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  • Human Rights Research Center

Femicide in Latin America

May 9, 2024



Introduction


A woman is a victim of femicide every two hours in Latin America. Femicide is a term for the killing of women and girls on account of their gender. Some examples of femicide include the murder of women as a result of intimate partner violence and the killing of women and girls in the name of honor. Femicide can be broken down into three main categories. The first is intimate femicide, which refers to the killing of women by current or former partners. Familial femicide refers to the killings of women and girls by family members or other kin, primarily male. The third type is non-intimate femicide, which involves the killing of women by someone with whom they did not share an intimate relationship. Non-intimate femicide disproportionately affects women involved in marginalized and stigmatized professions, such as sex work and work in nightclubs (WHO, 2012). 14 out of the 25 countries with the highest rates of gender-based violence can be found in Latin America (UN Women, 2021). While femicide is prevalent in almost every region, this article primarily focuses on Latin America due to the increasing rates of femicide.


Background Information


In 2022, at least 4,050 women were victims of femicide in 26 countries and territories of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, 2023). While several countries have passed legislation to decrease the rates of femicide, including laws and criminal code reforms, these measures only partially address the issue. However, to effectively combat femicide, proactive steps must be taken. Prosecuting crimes, removing the stigma associated with femicide, and dismantling the pervasive machismo culture in the region are essential measures that can significantly contribute to decreasing the rates of femicide. Similar to toxic masculinity, machismo is the set of ideals and beliefs that support the notion that men are superior to women, characterized by traits such as aggressiveness, physical strength, emotional insensitivity, and womanizing (Mendoza, 2009). The origins of machismo can be traced back to pre-Columbian times and was influenced by both European and Indigenous forms of masculinity (Coronado, 2015). Some historians attribute the beginning of a culture of gender violence in the region to European colonization of Latin America, which introduced and perpetuated patriarchal structures and power dynamics (Hardin, 2002). This historical legacy has contributed to structural gender inequality and the reinforcement of misogynistic attitudes, exacerbating the issue of femicide.


Various barriers, such as stigma associated with discussing these topics and difficulty in recognizing when incidents occur, may skew the figures of femicide. In some countries, domestic violence is considered a private matter and is less likely to involve the police in domestic disputes. Not to mention, the COVID-19 pandemic only amplified rates of femicide due to quarantine measures and stay at home orders, leaving many women trapped at home with their abusers. During the lockdown, calls to domestic violence helplines increased, among others, by 91% in Colombia, 48% in Peru, 32% in Argentina, 50% in Panama, and 25% in Costa Rica and Ecuador (The World Bank, 2022). Additionally, in some countries, measures are not in place to accurately collect data on gender violence resulting in skewed figures. Some countries do not recognize the killing of women by current or former partners as femicide, even when domestic violence was previously recorded. All of these cause an imbalance of the actual figures of femicide in the region.


Impunity within the justice system and government inaction are significant contributors to femicide. In Mexico, where the rates of femicide are alarmingly high, less than 3 percent of femicide cases are prosecuted, with a mere 1 percent resulting in sentences (Morán Breña, 2020). Frustrations escalated further when President Andres Manuel López Obrador failed to address violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic, dismissing calls to domestic violence hotlines as being 90% fake (Alcoba and McGowan, 2020). In response to this situation, the United Nations Human Rights Office and UN Women released a protocol to guide investigations and prosecutions in the wake of gender-based murders of women in Latin America.


Movement


The “Ni Una Menos'' (Not One Less) movement was born in 2015 in Argentina due to the brutal murder of 14-year-old Argentinian Chiara Páez by her partner. In the following weeks after her death, women all over Argentina gathered and protested for femicide and violence against women to be taken more seriously. The movement has spread to other nations around the world, but it has become especially prominent in Latin American countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, and Brazil, which also suffer from high rates of femicide. Since its conception, the Ni Una Menos movement has grown to advocate for other issues as well, including reproductive rights, creating an official registry of femicide cases, and promoting more effective training for members of law enforcement who deal with gender-based violence (Green, 2022). Due to the protests from those within the movement and ongoing femicides, several changes were made in Argentina. For example, former president Alberto Fernández established a new Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity. The ministry focuses on shifting attitudes through educational campaigns and running a helpline for victims of violence.


Conclusion


Violence against women and girls in Latin America has reached alarming levels, becoming widespread and almost normalized. Despite femicide gaining recognition as a serious problem around the world, rates continue to soar in some countries within the region. Even more concerning is that many countries have recognized femicide and have enacted policies and legislation to combat violence against women and girls. However, despite these measures, femicide rates persistently rise. To effectively address this issue, there must be a significant shift in misogynistic attitudes. It is imperative for governments to fulfill their responsibility of protecting all of their citizens, which includes prosecuting crimes and preventing impunity. Movements such as Ni Una Menos have played a crucial role in raising awareness to the alarming issue of femicide, giving a voice to those silenced, and advocating for other issues that affect women and girls.


 

Sources


  1. Alcoba, N., & McGowan, C. (2020, June 4). #niunamenos five years on: Latin America as deadly as ever for women, say activists. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jun/04/niunamenos-five-years-on-latin-america-as-deadly-as-ever-for-women-say-activists

  2. Coronado, J.D. (2015) Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets. https://doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199.

  3. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. (2023, October 12). In 2022, at least 4,050 women were victims of femicide in Latin. Comunicado In 2022, At Least 4,050 Women Were Victims of Femicide in Latin America and the Caribbean: ECLAC | Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. https://www.cepal.org/en/pressreleases/2022-least-4050-women-were-victims-femicide-latin-america-and-caribbean-eclac

  4. Green, M. A. (2022, November 29). A woman is a victim of femicide in Latin America every two hours. Wilson Center. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/woman-victim-femicide-latin-america-every-two-hours

  5. Hardin, M. (2002). Altering Masculinities: The Spanish Conquest and the Evolution of the Latin American Machismo. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies, 7(1), 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1013050829597

  6. Mendoza, E. (2009, October 15). Machismo Literature Review. https://www.rit.edu/liberalarts/sites/rit.edu.liberalarts/files/documents/our-work/2009-12.pdf

  7. Morán Breña, C. (2020, February 12). Un brutal Feminicidio en México cuestiona la filtración de imágenes que hace la policía. El País. https://elpais.com/sociedad/2020/02/11/actualidad/1581458921_638096.html?rel=str_articulo#1582057787912

  8. UN Women. (2021, October 12). Supporting rural and indigenous women in Argentina as gender-based violence rises during the covid-19 pandemic. UN Women – Headquarters. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/10/feature-supporting-rural-women-in-argentina-as-gender-based-violence-rises

  9. WHO. (2012, September 29). Understanding and addressing violence against women: Femicide. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-RHR-12.38

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