Girls First – Niñas Adelante

Breaking the cycle of inequality: Empowering Mayan girls and women to prevent child marriage

Women's Justice Initiative

Human Rights

Our story

In Guatemala, widespread child marriage threatens girls’ futures. 1 in 3 girls are married by age 18, and in rural communities, Mayan girls are disproportionately impacted by this harmful practice. They lack access to education, face discrimination, and are more likely to live in poverty than non-Mayan girls – factors which drive child marriage.


Child marriage limits opportunities for girls. It increases their risk of domestic violence and complications during child birth, while perpetuating the cycles of intergenerational poverty and gender inequality. But we’re breaking these cycles!


Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) empowers Mayan girls and women to delay child marriage and access a broader range of opportunities to to build brighter futures in Guatemala.


We equip Mayan girls ages 10 to 17 with the skills and knowledge to advocate for themselves through our Girls’ Empowerment, Rights, and Leadership course. Our empowerment workshops are delivered in Kaqchikel, the local Mayan language, and focus on: gender equality and rights, delaying marriage, preventing violence against women and girls, leadership and self-esteem, goal setting, and sexual and reproductive health.


We also train Mayan women and engage community leaders to prevent child marriage and promote gender equality.


Empowering Mayan girls and women is fundamental to preventing child marriage and breaking the cycles of gender inequality in Guatemala. Limited education and access to resources contribute to child marriage in rural Guatemala. WJI works with girls, their families, and community leaders to address these issues so Mayan girls can build better futures.


And you can help them build brighter futures!

– Just $10 provides legal aid to girls and women

$30 helps 1 girl program graduate receive follow-up training

$100 lets 1 girl complete the Girls’ Empowerment, Rights, and Leadership course

$200 trains 3 women to prevent child marriage and promote gender equality


Founded in 2011, the Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) improves the lives of Mayan Guatemalan women and girls through education, access to legal services, and gender-based violence prevention. For six years, WJI has worked in 22 rural communities in Patzún, Chimaltenango where women and girls face extreme levels of poverty, high rates of gender inequality, and widespread gender-based violence. Our programs are implemented at the local level, mitigating geographic and economic barriers to access, and are offered in Kaqchikel, the local Mayan language. Our work benefits approximately 1,800 people each year, including girls and women between ages 10 and 65.



Gavin S Weiss

Proud to support Kate and the great work at the Women's Justice Initiative.


Amanda Gibson

Thank you for what you do!


Denise M Zimmer

Thank you for all the work you do!


yves mathey


mary jo flatley


Clara G Ferraro


moira van Gessel



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The team

Elvia Raquec

Elvia has worked with WJI since 2011, overseeing the Women’s Rights and Community Advocates programs. In 2015, she joined Sandra in designing and implementing our Adolescent Girls Program. Prior to joining WJI, Elvia worked with the Population Council as a mentor for its “Opening Opportunities” Program and at Renacimiento, a community development organization. She holds a degree in Social Work from the Rafael Landivar University.


Elvia ha trabajado con IDM desde el principio y actualmente supervisa el trabajo de IDM con las mujeres y las adolescentes en comunidades rurales. También es responsable para el desarrollo e implementación de los programas que sirven a más de 1,000 participantes. Antes de IDM, Elvia trabajaba con el Population Council como mentora del programa “Abriendo Oportunidades” y con Renacimiento, una organización que promueve al desarrollo comunitario. Tiene una licenciatura en trabajo social de la Universidad Rafael Landivar.

Sandra Cocon

Program Associate

Sandra joined WJI in 2013 as a Program Assistant to support the Women’s Rights Education Program and in 2015, became the Project Associate and supports our Adolescent Girls Program. She provides training and direct support to girls and women in Kaqchikel, conducts monitoring and evaluation, and works with local leadership to ensure community support. She also provides accompanimient and support to survivors of gender based violence. Previously, she worked for the Guatemalan government’s Adult Literacy Program and has extensive experience in rural education. She is currently studying Clinical Psychology at the Mariano Galvez University.


Sandra inició labores en IDM a mediados del año 2013. Como Asistente de Programas, Sandra, apoya en el desarrollo e implementación de proyectos, la facilitación del Programa de Capacitación en los Derechos de la Mujer, y la coordinación con líderes comunitarios. Sandra provee acompañamiento y asesoramiento a participantes que sufren violencia o algún tipo de problemas legales. Sandra ha trabajado en CONALFA (Comité Nacional de Alfabetización) como facilitadora de lecto-escritura y a facilitar el nivel primario a personas adultas de las áreas rurales del municipio de Patzún.  Se graduó de Maestra de Educación Primaria Urbana, actualmente estudia la carrera de Psicología Clínica en la Universidad de Mariano Gálvez.

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