GUATEMALA: Putting an End to Violence Against Women in Guatemala

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Central America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

This country was selected due to the growing violence against women, with the aim to give this issue more attention and thus facilitate the processes leading to its eradication.

On February 2008, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, launched a global campaign. The aim of this campaign is, once again, to request States to comply with the laws already in force in their countries. Above all, it asks governments to allocate real resources from their budgets to implement these laws and provide integrated services to eradicate violence against women overall.

Impunity has resulted in the perpetuation and worsening of femicides in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This campaign urges the States to make administrative and judiciary reforms to eradicate impunity from the legal system altogether.

Also, the campaign urges the States – and also civil society – to provide assistance and to respond to women victims and survivors of violence in all its forms.
The Campaign considers multiple forms of violence – physical, psychological, sexual and economic – as violations of women's human rights.

As stated by writer and activist María Suárez, “the campaign considers different forms of violence and their intrinsic relationship with socio-cultural, economic and political factors, and forms of behavior that correspond to inequalities of power and structural inequality between men and women. Race, ethnic origin and other factors of multiple discrimination (e.g. rural residence, disabilities, HIV/AIDS status) that affect women and girls in the region will be taken into account.”

"The focus, based respecting the human rights of women and girls, complements the view that violence must be confronted outside traditional spheres – beyond being an exclusively women's issue – with the aim of obtaining a wider and more effective response. The campaign will ensure a holistic and integrated focus on violence against women, encouraging collaboration with a wide range of sectors and actors (health, education, justice, security, employment, migration, etc.)."

UNIFEM hopes to generate "public awareness to build an equal and non-violent society through the Campaign by:
– making all manifestations of violence against women visible, including its new expressions;
– encouraging citizens to realize that “all of us, men and women, are leaders in change;
– building societies without violence against women;
– promoting greater action by public and private sectors;
– involving boys/girls, adolescents and youth.

Groups and organizations of women from civil society were invited to actively participate in the launch of the Regional Campaign. María Suárez stated “with the commitment of the agencies, we are ones who have put the issue on the international and national agendas, and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the 25th of November, was established from this movement, particularly, the feminist movement of the region at one of its Meetings.”

Why Guatemala?

Radio Internacional Feminista (RIF) carried out consultations with UNIFEM to jointly coordinate this launch. RIF published a report with shocking numbers - figures that reveal a reality that can no longer be kept hidden just because it is not exposed in the mass media, or just because hundreds of cases go unpunished.

The RIF reports that “in 2007, Guatemala ranked third in Latin America in killings of women. However, in 2009, it rose to first place. From January to May 2009 alone, 265 cases of femicide were recorded.”
From 2005 to 2007, of the 1,960 killings of women, "in only 43 of them were those responsible convicted: this explains the increase in killings in 2008, because in the three previous years, 1,912 killers were absolved.
From the entry into force of the Law against femicide in May 2008, only two offenders were condemned, despite the fact that that year, 722 women died due to violent causes. (Sobrevivientes)
Of the total number of women murdered, 32% were killed at home, 43% outside their homes, and 25% were homeless. In 2008, there were 39,400 complaints of intrafamily violence before judges, of which 95% were presented by women. From 2008, 2,000 complaints were made to the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Women (Fiscalía de Delitos contra la mujer). (Observatorio de la Trasgresión Feminista, or OTF)”.

In May 2009 in Guatemala, the 7th Observatorio de la Transgresión Feminista (Feminist Transformation Watch) was held. It is a methodology and political action seeking to support, give visibility to and protect women's transformative actions to challenge and change patriarchal power systems and practices.
Participants in the observatory were 18 feminists on site (including communicators and academics) from six countries (Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, the U.S., Nicaragua and Guatemala) and 31 virtual observers. The aim of OTF was to raise awareness of the situation of violence against women and the strategies being developed by organizations to eradicate it in this country, as well as to define a follow-up plan to strengthen international solidarity on the issue.

This international solidarity was represented in press release by the Nobel Women's Initiative against Violence in Guatemala.

In part of this document, the Nobel Prize laureates declare:
"We have been direct witnesses to the value, resistance and courage of Guatemalan women in their struggle to exercise their rights and that of all society, through enormous challenges that threaten their survival and that of their families and communities.

Their struggles are fought in insecurity and violence, which thousands of women historically suffer daily in the country. Let's not forget the numerous cases of women, mainly indigenous, who were sexually abused during the war. We are also alarmed by the more than 1,500 killings of women from 2001, of which only 14 have been punished by courts of justice. The growing re-militarization in the country and the widespread arms build-up are facts that widen the circle of impunity around Guatemalan society, especially regarding women who experience forms of violence that not only refer to military war, but also the constant war against women characterized by gender violence on the streets, in the home and at work. Human rights defenders are also subject to sexual harassment and violence in the fight for justice and lack the minimum security that the State should guarantee them in their work."

This much awaited launch, with all the activity that took place among the organizations of women, both local and regional, opens a door for hope. This door does not open by itself, but calls for a general sustained commitment in order for us to truly be a part of change.

The Campaign is an inter-agency initiative that includes the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), with the support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in coordination with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), American Commission of Women (CIM), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and others.