A United Nations Development Program report on violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean has surmised it as simply ‘unacceptable’. The violation of women poses a major threat to human rights, public health, citizen security and physical, political and economic autonomy of women of the region.
Data from the World Health Organization in 2013 indicated that Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest rate of sexual violence among couples not in a common relationship, and the second highest rate of violence by a partner or ex-partner. Additionally, three countries in the Caribbean are on the list of highest rates of rape of women and girls (IDH Caribbean UNDP, 2012).
Perhaps the worst expression of violence against women is in the form of femicide. Although not widespread in the Caribbean, two out of every three women in Central America are murdered simply for the fact that they are women. In fact, 2016 estimates place femicide rates at 1,800 for that year, and do not account for many unregistered cases. For Eugenia Piza-Lopez, team leader of the Gender Cluster of the UNDP for Latin America and the Caribbean, “no woman should be left behind in addressing violence among them”.
Given these truly astounding rates, a press conference was held in Panama on November 22 to publicize the main conclusions on a regional report titled ‘From Commitment to Action’ which outlined the progress, challenges and recommendations to address violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to Piza-Lopez, the main challenges with this initiative are primarily the need to “strengthen political leadership and institutional mechanism to see the advancement of women” and a very common challenge of “insufficient budgetary allocations”. Indeed, money is always needed to turn the wheels of change, and Caribbean territories need to find ways to allocate more funding.
Alma Viviana Perez, Regional Advisor on Peace and Security of UN Women for Latin America and the Caribbean, explained how the legal system in the region contributes to the continued violation of women. In the Caribbean, the focus stays mainly on first generation laws, at which domestic and family violence is the crux. While not understating the importance of these laws, Perez made the recommendation that added importance be placed on the development of second and third generation laws. Second generation laws tend to encompass violence in all spheres, while third generation laws tackle the rising spate of femicide.
“If we do not see a problem, we don’t make a policy” is a consequence of a lack of useable data, according to Perez. Violence against women is not taken as seriously as it should be in the Caribbean, and therefore many countries do not conduct surveys to assess the prevalence of this issue. Countries like Jamaica have only recently begun to do so.
Perez also stressed the recommendation that more support needs to be given to victims of sexual violence. In many cases, women remain in violent relationships because they do not possess the means to leave.
Another major issue for Perez is the culture of masculinity in the Caribbean region. Men intrinsically feel that they must exercise force to establish dominance in the relationship, and many women put up with these behaviours based on the fact that this is often the only way to provide for their children. Being so engrained in Caribbean society, a complete overhaul of exaggerated masculinity will not happen overnight, but is necessary in curbing the high rates of sexual violence against women.
The conclusions from ‘From Commitment to Action’ indicate that a lot needs to be done in the Caribbean and Latin America in order to protect women from violence. The amendment and creation of new laws, as well as societal changes, are a must and cannot happen sooner.