Latin America is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, with seven out of 10 countries with the highest femicide rates coming from the region. A high rate of impunity — among other broader issues of security and inequality that make women vulnerable — contributes to a normalization of violence against women in these countries. Outrage at the lack of justice and failure of the state to take swift and firm action against these crimes has led to protest movements, such as the "Ni Una Menos" movement in Argentina.
In recent years, 16 Latin American countries have enacted legislation meant to curb the rate of femicide and bring perpetrators to justice. Despite these advances, femicide still remains a huge threat to Latin American women. A recent report by an Argentine organization shows that the rate of femicide is actually increasing in the year 2017.
Despite their good intentions, femicide laws often fail in carrying out their intended purpose of protecting women, reducing femicide and serving justice. This is because these laws don’t address the issues that lead to a weak justice system, particularly for gender-based crimes. When judges and police don't know how to recognize femicide and there is no protocol for handling these cases, justice becomes elusive. So, the U.N. has laid out a special protocol for the region to make these femicide laws more effective, focusing on strengthening these approaches.
On International Women’s Day, teleSUR looks at some of the recent laws and initiatives put in place in Latin American countries to protect women from violence and bring perpetrators to justice.
Feminist group "Ni Una Menos," meaning "Not One Less," first organized protests in Buenos Aires in June 2015 to protest the brutal murder of 14-year-old Chiara Paez. The slogan has since become a call for justice for femicide throughout the region. Yet femicide is actually increasing in Argentina in 2017. In the first few months of the year, a woman has been killed every 18 hours, compared to every 30 hours the year before. The country enacted a femicide law in 2012, but it still has not solved the problem. Mauricio Macri, who assumed the presidency in November 2015, has verbally pledged his commitment to fighting gender-based violence in the country, but has actually cut key funding to programs that protect women.
The small Central American nation the size of Massachusetts registered 446 murders of women from January to November 2016 and 574 in 2015. In a country marred by gang violence, drug trafficking and longstanding impunity for civil war crimes, violence against women is often overlooked in the larger context of security issues. But in February 2016, the country approved a measure to create courts specialized in trying violent crimes against women. The courts will follow the U.N. protocol for femicide tribunals, though their start date is still to be determined.
Brazil was the first country to adopt the U.N.-approved guidelines for femicide laws in the region, with a 2015 law that defines femicide as a crime punishable by 12 to 30 years in prison. Then-President Dilma Rousseff signed the law into place in the country where 15 women on average are murdered each day. Violence against women still remains a huge issue for the country.
From 2008 to 2015, 5,000 women and girls were violently killed in Guatemala in a country of only 15 million inhabitants. After a series of femicides that went unpunished in Guatemala, the country decided to implement a special process for trying perpetrators of violent gender-based crimes. Attorney General Thelma Aldana, recipient of a 2016 International Women of Courage Award, led the team that organized and implemented the new court system.
The Spanish word for femicide first came into daily vernacular during the 1990s during a string of disappearances and murders of women in the Mexican border town Ciudad Juarez. Since then, the country has continued to struggle with high rates of gender violence, a problem often ignored in the male-dominated political sphere. The largest number of victims of femicide actually comes from Mexico state, where current president Enrique Peña Nieto previously served as governor. But feminist groups have criticized Peña Nieto for failing to address the problem of gender violence in the country. In Mexico, as in much of the region, victims of femicide are often made invisible in a broader context of drug war violence and widespread corruption.