Human Rights, Latin America

Feminicide: the new Pandemics

The wave of crimes against women in Latin America reveals the legal vacuum, the indifference of the authorities and the ineffectiveness of justice.

Ane Bores

Latin America is stained red. And once again the blood spilt belongs to a woman.

Unfortunately the number of violent crimes against the feminine gender has increased so much in recent years that the experts describe it as a pandemic.

And the figures speak for themselves. According to data supplied by the UN Development Programme in 2006, between 30% and 45% of women in Latin America have been the objects of physical, sexual or psychological violence from a man on some occasion.

In Mexico the number of victims reaches 44%, , followed by Colombia, Peru and Chile with around 40%. Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have recorded lower levels, between 20 and 30%, but still cause for concern.

However the real alarm has been sounded in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where the culture of hatred against women is deeply rooted.

If  we add to this the comprehensive failure of the judicial systems to act against this great social scar, we find in El Salvador that the number of victims has increased by 197%, making it the country with the highest level of violence against women in the world.

Disturbing Figures

At the present time, none of these countries has a system for recording cases of gender violence against women , which makes it impossible to know the exact extent of the problem, although thanks to the investigative work of several civil organizations we can reach an approximate figure.

In the case of Guatemala, according to data from SICA and COMMCA, 847 women were murdered in 2009. And the Associacion de Mujeres en  Solidaridad de Guatemala adds another 1,000 between January and november 2010.

According to the Fiscalia Especial de la Mujer in Honduras a total of 407 murders of women were committed in 2009, and 282 more between January and October 2010.

In El Salvador, the Instituto de medicina Legal recorded 592 murders of women in 2009 and 425 during the first 8 months of 2010.

According to the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, in Costa Rica 39 murders of women were recorded in 2009 and and at least 38 more during 2010.

In Panama, the Observatorio contra la Violencia noted 79 feminicides in 2009 and another 12 during the first 3 months of 2010.

Whilst in Puerto Rico the politician Martha Quiñones (UPR) stated during the First Latin-American Seminar on Feminicide that 15 women were murdered during the first 11 months of 2010.

In  Colombia 1,300 women have been murdered in the last 10 years, according to information collected by the press during the last meeting of the Latin-American and Caribbean Feminist Network for a Life Free of Violence against Women, which took place last August.

In Peru, 139 murders of women were recorded in 2009 and 22 more in the first 2 months of 2010, according to data from the Peruvian Ministry for Women.

According to the Rede Chileno Contra la Violencia Domestica y Sexual , 59 women were murdered during 2008 in Chile.

In Argentina, the Asociacion Casa del Encuentro noted 231 murders in 2009 and according to press sources, 206 murders of women and girls between January and the end of October 2010.

In the case of Uruguay, from data provided by the Observatorio de Criminalidad del Ministerio de Interior, 23 women were victims of gender violence in 2009 and another 17 during the first 8 months of 2010, according to the Red Uruguaya sobre Violencia Domestica.

In Paraguay, the minister Gloria Rubín stated during the First Latin-American Seminar on Feminicide, that there were 20 murders of women in the first 11 months of 2010. According to sources from the Centro de Informacion y Desarollo de la Mujer, 17 women were murdered in Bolivia in the first quarter of 2009. And according to the UN Organization, in the first 6 months of 2010 69 murders of women were reported in the whole country, with half of these crimes happening in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. And according to the same source “ each day some 14 women ask for assistance in health centres because of physical, sexual or psychological violence.

Finally, in the Dominican Republic, we find 199 feminicides during 2009 according to the Direccion de Estadística de la Procuradoría  General de la República.The Campaña por el Acceso a la Justicia de las Mujeres indicated another 76 cases during the first quarter of 2010.

All these figures, it is necessary to point out, are estimates for each country as a whole on the one hand; and also do not include the large number of other murders which are not reported by the families of the victims, either through fear, ignorance, or mistrust of the result of making a report, or else because of fear of the agressors.


But why do men use violence against women ? According to the Guatemalan sociologist  Carmen Rosa de León-Escribano, who is executive director of the Instituto de Enseñanza para el Desarollo (IEPADES, the Institute of Teaching for Development), in her article Violence and Gender in Latin America , these acts involve a considerable number of causes which can include domestic violence, street crime, racist attacks, territorial conflicts between mafias, sexual violence, and the result of armed conflicts led either by the state or by other armed groups.

However for Rebecca Grynspan, the regional director of the UN Development Programme (PNUD), other factors like social class and economic situation promote relations of inequality between the genders, since “ the more economic independence and decision-making power that women have, the lower are the levels of violence”.

