Shocked by women’s mur­ders, Latin Amer­i­cans fight back

The Myanmar Times - - World -

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 coun­tries – Chile, 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 labour unions and po­lit­i­cal par­ties are join­ing in.

“There is a change, and it’s very im­por­tant,” said Lak­shmi Puri, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of UN Women.

“This whole cry of zero tol­er­ance is now catch­ing on ev­ery­where.”

Ms 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 fu­elled the vi­o­lence. Of the 25 coun­tries that reg­is­ter the most women’s mur­ders world­wide, half are in Latin Amer­ica.

“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 on the US bor­der. But that move­ment was mainly con­fined to vic­tims’ friends and fam­i­lies.

Lately, there has been a broader, re­gion-wide “wake-up call”, she said.

In Ar­gentina, the protests started 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 Ms Es­tevez – and not just to mo­bilise 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 re­alise 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 le­galise di­vorce and abor­tion, 19 women have been killed by their part­ners so far this year, ac­tivists say.

One case hor­ri­fied the coun­try in June, when a man set fire to his ex­girl­friend’s house, badly burn­ing her and killing her three daugh­ters.

“Women are re­port­ing [do­mes­tic vi­o­lence] much more, but they still put up with it for 10 years first,” said Ms Sa­mu­niski.

She is push­ing for Uruguay to pass a law im­pos­ing harsher sen­tences for “femi­cide”, as 16 Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries have done.

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. –

Photo: AFP

Women take part in a march in Buenos Aires to protest vi­o­lence against women and the bru­tal killing of a 16-year-old girl in Mar del Plata.

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