women & girls, Womens issues

Community Action Protocol: Step by Step Guides

The Women’s Network of Morazán continue to develop their community Action Protocol to address the very real problem of gender violence in the department. This month they began working on an important section, the actual step by step guides that different actors should follow in order to ensure the safety, justice and healing for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

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Womens issues

El Salvador’s Abortion Law in the News

El Salvador’s tough abortion law has been in the international news lately.

This morning, Trust Law told the story of a 27-year-old mentally ill woman who was sentenced to two years in prison for terminating her pregnancy. The woman, whose name has been withheld, went to the hospital this year with complications from an alleged self-induced abortion. She was arrested and in August a judge sentenced her to two years in prison for violating El Salvador’s complete ban on abortion, which includes cases of rape, incest, and when the health of the woman is at risk.

While in jail the woman tried to commit suicide by slitting her wrist with a rusty nail. Authorities responded by committing her to a psychiatric ward where “she now lies handcuffed in a hospital bed under the watch of an armed policeman.” Once released from the psychiatric ward she’ll have to return to prison.

Another case that has received a lot of international attention lately is that of Sonia Tabora, who is also mentioned in the Trust Law article. Ms. Tabora’s case is also tragic. In 2005 she was seven months pregnant when she went into pre-term labor. Family members found her collapsed and lying in her own blood so they rushed her to the local clinic where doctors delivered her stillborn baby. The doctor suspected that Ms. Tabora had tried to terminate her pregnancy and reported her to the police. Upon arrival the police handcuffed her to her bed and placed her under arrest. Later in the year a judge found her guilty of murder, a crime with a much stiffer sentence than the abortion law.

Family, friends and women’s rights activists fought her case for years and she was finally released from prison in August after spending seven years in prison and suffering a mental breakdown. Salvadoran human rights attorney Victor Hugo Mata Tobar, who has worked with Voices on a few issues, has defended several women pro bono, including Sonia Tabora, who have been accused of violating El Salvador’s abortion law or murder. Here are a couple videos about Ms. Tabora’s case – sorry, they are in Spanish:

 

 

In September, Morena Herrera told Contrapunto that she has identified at least 24 women who are currently incarcerated with 30-year sentences for violating the ban on abortion but were charged with murder.

Such aggressive enforcement of El Salvador’s abortion laws has a tremendous impact on women. Between 30 and 40% of women experience a miscarriage, but such strict enforcement of El Salvador’s abortion laws have created a chilling affect in which women are afraid to seek medical care and doctors are afraid to care for them without calling the police.

The issue is compounded by other women’s rights issue, including femicide (El Salvador has the highest rate in the world), sexual violence, economic disparity, and others. For example, in 2010, the Ministry of Health reported that 26,662 girls and adolescent women between 10 and 19 years of age were pregnant and accounted for 1/3 of all births that year. The same age group also accounted for 1/3 of all maternal deaths, 40% of which were suicides.

Advocacy, Equality, violence, Womens issues

Women in El Salvador and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

For some, it was a day of turkey feasts and family gatherings, but for many more, November 25th was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Designated by the United Nations back in 1999, it now marks the beginning of a 16-day campaign of activism that culminates in Human Rights Day (December 10).  According to the United Nations Population Fund, November 25th marks the start of 16 days of activism against gender violence by highlighting 16 forms of gender violence and proposing 16 ways to stop it (read more here on UNFPA’s page and on Rutgers’ official campaign page).

In El Salvador, Contrapunto prefaced the holiday by featuring two articles addressing the status of women in the region.  One article, “The ‘sin’ of being a women in a machista country,” highlighted the high level of violence women in the country face, pointing out that El Salvador has the world’s highest “femicide” or homicide rate for women of 129.46 per million women.  The article denounces not only the physical violence women face, but also the sexual violence, and recounts a recent case where evangelical pastor Antonio Moreno was arrested and charged in the rape of 13 female minors and two male minors.  The author also decries El Salvador’s 197% increase in violence against women from 1999 to 2009, according to United Nations Development Program representative Richard Barath.

