Paving the way for women's education in indigenous communities of Guatemala


Magdalena Cox Xum is a modern day hero and role model. She is the first educational coordinator for the UNESCO-Malala Center in Guatemala’s San Andres Xecul, Totonicapán, created as part of the new project supported by the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education. Her work for the Center began in March 2018, but her contribution to women´s education started many years ago in her village, Nimasac.

Role models

Magdalena is the youngest woman in her family of four sisters and five brothers. She is also the only one, along with her youngest brother, to have graduated school and chosen to teach. But as a young girl, Magdalena feared she would not be able to follow her dream of becoming a teacher. She thought she would only complete 6th grade like her eight siblings and like many young girls in her municipality.

In San Andres Xecul, Totonicapán, according to the 2016 Ministry of Education Statistical Yearbook, the enrolment rate of school-age girls in primary school was 35%, with only 10% of women aged 12 to 21 enrolled in middle school and a mere 1% in high school. Despite her father´s initial resistance, Magdalena’s mother recognized her drive to study and supported her until graduation as a teacher of bilingual intercultural primary education. Her mother became the first example of what she wanted to be for her community, a woman who recognized in other women their potential and desire to excel and who helped them achieve it.

Education is a priority

Since she became a teacher, Magdalena has been committed to help women in her community even though education is not always seen as a priority there. Why should we let them study? This is one of the most common questions she receives. Magdalena has told her own story to inspire parents and community members about the importance of education and the advantages of non-formal education programs.

Her work went beyond that of a teacher. She knocked on doors and met women who wished to study but did not have the possibility, due to the lack of flexibility of formal education programs or their cultural or economic context. She opened the doors of her own house to give lessons to her students, putting in her own resources to buy a whiteboard and benches. To a woman, Magdalena said:“in the morning you can shepherd the animals and in the afternoon you come with me to study.” This woman completed 6th grade.

The UNESCO-Malala Centers, supported by the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, enable education to take its righteous place in communities. With the help of committed coordinators like Magdalena, young girls and women will select the appropriate non-formal education program, hand in the required educational materials, and establish the location and schedule for the study groups. Center coordinators, native to the region, who communicate in the relevant indigenous language and understand the cultural context, will also support communities to take ownership of the project, which is key to its sustainability.

Through the Center and her work as a UNESCO-Malala Center educational coordinator, Magdalena will have the space and the opportunity to amplify her heroic efforts to provide education to the indigenous girls and young women of San Andres Xecul, Totonicapán, and hopefully of Guatemala more broadly.