A photo of Lucia Perez, 16-year-old girl that was rapped and killed in Argentina. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oct. 25, 2016. AP Photo/Leo Correa.
On October 19th, last month, women of the region made sure their voices were heard by staging a mass protest in Argentina. At midday, an hour-long strike took place, and in the late afternoon a number of protests unfolded across the country.
This mass mobilisation was provoked by the recent death of Lucia Perez, a 16-year-old girl who was drugged, raped and impaled to death in the city of Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires. NiUnaMenos is a wide-reaching response to Lucia Perez’s death, in the fight for the protection of women’s lives against the ongoing, daily violence they suffer as a consequence of the deeply entrenched patriarchal system.
The #NiUnaMenos movement became visible for the first time in June 2015. With the premise of fighting against this patriarchal and machista violence, the movement mobilised in the centre of Buenos Aires, which then spread across the country.
Some legislative results were achieved as a consequence, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. Judge Elena Highton de Nolasco launched the Femicide Registration Unit for the Supreme Court. Following this, the National Government, through the Human Rights Committee, formalised the Unit, as well as the Fiscal Specialised Unit on Violence against Women (UFEM). However big this progress may seem, between the first and second #NiUnaMenos protests (2015-2016) 275 women died as victims of gender violence.
Breaking boundaries: fatality rates
The demonstrations that took place in Argentina were echoed by women across the Latin American region, in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Uruguay, amongst others. This is a region that has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world.
According to data obtained in the year 2015, in Argentina alone a woman is murdered every 30 hours – and a total of 77 homicides motivated by gender. 46% of the cases involved women who were between 30 and 49 years old, whilst 34% of the cases were between 18 and 29 years old.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, claimed that the Brazilian police registers a rape crime every 11 minutes every day. However, it is estimated that only a 35% of all rape cases are actually reported in Brazil.
The National Citizen Observatory for Femicides of Mexico indicated that 6 women are murdered every day, and between the years 2012 and 2013 more than 3,800 women died in circumstances relating to gender violence. Only 613 cases were investigated, and only 1.6% ended up with a judicial sentence.
The Attorney's General Office of Colombia issued a warning in June 2016 that a femicide (a crime involving the violent and deliberate killing of a woman) takes place every 3 days. What’s more, impunity is close to 90%, since the prosecution revelled that in the last ten years 34,571 cases of femicide were open, but only 3,658 convictions have been confirmed.
A report on femicides by the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) disclosed that during 2014, 83 women were murdered by their partners or former partners in Peru; 71 in Dominican Republic; 46 in El Salvador, 25 in Uruguay; 20 in Paraguay and 17 in Guatemala. Furthermore, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have some of the highest femicide rates in the world - according to a study run by the UN earlier this year. The numbers cry out by themselves.
Violence against women is a form of human rights abuse, and femicide is unfortunately a common way to express it. And of the25 highest femicide rates in the world, 14 are in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The machista culture (where men are expected to exhibit an overbearing attitude to anyone in a position perceived as inferior) is has spread across the region. It counters the recognition of women as equals, regarding ability and rights. Women are considered objects, bodies that become property of men who don’t understand the world outside of this machista way of thinking. And neither is it the exception to the rule: it’s a matter of turning the TV on and watching the advertisements.
In addition to transforming the consumer into a dandy, advertisements commonly present women as a simple, secondary object that belongs to the consumer. Just breathing, as a woman in Latin America, is in itself a risk - and at the same time, a struggle. A woman’s ‘inner circle’ is the most dangerous, it is the one committing most of these atrocities against women. All kinds of violence are present: psychological, physical, sexual, moral and patrimonial.
The data presented is just a small fragment of reality: most of the violence committed against women is not reported or registered. According to Luisa Carvalho from UN Women, almost 98% of those who commit murder against women end up unpunished. According to the National Citizen Observatory for Femicides, for example, from 2012 to 2013, Mexico recorded 3,000 murders, of which only a 1.6% ended up with a punitive sentence.
According to CEPAL, between 2008 and 2016, 16 Latin American countries created legislation on the topic: while 15 of these countries have typified the femicide as a crime (Bolivia, Brazil, Chile; Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Dominican Republic) - Argentina established aggravated homicide for gender reasons.
CEPAL’s Observatory for Gender Equality in Latin America and the Caribbean indicates that only 8 countries in the continent assign a budget and legal tools to the fight against gender violence. What’s more, there is limited medical assistance provision, as much as to protect, as well as to take care of women in cases of violence.
At an institutional level, the processing of complaints presents the first challenge: the lack of understanding and poor care given by state agents are fundamental factors that disparage those with demands against violence. In this sense, these institutional barriers - the lack of specialist capacity to deal with the issue - and the low levels of empathy that most state agents have, constitute part of the institutionalised violence, as much as they are a great obstacle to change.
On the immediate horizon, we know the main barriers in the struggle for gender equality and the fight to end to gender violence: the need for educational and cultural change; institutional reform (including state agents); legislative innovation; new public policy for prevention, protection and effective auditing, and ensuring access to assistance, justice and reparation for women.
Femicide is a cruel type of murderer, a result of simply being a woman. But the majority of femicides only represent the last step in the cycle of violence. Before this, victims of femicide often have to experience a process of personal limitation, torture, mutilation, degradation and deep suffering. But even with the victim’s death, the cycle of violence does not come to an end - it continues through the region’s ongoing culture of impunity reserved for the culprits.
October 19th was an important moment in the fight against gender violence. Latin America is not ‘waking up’; it is only making the reality of gender violence visible to everyone. NiUnaMenos: it’s time to fight back.