Violence against women comes in many forms, some of which are less obvious to a largely patriarchal society in which male abuse of women can be considered “normal,” the author states.  The Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo de la Mujer (ISDEMU) (Salvadoran Institute for Women’s Development) gathered data this year for its Second National Report on the Situation of Violence Against Women in El Salvador and reported that from January 1 to November 5, 2010, the institute handled 6,320 cases of violence against women.  The National Civil Police (PNC) gave equally alarming figures, stating that there were 477 women murdered from January to October 2010, with 193 of those murders occurring in the capital city alone.  Ima Guirola of the Instituto de Estudios de la Mujer “Norma Virginia Girola de Herrera” (CEMUJER) summarized the figures differently:  in 2010, a woman is murdered every 13 hours.  85% of reported cases involve a perpetrator known to the women, and 76% of women who have suffered sexual abuse faced that abuse when they were younger than 19.  Both institutes have denounced what they consider to be cultural legitimization of violence against women coupled with a lack of strong institutions for criminal prosecution.

Another article in the same publication, entitled “Discrimination against women is latent,” focused on the November 17-19 visit of Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, Rapporteur on the Rights of Women from the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (see IACHR press release here).  Mejía Guerrero acknowledged that there was political will to see an end to violence and discrimination against women, but stressed that the government needed to take more steps to improve the situation on many levels, with special attention to the weaknesses in the justice system.  Mejía Guerrero judged El Salvador’s judicial system to be weak due to the large number of cases of violence against women that go unpunished because of “a lack of tools that facilitate the investigation process and victim’s compensation.”  According to the Attorney General’s Office, of the 6,803 cases of sexual crimes against women that took place between 2008 and 2009, only 436 have obtained convictions.  Mejía Guerrero stated that the problem is also a regional one, which encompasses a wide range of discrimination against women, including economic, social, and cultural rights.  According to a 2009 report by Consejo por la Igualdad y la Equidad (CIE), El Salvador has a 14% gap in salary between men and women, with women also reporting numerous labor violations such as unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, and exploitation.

Given these troubling statistics, the situation women face in El Salvador is as unacceptable as it is worrisome, and merits serious attention by the Funes administration.  Given the government’s pro-life crackdown and constitutional amendments that go to extreme lengths in order to preserve a life beginning at the point of conception, it is puzzling why the government has not done more to advance and protect the rights of women once they are indeed born.

Public Health, violence, Womens issues

Interview with Ana Carcedo

December 1 2009

Ana Carcedo is the Director of CEFEMINA (Feminist Information and Action Center) in San José, Costa Rica.  Partnering with UNIFEM and Horizons of Friendship, CEFEMINA has been conducting much needed research into the past decade’s sharp increase in femicides in Central America.

Ms. Carceredo was careful to distinguish between homicides involving women and femicides where women are targeted based on their gender.  In 2000 the average central American female homicide rate was 3 out of every 100,000 women.  It has now doubled to 6 out of 100,000 and has reached 10/100,00 in the more violent of the countries: El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic.  Their research shows than three quarters of these murders are in fact femicides.

The researchers are finding that these femicides fall into five scenarios. Domestic violence is the most traditionally recognized motivation for femicide, but violence stemming from both organized crime and gangs has become alarming.  Organized crime circuits are responsible for human trafficking, most often victimizing women.  The rising influence of gangs such as MS 13 and the 18 heavily exert control over women in marginalized urban communities.  This scenario has become the most prevalent cause of femicide in several countries.  Femicides are also linked to acts of vengeance. For example, loan sharks will target a debtor’s wife.   Finally, researchers have defined a scenario of misogynist cleansing.  These crimes demonstrate an extreme level of violence against its victims, including mutilated genitalia, degrading words defacing the corpse, and evidence of sexual and/or other forms of torture.

The territory for violence has been re-drawn to increasingly include women.  Where disputes were more often resolved between those directly involved, it has become more common to see violence against wives and daughters.  Also, such acts are more often seen in the street – they are no longer hidden behind private doors.  There are fewer and fewer secure areas for women to find refuge.

Trends show that victims are overwhelmingly young, and the crimes are much more likely to be committed with firearms.  The average age of femicide victims is between 15 and 25.  Younger women are more vulnerable in relationships where they are un-able to set limits, leave their partner, or seek support.  It is also largely younger women affected by gang violence.  They can be either targeted by rival gang members or subjected to violence from with in their own gang’s hierarchy.  Whereas 20 years ago femicides were more often linked to domestic violence and committed with other weapons (armas blancas) such as knives, machetes or other farm implements, today’s crimes are predominantly committed with guns.

