COLOMBIA: Colombia unveils tough steps to tackle violence against women

Thursday, January 26, 2012
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Colombia has unveiled plans for new laws to tackle high levels of violence against women, in what is being billed as the Andean nation's most important initiative in decades to tackle the widespread problem.

The series of reforms aim to provide better protection for women and their children who are victims of domestic violence and make is easier to report and prosecute perpetrators of violence against women.

Under the new laws, doctors and nurses would have to report to authorities cases of domestic violence they come across during their work, a move the government hopes will raise awareness about the problem and lead to more convictions involving cases of domestic violence.

In addition, police would have greater powers to evict those who are violent towards women and their children from their homes and enforce restraining orders. And the government also plans to provide generous tax breaks to companies who employ women who have suffered domestic violence.

“With these regulations, the country is taking a huge step to protect women's rights,” Cristina Plazas, chief government advisor on gender and women rights, said during the official announcement of the reforms earlier this week.

According to Colombia's National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, 125 women were killed by their husbands or partners in Colombia in 2010 and nearly 51,200 women were victims of domestic violence. In many cases, assaults on women are carried out by men under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Violence against women is thought to be far higher than official figures show, say local women's groups, as women often feel too ashamed to come forward to report the crime. Some doubt they will receive help from the police, while others do not know where to get help.

Threats and fear of reprisals from their attackers also deter women who suffer domestic violence to report the crime, and when they do it is not uncommon for them to retract their statements.

Prevailing attitudes in Colombian society tend to condone assaults against woman and domestic violence is seen widely as a private issue that should be resolved behind closed doors.

Under current gender laws, the onus is placed on the victim of domestic violence to report the crime, and only when she reports it may a legal case against the aggressor be brought forward.

But if these new laws get passed, any person can report incidences of domestic violence, which could lead to prosecution. The reforms will need to go through four debates to be approved.