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Femicides: An epidemic in Latin America

by Saloni Dadwal

This slogan reads: "There will never be walls high enough that can stop organized women from tearing them down"

Gender-based violence occurs in every part of the world. It transpires in every sphere of life ranging from mild to severe. Millions of women live in constant fear of violence and threat to their safety. Femicide is by far the most serious and complex form of violence against women, it is an international problem and it takes various forms. Although, there are more men killed every year than women, and one might wonder why there is a reason to be more concerned by femicides? The answer is simple, men are not killed for being men, as a matter of fact, male homicides rarely have anything to do with gender. But women are killed just because they are women and femicides involve unnecessarily cruel and inhumane levels of violence, before, during, and after the act of killing which shows hatred and hostility targeting women.

Gender inequality is widespread in Latin America, women are still considered second-class citizens in these countries. During the last decade, Latin American countries have been experiencing an epidemic of gender-based murders. These countries, known for their gangs, drugs, weapons, now have one the highest rates of femicides in the world, Brazil being the leading, followed by Honduras and El Salvador. Rates of violence have been skyrocketing drastically, women are brutally murdered, raped, abused in broad daylight and the bureaucracy is incompetent.

Credits: Human Rights Watch

Extent of Violence

Due to the lack of reliable statistical data, reliable systems of information, and official statistics, it becomes very difficult to be able to analyze the severity of the problem. The majority of cases go unreported because of the lack of security in governmental institutions. In some of these countries, the data is not even officially compiled, which further disguises the real nature and the extent of the problem.

However, some insight into the magnitude of the problem can be provided by the limited data that is available. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Latin America records about 50% of the world’s femicides. In 2019, four women were killed every day in Brazil. Most of the cases include evidence of sexual violence prior to the murder. The bodies of the victims are often disposed of in alleys, sidewalks, even in public parks, or in garbage cans like litter. In some instances, the victim is burnt, disfigured, disjointed, disposed in trash bags. And in some cases, the victim’s genitalia is mutilated with degrading words written over their defaced corpses. Latin America is going through a violence fuelled invisible refugee crisis.

Reasons of hostility towards women

The reason for inequality and hostility towards women in this region can be linked, partly, to the culture of machismo. The culture of machismo is the belief that women are expected to submit to the desires of men, women’s roles in society with relation to men are generally as wives and mothers. Although there is drug trafficking and gang-related violence in these countries, it has been noticed that women are often killed by acquaintances and people they personally know, such as former partners, family members, or friends. Rather than seeing this violence as male hostility towards women, the state attributes these cases of femicides to drugs traffickers and gang-related violence., which further favours the femicide escalation. Women’s organizations argue that only a small percentage of femicides are connected to organized crimes and gang-related violence. Granted, the act of femicide in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras is linked to archival patterns of abuse in Central America, where death squads and civil wars left a legacy of violence, torment, and continuing impunity. But it is mainly related to the structural patriarchal norms that have existed for centuries in every society in the world that treats women as property of men, to be owned and disposed anytime. And the traditional views normalise the violent behaviour towards women and attribute higher levels of blame towards the victims themselves.

Role of State Institutions

According to the UN’s regional headquarters in Panama City, About 95% of perpetrators go unpunished. There are large areas in these countries where police cannot even enter the premises without military backup. The lack of accessibility of justice for women does not lie in the insufficiency of laws alone, but also in the inadequate implementation of them. Nevertheless, federal criminal codes do not yet contemplate numerous types of violence that women suffer such as, patrimonial violence, sexual violence within marriage, marriage to underage girls, persecution, and institutional violence. Moreover, there is a lack of gender perspective, a debacle when it comes to recognizing international legislation, an absence of diligent investigation on the cases by public officials of criminal justice institutions.

Various protests have been carried out by women against governmental policies but there hasn’t been much of a change in legislation. Women’s organizations have often voiced their concerns about strategies and security policies implemented by the government, these strategies include investing the resources in weapons to strengthen the police and armed forces, leaving education, health rights unprotected, and abandoning the actions for prevention and eradication of violence against women.

About the Author

Saloni Dadwal is a research intern at Ytharth.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ytharth.

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