In her opinion the Mexican academic Marcela Lagarde says in an interview for Pagina 12 , that discrimination against women in Latin America is encouraged by a serious social devaluation: “ They make jokes and commentaries on the inabilities of women, then they pick some women on which to vent their fury against others, and this feeds misogyny against all women. But it is not just misogyny, but the situation of women in society, which combined with misogyny puts women at risk of violence”. And she adds “ when we women in Mexico come to ask for action based on our rights we receive maltreatment and discrimination from the health and education services and from the justice system”

Feminicide or Femicide

In the International sphere, the term feminicide or femicide is adopted primarily to define “ all acts of violence based on gender which results in possible or actual physical, sexual or psychological damage, including threats, coercion or deprivation of liberty, whether it occurs in the public or private domain” (UNO 1994).

According to a number of experts, its meaning varies depending on the legal code in each country, given that each place has its own particular problems, but in all of them there are common features that can be identified, including hatred, the contempt for and devaluation of the lives of women, very often accompanied by torture, mutilations, cruelty, or by sexual violence based merely on gender.

These acts thus constitute a continual violation of the human rights and liberties of women, a clear demonstration of the inequality of power between women and men.

Machismo, religion, wars, and/or cultural problems are in many cases the source of economic, social and gender inequalities, and are like this because their acceptance is widespread, and the effort to eliminate this social scar in many countries is not undertaken.

And it is also true, as the Mexican academic Marcela Lagarde explains in Pagina 12, that there are other forms of violence against women that are present continually, and are tolerated by society and by the authorities: “ Even when women report violence, the authorities do not respond, and they are left at even greater rsik, ending by being murdered in many cases”.

In 1994, all the states of Latin America and the Caribbean ratified the “Convention de Belém do Pará” of the Organization of American States, in which they committed themselves to “ act with due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women” (art.7,b). Feminicide requires exactly that: to recognize the authors of violence which affects women exclusively, and to adopt legal measures to ensure that the agressor cannot intimidate, threaten, damage or put in danger the life of the woman by means of illegal actions against her integrity.

Social Indifference

But the struggle against feminicide is not just a question of laws, but of efficacy, that the justice system in each country functions correctly and that all the public institutions take action without showing themselves indifferent before this wave of crimes, working for prevention, investigation and the pursuit and punishment of the aggressors.

In Grynspan’s words “to combat impunity is of the utmost importance, but in order to do that, it is necessary to empower the judicial and police personnel when they intervene in this type of case”.

The Mexican Marcela Lagarde adds: “ Institutional machismo and misogyny lead the authorities to minimize the problem and not give it its true importance”.

A case in Guatemala

Despite the existence of the most comprehensive legislation against feminicide, Guatemala is today one of the countries with the highest incidence of murders of women in all of Latin America.

In this country feminicide is usually more connected with wars, given that the Guatemalan army employed these practices during 36 years of internal conflicts, and violence has still not been extinguished after the peace agreements. Women, especially indigenous women, were not only used as spoils of war, but the continued physical and sexual violence against them became part of the strategy of the state in fighting the insurgency.

A case in Colombia

In Colombian territory, the principle cause of feminicide is without doubt the armed conflicts.

According to information from the organization Casa de la Mujer, women are victims of physical and sexual violence by armed groups that are generally encountered in both urban and rural areas.

It seems, according to data from Medicina Legal, that the majority of the victims are usually members of an illegal group, but they also include peasant farm workers, prostitutes, indigenous women and drug addicts.

A Historic Sentence (The Mexican Case)

Without any doubt the sentence of Campo Algodonero, markede a watershed in the life of Latin America, because for the first time in history a state was found guilty of a feminicide.

The state was put directly in the dock for violating the right to life, integrity and personal freedom of three adolescents who were murdered in a place known as the Campo Algodonero (Cotton Field).

Mexico was sentenced to investigate the criminals in the context of a gender crime, and also the authorities that allowed them impunity were required to make a public apology to the families and to the community; to create a database of women who had disappeared; and  make financial compensation to the victims, among other things.

Despite all this, even today, the Mexican Government has not fulfilled all its obligations, and there are already 309 new cases of murders and disappearances recorded in 2010, which leads us to wonder about the real efficacy of justice.

And it is true that, according to data from the Universidad Autónoma de México (UAM), more than one third of all the crimes committed in the country are never reported, whilst only 1.6% of them ever come before a judge.

(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email:

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