GUATEMALA: Violence Towards Women: Rhetoric In Guatemala

Friday, February 17, 2012
The Prisma
Central America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Human Rights

In 2008, the Guatemalan parliament passed a law against ‘femicide' (even though it's a word you won't find in a dictionary) as well as against other forms of violence towards women.

The purpose of this is to ensure in the eyes of the law a sense of safety, freedom, integrity, dignity, protection and equality for all women. In addition, it aims to take action against those who assault women and commit discriminatory acts towards them, whether it be physical or psychological violence, as well as taking advantage of women economically and disrespecting their human rights.

The overall aim is to promote and put into place rules that will bring about the eradication of physical, emotional, sexual, psychological and economic violence, or in fact any kind of coercion used against women as described in the Guatemalan constitution, as well as other international organisations, concerning human rights of women, all of which are guaranteed by the state.

Various social organisations have made the effort to apply the the letter of the law, but given that male chauvinism is so deeply rooted in the foundations of the society, the reality is that they have been able to do very little. Examples of violence, human rights being trampled on and marginalisation are daily occurrences – above all amongst the indigenous population.

A well known Guatemalan, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Latin American press about the hell she went through for various years during her married life – if we can call it this.

The husband in question, who appeared to be a normal, regular person, would never act in a strange way at work or in public. But once he crossed the threshold of his house, his behaviour towards his wife and two children would change completely.

He used to simply ignore the children and take out all his anger, disappointment and little accumulated grievances on his wife. Over the slightest thing, he would apparently start hitting her.

Furthermore, her father-in-law, who would often travel to visit them under the pretence of a family visit to see his grandchildren, would also slap her from time to time to make the bruises and marks on her face all the worse.

Then one glorious day she finally said to her self ‘enough is enough', and, taking advantage of him being away, took her young children by the hand and left the house, a place where in reality she had as much right to stay as he did.They spent quite some time in hiding, as she knew her husband would try and find them. This was until one woman encouraged her to go to the authorities and report the abuse she had suffered.

It was a step many of her fellow Guatemalans fear taking for the fear of a possible retaliation.

For there are still no real punishments in place for violent husbands – divorce is not an option – and as so many similar cases go unpunished, it means that a lot of women are living in fear of crossing paths with their violent husbands, who this time might harbour even worse intentions than before.

This is just one of the thousands of cases of domestic violence registered. Of course, many other cases remain unreported and that's not to mention the many other cases which have had tragic endings.

Take the case of a young girl living in a town in one of the provinces of Guatamala who was similarly tired of being mistreated by her other half. This time, however, they weren't married, just living together. She ended the relationship but he refused to accept it was over, insisting again and again that they should get back together.

He asked to meet her in an isolated place to have a final chat about everything, suggesting it take place during the daytime in order to avoid arousing suspicion. But when they met by the bank of a river he brutally attacked her, disfiguring her face. After the incident was reported to the police, the man was arrested, but he was soon set free, and with a hunger for revenge.

The consequence of this was that the girl disappeared, and a few days later she was discovered dead.

It is calculated that during the past decade in Guatemala there have been around five thousand women murdered, most of which can be categorised as part of the 98% of cases of impunity regarding all types of criminal acts on a national level.

In line with its intention to fight against violence, the new Guatemalan government, instated on 12 January 2012, has implemented new measures, focusing on the most common crimes, one of which being femicide.

These new measures will tackle the most shocking cases, and will work to improve the life of these people, in a country considered to have very high levels of male violence towards women, as well as femicide.

Recently, two winners of the Nobel Prize, American Jody Williams and Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu, carried out, with other activists, investigations into the murders of women in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

In the case of her own country, Menchu assured that enquiries will be made into the fulfilment of the promises made by current president Otto Perez Molina's campaign against gender-based violence.

The director of funds of the United Nations in Guatemala explained how cases of femicide don't only occur after husbands murder their partners after a period where they are mistreated and subjected to insults and disdain.

According to her, in the majority of cases death occurs where there is an unequal power balance in a couple's relationship.