In the words of: “People voted for me because they wanted to see change”
Date: Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Irlanda Pop is the Mayor of Lanquín, a municipality in the Alta Verapaz department of Guatemala. She is the only indigenous Mayor and one of ten women Mayors in the country. Elected in 2015 for a term of four years, Pop has survived serious political attacks and continues to fight discrimination on account of her gender and indigenous identity. UN Women supported Pop to participate in the IV Ibero-American Summit of Local Gender Agendas that took place in Cuenca, Ecuador, in May 2018. There, she led an exchange between women leaders of different indigenous communities of the region about political participation of indigenous women and how to address violence against women in politics. UN Women supports the leadership of women in politics and peacebuilding in Guatemala through several initiatives, including through Women’s Political Empowerment and Leadership flagship programme.
I am indigenous and I was born in this town. When I was 18 years old, I went to the municipal office to get a personal identification card. I waited all day, the ladinos  didn’t pay attention to my people. After that day, my mind was set; I wanted to join politics to represent my people.
In March 2015, I ran for the position of Mayor of Lanquín. At first, people were surprised. It was the first time in my municipality that a woman was running, and an indigenous woman at that. Everyone said, it was impossible for me to win. I was an indigenous woman and I had no husband or children.
There were many attacks against me. They [people who opposed me] said I couldn’t govern because I was a woman. How could I administrate and give orders to people? They said I was homosexual and didn’t like men. They asked people not to vote for me and used social media to discredit me.
And still, I won—by 15,000 votes—against a male candidate who was the Mayor for 16 years!
When I started my term as Mayor in January 2016, there was a dispute over the Semuc Champey area [a natural monument and a popular tourist destination] that I was trying to resolve. On 8 February,  men armed with sticks and machetes came into my office. One of my coworkers pushed me out of the window so that I could escape. I was injured and taken to the hospital. When I came back to Lanquín in March, they tried to shoot me.
People voted for me because they wanted to see change. Our municipality is rich in environmental resources. It’s full of opportunities for culture and tourism that can benefit the community. Before I became the Mayor, there was no drainage, no potable water or communal spaces for events. This year, I am implementing water projects so that people have access to safe water. I am also working with the women in the community and teaching them about their rights, empowering them to be economically productive. Because of my example, husbands are allowing their wives to participate in development councils.
Now that I am the Mayor, the pressure is high, I cannot afford to make any mistakes.
I want to reform the laws so that women get more opportunities to participate in politics and intimidation of women can be prosecuted.
Girls and young women are the future of Guatemala. Everything is possible if they set their mind and prepare.”
 In Guatemala, Ladino population refers to Spanish-speaking people of Hispanic origin, mixed with indigenous elements, who dress in a style commonly considered as “Western”.