Photo by Silvia Dangond Gibsone
I am going to give you five numbers that underscore the tragedy of domestic violence. But first we should remember why we celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Thirty-three years ago, Patricia, Minerva and Maria Teresa, known as the Mirabal Sisters, died in the Dominican Republic after they were hung and beaten by their killers. Their deaths, after repeated torture and rapes, was ordered by dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo because they had become fervent opponents of his rule. Since then, the issue of violence against women has been in the eye of a hurricane.
Here goes the first stunning number: One out of every three women in our region are victims of domestic violence, according to the PanAmerican Health Organization (PAHO). Only Africa and southern Asia have worse numbers.
Claudia Paz y Paz, a Guatemalan named by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful women in the world for her fight to halt violence against women in Guatemala, says she believes that many of the deaths would be avoidable if the issue receives adequate attention from authorities and relatives of the victims.
Paz y Paz, who recently addressed an event at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) titled No more Silence, is a recognized expert in the field. And here is the second stunning number. When she was attorney general and head of the Public Ministry (2010-2014), she managed to increase the sentences for the murder of women by 815 percent between 2011 and 2013, thanks to her effectiveness guaranteeing the legal process and the integration of health and justice authorities to the criminal cases. Today, cases of violence against women in some parts of Guatemala can be resolved in 24 hours.
For her part, Jineth Bedoya, a Colombian journalist who has more than 20 years of experience in judicial issues, has been talking for the past five years about her own suffering as a victim of the violence in the Colombian conflict (Jineth was kidnapped, tortured and raped). She has said that in her country, 86 percent of the women who experience violence remain silent. That means that little more than one woman in 10 dares to complain – the third stunning number promised by this blog. Shame, impunity and the fear of their aggressors keep them from speaking out.
What is clear is that this is an endemic problem that hampers economic and social development. According to IDB estimates, the cost of violence against women ranges from 1.6 percent to 3.7 percent of a country’s Gross Domestic Product. This is the fourth stunning number. In many countries, the cost of abuse against women is higher than what the nations spend on security.
If you add to this the cost of the impact on health – women victims of domestic violence have a 16 percent higher chance of having underweight babies at birth, double the chances of suffering from depression and a 150 percent higher chance of contracting the HIV virus – we see clearly that we face a problem of great proportions.
This tragedy is also an almost perfect predictor of violence against women by the next generation. Girls who witness violence against women in their homes are 2.5 times more likely to become part of a violent relationship, and boys have a much higher chance of carrying out acts of violence as adults. That is the fifth stunning number.
There have been advances with the approval of the InterAmerican Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, known as the “Convention of Belém do Pará,” which led several countries to approve laws against family violence between 1994 and 1996 and later to the recognition of violence against women as a specific crime in some countries. But much remains to be done.
In our region, only 14 percent of the women victims of violence make official complaints. According to Carlos Echarri, author of the study “Violencia Feminicida en México 1985–2010”, it is important to continue persuading women to file complaints.
It is also important that the issue not be limited to the judicial area. The ministries of education, health and finance must work hand in hand to highlight the issue. The issue must be part of programs that deal with early childhood, to underscore that it’s not just a woman’s problem. It is also a problem of victimizers. Not just those who carry out the violence but those men who witness acts of discrimination, mistreatment and abuse against women and allow them to happen. They are part of the problem, and today their voices are more than ever a fundamental piece of the solution to the problem.
More information on violence against women in this factsheet
Silvia Dangond (@Silviadan) is a political scientist and journalist who graduated from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. She has a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Communication from George Mason University in Virginia, USA. She coordinates the IDB’s communications strategy for five countries in South America. Her blog, Medusa y sus Serpientes is published by the El Tiempo newspaper in Colombia and she writes a bi-monthly column for the digital newspaper Las 2 orillas.
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