Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, GHRC stands in solidarity with women in Guatemala. Since 2005, we have worked to support women victims of gender violence, raise awareness about rising rates of femicide, and lead annual delegations to Guatemala in order to investigate abuses and hear from women leaders about their efforts to address this violence. GHRC also just wrapped up a speaking tour with Lorena Cabnal, a Maya-Xinca woman, feminist, and community organizer.
Guatemala has the third highest rate of femicide in the world, and brutal violence against women has claimed the lives of over 5,000 women since 2000. Domestic violence within the country is part of the larger problems of institutionalized gender discrimination, trafficking, a history of sexual violence as part of the internal conflict, and rampant impunity which leaves women with little access to justice.
This issue was addressed last week in Washington, DC, as panelists convened for a congressional briefing on the current status of domestic violence in Latin America. In his introduction, Congressman Sam Farr stated that one in three women in Latin America are victims of domestic violence; the countries with the top five rates of femicide are also all located in the region.
Dr. Renos Vakis, of the World Bank, argued that it is in both Latin America’s interest, as well as the United State’s interest to address this pervasive problem. Not only is it a human rights issue, but it is also a matter which puts pressure on the health care and legal systems, and contributes to lost economic productivity. According to Dr. Vakis, while 30% of the households that escaped poverty did so due to women’s economic contributions, only six of ten women in Latin America currently participate in the labor force.
Amanda Klasing, of Human Rights Watch, said that the region’s strong normative structure makes researching violence against women difficult. With the exception of Haiti and Cuba, all counties in Latin America already have laws that specifically address the issue of domestic violence. Yet, although they exist on paper, these laws are often poorly implemented due to a host of factors: lack of political will, lack of funding, corruption, complicity in crimes by authorities, or exclusion of women in rural areas.
In addition, panelists spoke to the need for engaging men and boys and for changing social norms related to gender roles. “Laws are implemented by people,” said Klasing, “And these people carry around the social norms of their culture.” She also drew a connection between violence committed in the public and the personal spheres, stating that femicide is a public representation of violence that is also occurring in the home.
Dr. Mary Ellsberg, Director of the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, mentioned that there have been very few mentions of domestic violence in US congressional records. She called upon members of Congress to take two specific, urgent actions in order to support the safety of women worldwide:
Pass comprehensive immigration reform
Many women flee their home countries for safety reasons, or are trafficked into the United States, where they face even more risk of violence. GHRC has supported asylum cases for many women seeking refuge from physical harm and danger in Guatemala.
Pass the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA)
I-VAWA is a bill that supports preventative educational efforts, intervention services (such as heath care services for rape victims), and authorizes training of US and foreign military on issues related to violence against women. According to Amnesty International, this legislation “would codify and implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally.”