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What are the roles and challenges of Central and South American Indigenous women in patriarchal societies, and their part in resistance movements and decolonization? Who was Rigoberta Menchu and her role in Indigenous justice in Guatemala?

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Rigoberta Menchú is a Quiché Maya woman who was born and raised in Guatemala but has also lived in exile. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1992. Especially from the 1970s onward, she was active in Indigenous rights, land rights, and human rights movements. The dangers associated with this work, which openly challenged the military government, prompted her to go into exile and live abroad for many years. Menchú is also well-known for her autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchú.

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Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a Quiché Maya woman who was born in Guatemala in 1959. She spent her childhood and early adult years in Guatemala but in 1981 went into exile. After many years spent living abroad, she returned to her homeland in 1995. A tireless activist for social reform, she gained international fame in 1992 when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace—the first Indigenous American woman ever to be selected. Menchú’s activism was based in her experiences of discrimination, disenfranchisement, and violence while growing up in a poor indigenous community. Several members of her family, including her parents, were killed. As a young adult, she became increasingly involved in indigenous and peasant issues, including land rights and human rights through the Peasant Unity Committee.

As an outspoken opponent of the country’s military government, she received death threats, prompting the difficult decision to leave Guatemala in 1981. During the years of exile in France, she coordinated with Elisabeth Burgos-Debray in writing her autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchú. Through additional writings and public speaking, she continued to call attention to human rights abuses. The Nobel Committee selected her as the Peace Prize recipient in 1992. Menchú uses the proceeds to establish a foundation, and in 1995 returned to living in Guatemala. Along with leading the foundation, she established a political party and has been a candidate for president.

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