Why We are Hopeful for Ending Violence Against Women in Latin America
By Laura Wilson, Women’s Human Rights Attorney
January 21st, 2020
The news from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras paints a grim picture of life for women and girls. But two days spent with Central American human rights leaders filled us with hope. In December 2019, GRW joined a group of women’s advocates, attorneys, police and government officials from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in Antigua, Guatemala.
We were invited by UN Women to facilitate a workshop on Coordinated Community Response (CCR), a method of organizing multi-sectoral systems to end violence against women and girls.
Women and girls in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras face some of the highest risks of femicide in the world. (Femicide is the kiling of women and girls because of their gender, often in the context of domestic violence, sexual violence and exploitation, or in retaliation for challenging gender norms.) Impunity for violence against women is rampant; according to official data collected by criminal justice agencies, 98% of reported femicides in the region remain unsolved.
In recent years, human rights bodies have implored all three countries to improve investigations and prosecution of domestic and sexual violence and disappearances of women and girls, but the rates of violence against women remain staggering. Impunity thrives in a climate of social instability and collusion of corrupt government officials with powerful abusers – including those affiliated with gangs and drug cartels.
So, what fueled our hope during that week in Guatemala? The inspiring human rights advocates we met, and the unique role GRW can play in changing the climate of tolerance for violence.
We felt hope when an advocate from the longest-running domestic violence program in Guatemala – founded over 30 years ago – described their tireless advocacy for the family of a femicide victim, all the way up to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
We felt hope when a police officer from San Salvador (a city notorious for police corruption) said, “Women are being targeted because of their gender. Our job is to protect women’s lives.”
We felt hope when members of the Indigenous Women’s Ministry in Guatemala told us that listening to input from survivors is a cornerstone of their work.
We felt hope when a high-ranking government official said, “There is so much to learn.”
Not only is there hope – there is an ethical imperative for our work in Central America.
After all, the plague of violence and repression in Central America is rooted in U.S. government support of violent, authoritarian regimes over the past several decades. (Read more on the historical link between U.S. policies and the crisis of violence and impunity in Central America here.)
Whether driven by their own victimization, the murder of family members, economic repression or the constant threat of violence, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have fled North to the United States. (For an excellent account of the forces behind women’s migration, see UNHCR’s Women on the Run: First-Hand Accounts of Refugees Fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.) Instead of finding a safe haven, women and children are jailed at the border; families are forcibly separated; and asylum seekers languish in dangerous camps in Mexico pending decisions on their cases.
Violence against women in Central America is not just a problem for Guatemala, or Honduras, or El Salvador to solve. Just as women fleeing violence cross borders, so too does our mission to stand up for women’s human rights.
With our staff’s expertise in systemic advocacy and our deep familiarity with women’s human rights movements worldwide, GRW can play a fundamental role in changing the landscape for women and girls.
Although all three countries have passed solid legislation on violence against women, participants in our workshop described how implementation of those laws remains challenging due to insufficient resources, lack of accountability among government officials, and poor coordination, among other barriers.
These are familiar challenges for GRW. For instance, in Moldova, we worked with the Women’s Law Center to monitor the court system’s response to domestic and sexual violence, identifying systemic gaps and making recommendations for change. In Georgia, we helped to improve the police response to domestic violence by engaging a multisectoral team to develop a risk assessment tool which will be used to identify the most dangerous perpetrators.
Risk assessment tools make violence visible to practitioners across the system, and inform decisions that keep women safer and hold perpetrators accountable. In all of our initiatives, we engage local communities in coordinated systemic advocacy – the practice we introduced during our workshop in Guatemala.
As we spoke with participants at the close of our workshop, dreams for future collaboration took form. At GRW, we look forward to continuing our work in solidarity with our partners in Central America as we strive for a world where women and girls live free from violence.