In recent years there have been 442,056 complaints of violence against women registered in this country and less than 20% of these cases go to court.
“I have loved you all my life”. These were the words of a lover standing at the grave of their partner in the corner of the Pampa de la Cruz cemetery in the village of Villa Primero de Mayo.
A man visiting the woman he loves. It would all have been perfectly normal if only he was not also her ex-stepfather. Teresa (not her real name) was just 13 years old and still playing with dolls while he abused her in her own home.
Although the stepfather was not the killer, the acts he carried out against his stepdaughter are a clear example of the hundreds of cases of sexual violence in Bolivian homes that are revealed to be down to members of the same family.
Teresa however is not the only victim of domestic violence. Last February, the 55-year-old entrepreneur Lenny Flores, a native of La Paz was killed by her ex-husband.
Another highly publicised crime was that of a journalist from a private channel of Television PAT, Hanalí Huaycho Hannover, whose husband stabbed her at home more than a dozen times in front of her 5-year-old son. Her husband was under the influence of alcohol at the time.
Hanali died while being taken to hospital in the city of El Alto.
These three women are just a sample of the more than 30,000 complaint cases that already make up part of the statistics, which in February had recorded 29 violent deaths of both girls and women. 21 are femicide cases (72.41%) and 8 cases are due to civil insecurity (27.59%).
Such figures do not seem to wane even after Law 348 was passed by the Legislature on March 12th, 2013, entitled “Comprehensive Law Guaranteeing Women a life free of violence.”
This aims to create prevention and protection mechanisms to defend the integrity of women and incorporate femicide as a criminal offense, bringing the sentence to 30 years in prison without possibility of reprieve.
The term femicidio is a neologism in Spanish created by the translation of the English word femicide and coined to define a type of violence that has recently attracted attention in Latin America. “to die from being a woman”.
Various women’s rights organisations participated in the bill, which also distinguish other types of femicide homicide.
One such organisation is CIDEM (Centre for Information and Development of Women), run by Mary Brand. This organisation has carried out a thorough research on gender violence issues. “According to our monitoring of the media, from January to April 30, 2013 a total of 44 women have been registered as killed,” said Mary Brand.
According to figures from the World Health Organisation, the consumption of alcoholic beverages in Bolivia is equal to 8.3 litres per head, almost 50% above the average for Latin America (5.7 litres).
These figures show the vulnerability of both women and girls, as well as the need to promote effective measures for their protection.
Another motive is the immunity enjoyed by members of the police or the army, to whom they were attributed 2 in 10 cases of violence.
In fact, a Colonel of the Brigade for the Protection of the Family of La Paz, reported a disturbing increase in violence, especially psychologically against women in the Government Leadership.
However poverty, infidelity and gender-based discrimination are a determining factor in the commission of violence related crimes against women and girls while older adults continue to be the family members at a greater degree of risk.
According to a report issued by the United Nations in 2012, 7 out of 10 women have experienced violence within the family which represents an increase of 8% compared to previous years which shows a disturbing reality.
According to a study by the Adjuntoria y Actuaciones Especiales in the area of Women’s Rights in 2012, there have been 335 cases of violence in Bolivia, recording the following figures the districts of Cochabamba (170) followed by Oruro (41), Chuquisaca (36) and Potosi (26). This data is shocking when one considers that there are only 27 cases that have been sentenced.
Yolanda Herrera, president of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia says: “Unfortunately we must recognise that this data handled in the different ombudsmen and family courts are true.”
In rural areas the situation is more complex because the majority of care and access to justice are concentrated in urban areas, an aspect that causes double discrimination of women and girls, since they do not report violence by factors such as poverty, poor access to facilities and ignorance of their rights.
On the other hand and according to the report of the General Command of the Police, the Brigade for the Protection of Families was attended by more than 18,000 cases of domestic violence, of which 5,000 were in the city of Cochabamba, 4,000 in Santa Cruz and 3,192 in La Paz.
According to data from CIDEM in its latest survey in 2012, one woman dies every three days through being a victim of child and adolescent crimes. Between January and June 2012, 37.21% of victims were under 20 years.
These figures are even more disturbing when you consider that for every 10 people who come to the Municipal Legal Services (SLIM), 9 are women, and 62% are children.
Similarly, another study by UN Women says that 50% of Bolivian women have a frequent or very frequent violence against women in the family circle or close.
In addition, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has published that 53% of Bolivian women acknowledged have suffered some form of violence at some point in their lives.
Many women’s groups in Bolivia believe that the government still has a long way to ensure the protection of women’s rights.
Solutions to the problem
In addition to incorporating the femicide as a crime and raising the sentence to 30 years in prison without possibility of pardon, 18 criminal types have been put into place to be processed by persons who have engaged some form of violence against women.
The Task Force to Combat Domestic Violence (FELCV) for prevention, rescue, and research on violence against women was also created.
The new law is an important step, but it is limited in its ability to address an issue which according to sociologist and feminist Ximena Machicao is acceptable in society.
“Yet violence against women is seen as normal, this is socially legitimised, and I have the view that laws to cut gaps contribute to ending certain impunity, but this is not sufficient until there is a change of beliefs, customs, habits or attitudes in society as a whole.”
The United Nations has praised Bolivia to enact the new law against violence against women.
Now it remains to be seen whether the state will ensure the effective implementation of the law while women continue their struggle against femicide and all forms of gender violence.
(Translated by Amanda Flanaghan)