Femicides: Latin America on Red Alert

Latin America is experiencing a worrying wave of sexist violence. Femicides are on the rise and the neglect of justice offers no hope.

Woman holds a sign that says 'Enough Femicide'

Photo: Nacho Doce-Reuters

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: Feminicidios: Latinoamérica en alerta roja

Mexico has set off the alarms of the continent in the face of the high cases of disappearances and femicides. The stories of María Fernanda Contreras, Debanhi Escobar and Diana Melissa Cárdenas, disappeared and murdered in this country, have traveled the world press. These are only 3 cases, among the thousands that have occurred on the continent. What is happening and what is the response of the authorities?

The “pandemic” in the shadow

During 2020, at least 4,091 women were murdered in Latin America. The Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean indicates that the highest rates of femicides corresponded to Honduras, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. However, no country on the continent escapes sexist violence. For this reason, ECLAC has assured that it is a true “shadow pandemic”.

2022 has been a tragic year for hundreds of women on the continent. However, there are problems in obtaining real figures that allow us to measure the true seriousness of the case.

In Mexico, around 229 femicides were registered between January and March of this year, according to information from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP). In addition, it is indicated that in these months there were 26,936 women who were victims of various crimes such as injuries, human trafficking and kidnapping. These are alarming figures that demand immediate action and show that femicide is only the tip of the iceberg of violence against women.

Other figures from countries on the continent show that it is not just a problem in Mexico. The organization Utopix has reported that during the first two months of 2022 there were 41 femicides in Venezuela. The Colombia Femicide Observatory indicates that there are 55 cases in the country. For its part, the Honduran Women's Law Center indicates that there are 82 cases as of March. In Argentina, the Femicide Observatory reported that 52 were presented between January and February 2022.

Negligent states and without justice

Most countries have major shortcomings in public policies to mitigate, prevent and care for victims of sexist violence. The figures for the year to date prove it. Likewise, there is widespread impunity, with difficulties in filing complaints, failures in the investigation and non-prosecution of those responsible, not to mention the collective imaginary regarding women that ends up fueling sexist violence. For example, in 2018, Ana Güezmes, representative of UN Women in Colombia, pointed out, in an interview for El Tiempo, that only 13% of femicide cases led to a conviction.

Various feminist collectives, organizations against human trafficking or that work for the disappeared have denounced the negligence of justice. In this regard, in Monterrey, Mexico, several groups covered the Government Palace and the Office of the Prosecutor with pamphlets searching for the disappeared women in protest at the slow pace of the investigations. In this regard, due to the case of Debanhi Escobar, two officials were suspended this Wednesday: the prosecutor in charge of the disappearance of persons and the official in charge of kidnappings.

Likewise, on many occasions the problem is trivialized. These are not crimes of passion or young people who left their homes of their own free will, and then disappeared because they were in the wrong place. We are talking about a systematic violence that plagues the continent. It is not about a girl who disappears in Mexico, one who is murdered in Colombia or one who was raped in Argentina.

It is a structural violence that does not respond to an isolated phenomenon, but to a lethal manifestation of gender violence, which feeds on the macho culture. In this sense, these crimes do not constitute any type of murder, but respond to motivations rooted in a system that favors the inequality and vulnerability of women, and legitimizes the use of violence against them. In Latin America it is dangerous to be a woman.

For this reason, it is urgent that protocols be established for specialized care. For example, in Mexico, the creation of a registry of sexual aggressors and femicides has been proposed to have a repository of data that can be used by security intelligence and the prosecution. Institutions are indebted to women and girls who have been victims of gender violence. We need urgent action so that, as a society, we can say: not one more.

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