CEFEMINA’s research also looks at the judicial and public media response to the incidence of femicides.  The findings come of no surprise, but few investigations provide the necessary documentation of these responses; which are needed for further analysis.  Within Central American judicial systems there is a consistent pattern of negligence.  Police do not investigate, they do not collect evidence, and they do not identify guilty parties.  They often arrive at crime scenes and assume a scenario based on circumstantial evidence.  For example, if a young woman’s body is found along the street of a drug dealing territory, they close the case on the assumption of a drug related dispute.  Evidence of sexual violence is not taken into account and no other hypothesis can take form.  Without proper investigations it is difficult to determine whether a women is a victim of a homicide or a femicide.  Researchers have had to depend on media reports of the crimes to make the distinction. The study has followed several cases all the way through the judicial system to identify exactly what obstacles exist and to offer viable reforms to remove them.  If Central American countries do not take action against the violence and strengthen their judicial systems to decrease impunity, these trends will only grow worse.



violence, Womens issues

Central American coalition raises a clarion call to stop violence against women as Canadians remember the Montreal Massacre

Our good friends at Horizons of Friendship just sent out this press release regarding their campaign to stop violence against women in Central America. This past Tuesday, Ana Carcedo, who has been working on a report on the dramatic increase of femicide in Central America, was our panelist for the Voices Virtual Delegation.  This is a growing issue throughout the region and we applaud their work to raise awareness and advocate for necessary policy changes. We will post a link to their final report on femicide when it is published.

Cobourg December 3, 2009-This week Horizons of Friendship staff will travel to Costa Rica to join with its partner, the Central American Feminist Network to End Violence towards Women, in the release of a pivotal report on femicide; the systematic killing of women based on their gender. The study and the policy recommendations will be presented directly to The Council of Ministers for Women in Central America (COMMCA), an official body established by the governments of the region.  The study, which has been supported by Horizons of Friendship and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), will focus on six Central American countries:  Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.  Horizons Executive Director Patricia Rebolledo will be present when the report is released, and states, “it is important for Canadians to understand the level of violence towards women and to raise our voices of concern, and to support initiatives to stop this violence”.

Just as the Montreal massacre at the École Polytechnique twenty years ago helped lift the veil of silence that concealed violence against women in Canada, the Central American Feminist Network to End Violence towards Women is likewise raising the alarm bell.  According to the study, while murder rates are on the rise in many parts of Central America, women are being affected disproportionately. For example, between 2000 and 2006, killings of men in El Salvador increased by 40%, while female murders grew by 111%.  In Guatemala, the killing of men doubled from 1990 to 2004, while rates for women tripled. The most extreme case is Honduras (scene of a recent military-backed coup d’état) where from 2003 to 2007, the killing of women grew four times faster than that of men.  Most shocking, an increasing number of these slayings have been accompanied by signs of brutal torture, mutilations and rape.

Undoubtedly, part of the violence can be attributed to the legacy of civil wars in the region and a culture of impunity for abuses committed. However, the study finds that the dramatic increase in femicides is directly related to high levels of poverty and growing inequities that have resulted from an economic model which has exacerbated the social exclusion of women and other marginalized communities. The causes of this crisis are complex but are rooted in a patriarchal culture which is based on unequal power relations between men and women.

“Increasingly, women have become targets of the shady ‘businesses’ that have emerged from this model” according to Ana Carcedo, a professor of women’s’ studies at the Universidad de Costa Rica and the principal researcher of the study. “These include the trafficking of girls and women for labour or sexual exploitation, and criminal networks connected to drug trafficking, arms sales, hired assassins, and gangs operating at the national and international levels.  Gender relations and codes of conduct are being transformed in such a way that women are being viewed as ‘disposable’ and as pawns in territorial disputes”.

Corruption and the entrenchment of these criminal networks encourage the invisibility of femicide. And the failure of the authorities to adequately investigate the murders and prosecute those responsible is reinforcing an already existing climate of impunity.

Though awareness has been raised in Canada following the Montreal massacre, the issue is as pressing here as it is for our neighbours in Central America. Just one year ago, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued an urgent call to the Canadian government to carry out thorough investigations of the cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada; to examine the reasons for the failure to investigate these cases, and to take necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system.  
Background: Horizons of Friendship is the only Canadian charitable organization working exclusively in Central America and Mexico.  Since 1973, we have raised close to $74 million from individuals, organizations and governments across Canada for self-help projects that provide a viable alternative to poverty and injustice.  Projects are initiated by the communities themselves and address a variety of concerns:  livelihoods, indigenous peoples and women’s rights, health, education and the environment. It was founded by three friends in Cobourg, Ontario as a result of their volunteer experience in Honduras.

Its motto, Strength, Partnership and Commitment – defines the organization. The strength that comes from 36 years of experience, the focus on partnership and consensus with the people of the South and the commitment of the board, staff, volunteers and supporters allows the work to flourish.