LATIN AMERICA: Gender-based Violence Represents Threat to Human Security

Monday, November 23, 2009
Relief Web
Central America
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Latin America and the Caribbean is a dangerous place for women. More than 50 percent of the women on the continent have been victims of some form of violence. In commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, UN-INSTRAW is launching a media kit on violence against women and human security in the region as well as a new study about gender and security sector reform in the Dominican Republic.

Gender-based violence is a threat to human security in the region and globally. Such violence includes domestic violence, rape and other types of sexual violence, but also includes other forms of violence that are perpetrated based on gender. Impunity for these types of violence is a major factor for its proliferation.

Latin America is the region in the world with the greatest income disparities. This has a direct impact on the level of violence in the region since it can lead to social exclusion, population displacement, conflicts, violence, poor governance, and other threats to human security. Women and children are especially vulnerable to such threats.

Rosemary from the Dominican Republic is one person who has been affected by violence.

"I'm a part of this story about violence against women because my mother was murdered by my father. She was 33 years old when it happened and she was four months pregnant. At home the beating was not visible but her fear was noticeable. The ugly part is that it is a process; women live with violence. It is like dying slowly, every day," she says.

The levels of gender-based violence are high in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Bolivia, 52 per cent of the women between 15 and 49 have suffered from physical violence from their partner; 17 per cent of Haitian women have suffered from sexual violence; and 68 per cent of Peruvian women have suffered from emotional violence.

Women's security is dependent on security in the home, as well as protection from violence and sexual harassment in public spaces and work places. This requires action by various state entities, such as the police, justice, and health systems, to put into place concrete actions to address women's security needs. In this context, the security sector plays a fundamental role in the implementation of measures that create a secure environment for women.

Many violent acts continue because laws are not put into practice, the needs of women are not taken into account, and impunity for gender-based violence exists because of an often biased approach of judiciary officials. Impunity for these crimes is a major obstacle in the Dominican Republic as well as many other countries in the region.

"My father was in jail for only two months because his lawyer was a person who had a lot of influence and was able to reduce his sentence. Two months, even after having a confession to my mother's killing and a declaration from a forensic doctor as well," Rosemary says.

Ineffective and discriminatory security sector institutions are unable to adequately respond to and address human rights violations and violence, especially against the most vulnerable members of a population. This undermines democratic governance and sustainable development. However, while concepts of democratic and human security have opened the doors to more participatory processes within the security sector, women remain largely excluded. Their right to full and equal participation in decision-making processes is often not realized and gender issues have not been effectively mainstreamed into security policies and practices.

In order to assess the level of gender-responsive policies and practices in the Dominican security sector, the Gender, Peace and Security Programme of UN-INSTRAW has prepared a new study entitled "Engaging in Security – The Need for Women's Empowerment in the Dominican Security Sector". One of the conclusions of the study is that even though some steps have been taken towards gender mainstreaming and reform of the security sector in the country, much more work needs to be done to make women's security issues part of the political agenda. This includes defining violence against women as a threat to national and local security. The development of a systematic sensitisation programme for police, military and the justice sector that deals with violence against women in a coordinated manner is needed in order to create a security sector responsive to the needs and capacities of men, women, boys and girls.

Women in the country suffer several gendered insecurities, such as domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, trafficking and forced prostitution. Available statistics indicate that violence against women is a serious security problem for many women in the Dominican Republic. Based on the reported cases of violence, it is calculated that 24.8 per cent of urban women, and 21.9 per cent of rural women have been exposed to physical violence at some point in their life, although many more cases are thought to go unreported. In public spaces, women face security issues such as sexual harassment in the street and at the workplace, as in many other Latin American countries where 'machismo' is a cultural framework for behaviour for many men.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the 25 November is observed each year to honour the Mirabal sisters, three political activists from the Dominican Republic who were assassinated on the same date in 1961. As part of the annual campaign of "16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence" and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's campaign Unite, as well as the support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the local NGO Colectiva Mujer y Salud, UN-INSTRAW has prepared a media kit to offer journalists and media different materials and resources to cover the issue of women's security in the region.