Gender: VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

By Gasman, Nadine; Alvarez, Gabriela | Americas Quarterly, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Gender: VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN


Gasman, Nadine, Alvarez, Gabriela, Americas Quarterly


Violence against women, a result of gender inequality and unequal power relations between men and women, is a pervasive phenomenon. It occurs in all social classes and in all countries, from the most developed to the least developed. Despite progress in policies and legislation, it remains one of the top human rights issues in the Americas today.

Although little research exists, available data suggest the situation is bleak across the region. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that up to 40 percent of women in the region have been victims of violence at some point during their lives.1 And, according to figures from the 2004 Demographic and Health Surveys Project, 44 percent of women in Colombia have suffered from spousal violence. In Peru, physical violence affects 47 percent of women.

Femicide-the killing of women-has reached alarming levels in Latin America. The most recent region-wide statistics available, from 2003, show that seven Latin American countries score among the worst 10 nations when measuring the rate of femicide per one million women in 40 countries. In 2003, Guatemala had the world's highest rate with 123 femicides per one million women. Colombia (70), El Salvador (66), Bolivia (43), Dominican Republic (37), Mexico (24), and the United States (22) followed.2 More recent figures from Guatemala showed that in 2006 two women, on average, were murdered each day.

Violence against women and girls not only costs lives, but stunts social and economic opportunities. Globally, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16. A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2003 the costs of domestic violence in the United States exceeded $5.8 billion per year, with $4.1 billion going to direct medical and health care services and $1.8 billion the result of absenteeism.3

There have been encouraging legislative responses around the world. A 2006 study by the United Nations Secretary General on all forms of violence against women reported that 89 countries have passed some legislation on domestic violence, and a growing number of countries have launched national plans of action. However, in 102 countries there are no specific legal provisions against domestic violence, and in at least 53 nations marital rape is not a prosecutable offense.4

Over the last 30 years, most Latin American governments have implemented policies and passed legislation to address the issue. Many of these changes are guided by a regional legislative instrument, the Inter-American Convention of Belem do Para (1994), which recommends that states amend their penal codes to impose penalties for violence against women and adopt measures that prevent perpetrators from harassing, intimidating or threatening victims.

The convention also urges states to establish effective legal procedures for victims, including access to restitution and reparations. More recently, since 2005, six Latin American countries have focused on second- generation legislation, which has broadened the focus to address violence against women in the areas of migration, trafficking and conflict and crisis situations. …

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