after peace pact, Guatemala's women relive violence

Adelma Cifuentes, fearing for her life, suffered through an abusive relationship for more than a decade.

Story highlights

  • Gender-based violence is at epidemic levels in Guatemala
  • According to the United Nations, two women are killed in Guatemala every day
  • Five abuse survivors known as La Poderosas have been appearing in a play based on their real life stories

CNN's Julie Guinan went to Guatemala, as part of a CARE Learning Tour.

(CNN)For 12 years Adelma Cifuentes felt worthless, frightened and alone, never knowing when her abusive husband would strike.

But as a young mother in rural Guatemala with three children and barely a third grade education, she thought there was no way out.
What began as psychological torment, name-calling and humiliation turned into beatings so severe Cifuentes feared for her life. One day, two men sent by her husband showed up at her house armed with a shotgun and orders to kill her. They probably would have succeeded, but after the first bullet was fired, Cifuentes' two sons dragged her inside. Still, in her deeply conservative community, it took neighbors two hours to call for help and Cifuentes lost her arm.
But the abuse didn't stop there. When she returned home, Cifuentes' husband continued his attacks and threatened to rape their little girl unless she left. That's when the nightmare finally ended and her search for justice began.

Guatamala's past still haunts

Cifuentes' case is dramatic, but in Guatemala, where nearly 10 out of every 100,000 women are killed, it's hardly unusual.
Many women in Guatemala's patriarcal socity are trapped in a cycle of violence.
A 2012 Small Arms Survey says gender-based violence is at epidemic levels in Guatemala and the country ranks third in the killings of women worldwide. According to the United Nations, two women are killed there every day.
There are many reasons why, beginning with the legacy of violence left in place after the country's 36-year-old civil war. During the conflict, atrocities were committed against women, who were used as a weapon of war. In 1996, a ceasefire agreement was reached between insurgents and the government. But what followed and what r