Shocked by women’s mur­ders, Latin Amer­i­cans to fight back

Cry of zero tol­er­ance now catch­ing on ev­ery­where

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Floren­cia was just 10 years old when her step­fa­ther suf­fo­cated her with a plas­tic bag. Lu­cia was 16 when two men drugged her, raped her and fa­tally im­paled her on a spike. Jose­line was 22 when she was found stran­gled to death, her body cov­ered in bruises. They are three of the lat­est vic­tims in a wave of hor­rific vi­o­lence against women and girls that is stok­ing out­rage in Latin Amer­ica.

These three young women’s coun­triesChile, Ar­gentina and Mex­ico-have, like much of the re­gion, been swept by protests con­demn­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, machismo and what ac­tivists call a cul­ture that val­ues women less than men. The move­ment is gain­ing mo­men­tum. In Peru, Pres­i­dent Pe­dro Pablo Kuczyn­ski joined a protest in Au­gust that drew 50,000 peo­ple. Across the re­gion, pow­er­ful la­bor unions and po­lit­i­cal par­ties are join­ing in.

“There is a change, and it’s very im­por­tant,” said Lak­shmi Puri, the deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of UN Women. “This whole cry of zero tol­er­ance is now catch­ing on ev­ery­where.” Puri com­pared what is hap­pen­ing in Latin Amer­ica to her na­tive In­dia, where shock over the bru­tal gang rape and tor­ture of a 23-year-old stu­dent un­leashed a his­toric protest move­ment in 2012. “It’s that same out­rage now that is be­ing pro­voked by this grue­some and bru­tal vi­o­lence that is per­pe­trated against women and girls” in Latin Amer­ica, she told AFP. She con­demned the re­gion’s “cul­ture of machismo,” say­ing it fu­eled the vi­o­lence. Of the 25 coun­tries that reg­is­ter the most women’s mur­ders world­wide, half are in Latin Amer­ica, she said.

“It’s tremen­dously dan­ger­ous to be a woman in Latin Amer­ica,” said Ari­adna Es­tevez, a re­searcher in hu­man rights at the Na­tional Au­tonomous Univer­sity of Mex­ico. Mex­i­cans have been protest­ing vi­o­lence against women for at least 20 years, she said-start­ing with the bru­tal mur­ders of hun­dreds of women and girls in Ci­u­dad Juarez, on the US bor­der. But that move­ment was mainly con­fined to vic­tims’ friends and fam­i­lies.

Lately, there has been a broader, re­gion­wide “wake-up call,” she said. In Ar­gentina, the protests started last year with a move­ment called #NiU­naMenos (Not One Woman Less). Born on Twit­ter and Face­book, it has since spread to sev­eral other coun­tries. In Mex­ico, it is called the Vi­o­let Spring (#Pri­mav­er­aVi­o­leta). “So­cial net­works played a fun­da­men­tal role,” said Es­tevez-and not just to mo­bi­lize peo­ple. “It was also a form of cathar­sis,” she said. “A lot of women had never talked about sex­ual ha­rass­ment and the vi­o­lence they had faced. You re­al­ize it’s not just you, it’s the ma­jor­ity of women.” That is the case in Brazil, where the hash­tag #MeuPrimeiroAsse­dio (My First Ha­rass­ment) has gone vi­ral. In Uruguay, where so­cial worker Fanny Sa­mu­niski has been help­ing abused women for years, she says she has no­ticed a change. “Now they ar­rive ask­ing, What are my rights?” she said.

In Uruguay, one of the first coun­tries in deeply Catholic Latin Amer­ica to le­gal­ize di­vorce and abor­tion, 19 women have been killed by their part­ners or exes so far this year, ac­tivists say. One case hor­ri­fied the coun­try in June, when a man set fire to his ex-girl­friend’s house, badly burn­ing her and killing her three daugh­ters and a friend. “Women are re­port­ing (do­mes­tic vi­o­lence) much more, but they still put up with it for 10 years first,” said Sa­mu­niski.

Part of the prob­lem, she said, is they of­ten have no means to sup­port them­selves. She is push­ing for Uruguay to pass a law im­pos­ing harsher sen­tences for “femi­cide,” as 16 Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries have done. Sa­mu­niski, who is nearly 80, said she has seen an awak­en­ing in the re­gion. “The women of my gen­er­a­tion were much more timid. They (the younger gen­er­a­tions) are fight­ers,” she said. Women to­day are “born and raised in an­other con­text,” with more ac­cess to eco­nomic and ed­u­ca­tional re­sources, said Maria Nieves Rico, an Ar­gen­tine who fo­cuses on gen­der is­sues at the UN’s Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion for Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean. Change in the re­gion will take time, but “we are hear­ing their voices, and that al­ways helps. Si­lence does not,” she said. — AFP

CI­U­DAD JUAREZ, Mex­ico: This file photo taken on Oc­to­ber 12 2003 shows wooden crosses in a waste land at the place where the corpses of eight women were found mur­dered in 2001. — AFP

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