Latin America: where being a woman may be your cause of death

Last week Peru was horrified by a video in where a man was raping an unconscious woman inside a club. The smile of the man when he noticed someone was filming him, along with the cheers and claps from other men – friends of the rapist – that were looking at the scene was traumatizing to watch. When the video was released, and the rapist was accused on social media, comments on the related posts showed a society that still believes that being raped is mainly the victim’s fault. This is not new to the country, and it is not new to the region either. Violence against women has become an inherent situation in the day to day basis of Latin America.

The United Nations report on the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, stated that one out of three women in the region suffer from either physical or sexual violence, mainly by a sentimental partner, and that 7 out 10 women has suffered or will suffer this type of violence throughout her life. Impunity for attackers seems to be one of the main causes of this situation, with Latin American countries’ streets filled with victimizers freed by the justice system, due to the lack of law enforcement.

But, that the majority of violence cases are not reported to authorities play an important role as well. The UN report also states that less than 40% of women that suffer from violence search for help; and only 10% out of the 40% go to the police. The justice system has not been fair to women in these cases, with police officers blaming the violence situation on the victim, asking them if they were wearing provocative clothing at the time of the rape, or what do they think caused their husbands to hit them. Being raped or mistreated by a husband/boyfriend generates a social stigma in the victim, making women embarrassed of their situation and therefore refusing to go to authorities.

Nevertheless, violence is not the only threat women face in Latin America. The word “Feminicide” was recently included in the Royal Spanish Academy to define the horrifying situation Latin American women live day by day. The official concept describes the “murder of a woman because of her gender”. The region is the one with the highest number of gender oriented murders: 14 out of the 25 countries that have the highest rate in the world are part of the region. Around 60,000 women per year are murdered there, being this the main cause of death among women between 15 and 44 years old, and this figure does not seem to improve in the near future. Honduras leads the list of countries with the higher number of feminicides, followed by El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Guatemala. Nevertheless, as the Peruvian case mentioned above, there were some gender violence cases in other LAC countries that shocked the world.

Argentina

Argentinian 16-year-old Lucía Pérez was drugged and raped to death in the city of Mar de Plata in October last year. 23 years old Matías Farías and 41 years old Juan Pablo Offidani were arrested for being the main suspects of the crime. After a few weeks of the arrest, they confessed what they had done to her: after she died, they washed her body and changed her clothes to take her to a hospital and declared that she had died because of an overdose. Lucía had contacted them to get drugs, because a friend of hers had referred them to her. Lucía’s murder has been one of the most mediatic ones in Argentina in the past years. Days after millions of women took over the streets of Buenos Aires, and some other main cities to protest the insecurity, the lack of protection from the government in cases like this; but most of all to bring consciousness to society that women’s lives are as important as men’s. Argentina is still a place where a woman is killed every thirty hours, and where 99% of women has experienced some mistreatment from their husbands/boyfriends, but only 1 out of 3 women declare it to authorities.

Another case that took the newsstands all over the world was again Argentinians Mariana and María José (21 and 22 years old), who were enjoying their vacations in Ecuador, and were raped and murdered by locals in the popular tourist beach of Montañita. As Lucía, they were also drugged in a party, abused and killed. Despite that their disappearances and the later discovered murder was highly shocking for such a concurred place like Montañita, it was how a high number of people reacted to the case that was as shocking. Comments in social media showed people disturbed by the fact that Mariana and María José were travelling on their own, and that their murder was then their fault because of this. People actually blamed the killing on them asking “what can people expect to happen to two women travelling on their own?” and that “they should have taken better care of themselves, there are many dangers out there”. It was not one, but thousands of this kind of comments, from both men and women, showing that despite the region being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, creating jobs, and abandoning old traditions of inequality among women and men, some people still believe that rape and murder it’s still women’s fault if they don’t take care of themselves properly.

Protesting and marching

2016 was definitely a year marked with these horrifying situations, but it was also the year when Latin American women decided to stand up. “Ni una menos” (not one women less) protests and marches filled the streets led by women shouting they were not going to take the mistreatment anymore, and that they deserve the same rights and respect as a man. This goes beyond the gender inequality in education, or in the labor sector; it’s for making women decide to save their lives by asking for help, from anyone, and to live fully with no threats or danger in them. Ni una menos is to promote a stronger law enforcement for attackers, but also to raise awareness within society that women are not objects, that it does not matter how they dress, what they wear or how they walk, they don’t anyhow deserve any mistreatment from anybody and that not only because they are women, it’s alright to physically or mentally injure them, no excuses. Feminism is growing in Latin America, but it is up to both the political and social institutions and civil society to conceive at least some progress. Latin America, with its beautiful traditions and cultures and colors should not by any means be considered a place in where you have to be extra careful just because you are a woman.