Beyond Violence 

Femicide: Alarming rates of Gender Violence Victims in Latin America

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On November 18th, a 21-year-old girl was stabbed to death at her workplace in Trinidad, Bolivia after an argument with her boyfriend, who attempted suicide afterwards. This terrible murder occurred in front of a crowd of almost 20 people, who not only refused to intervene, but were also filming and photographing the deed. The young girl would probably still be alive, if they had not stayed impassive to the man’s actions.

“Femicide” is a word you hardly hear, a word that does not even appear in some dictionaries. A broad definition would be:

Femicide is generally understood to involve intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls. Femicide is usually perpetrated by men, but sometimes female family members may be involved. Femicide differs from male homicide in specific ways. For example, most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.

Violence against women is a fact, a reality that is happening every second in every country of the world and it is often triggered by gender inequality and an imbalance in power between men and woman. In this article I particularly would like to focus upon gender violence in Latin America, due to the increasing rates reported in recent years by national and international governmental and non-governmental bodies. Among the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicides, almost half are Latin American; the levels are so high across this region that femicide is sometimes considered a pandemic. According to the “Worldwide violence against women prevalence data” compiled by UN Women as from December of 2012, the countries that registered the highest percentage of women suffering physical and/or sexual violence in this region were, Chile (36%) , Peru (70%), Costa Rica (37%), Ecuador (46%), Colombia (39%), Bolivia(64%), Brazil (37%) and México (47%). Despite the fact these numbers are alarming and the situation is critical, reliable figures on violence against women are still limited as some countries do not publish official statistics.

Let’s talk more about the numbers! The Observatory of Sexual Violence and Femicide revealed that between January and October 2012, 526 women were killed in Guatemala, placing the country on the second in terms of high femicide rates worldwide. The 2011 UN Global Homicide report further highlighted El Salvador as the country with the highest level of femicides worldwide with 12 women per 100.000 killed. According to the Mexican Observatory of Femicide, between only 2009 and 2013, 2,502 women were murdered in Mexico. Data from the Women Network Against Violence indicates that during the first six months of 2012, 48 women were killed in Nicaragua, and 78% of these murders occurred in their homes. Colombia holds one of the highest rates of homicide in the continent, 6.27 per 100.000 women per day in 2010 and 6.1 per 100.000 women the following year according to the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. The Statistic Unit of the Public Attorney’s Office of Ecuador, reported 234 women were murdered in 2012. Peru is one of the few countries that publish official femicide statistics through its Observatory for Criminality which registered almost 384 female murders between 2009 and 2011. According to the Bolivian Information and Development Centre for Women there were at least 30 femicides committed between January and February 2013.

Femicide is a crime that often implies physical, sexual or psychological violence against women and girls, and to be able to tackle the problem it is very important to understand its underlying causes. Violence against women is rooted in behavioural patterns learnt and transmitted from generation to generation, which were traditionally accepted because of the conviction that men were superior to women. The position of women has changed gradually and positively, but nevertheless some people still refuse to accept their social and personal development, and stick to the belief that women should dedicate their lives exclusively to the house, their children and their husbands. Discrimination, gender inequality, poor laws and regulations against gender violence, and the fact that in some countries violence cases against women are often dismissed by both the police and judicial branch are some of the facts that contribute to this pandemic.

This very serious problem is in some cases difficult to address given its cultural roots. However, one of the most important actions to minimize this scourge is the increase of awareness and knowledge among policymakers, civil society organizations and, most importantly, within the community. Governments should ensure appropriate prosecution of aggressors and support research and studies that can provide official figures to identify levels of gender violence, causes, consequences, perpetrators and potential perpetrators’ profiles, the socio-economic context that trigger these attacks, motivations, and the perception of the society towards femicide. Additionally, good approaches to reduce femicide also revolve around education in school, the training of medical staff to help identify cases of intimate or non-intimate violence, and developing assessment tools to register the number of domestic violence cases.

A woman should not be killed just because she is a woman and we should ask ourselves what the main motivations and reasons that trigger gender violence are. Let’s not forget that the understanding of the concept of femicide is still limited what makes it challenging to address. There is still a lot of work to be done but in the meantime small actions, such as reporting cases of violence against women, can result in bigger changes to reduce this pandemic.

"Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture." -Charlotte Bunch

On November 25th it was UN International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women.

Written by J.T.I. and published on 27-November-2014

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