On Jan. 1, in post-new year fashion, I was scrolling through a Facebook feed inundated with resolution posts until I came across an article from a Nicaraguan news outlet that reported the first femicide in 2021 had already occurred in the country that morning. Her name was Damaris Torres. Unfortunately, Torres’ killing is an all-too-common occurrence in a region imbued with misogyny and violence.
Femicides, the killing of women and girls on account of their gender, are rapidly increasing despite protests and community organizing spreading throughout Latin America. While feminism remains a transformative force across the globe, the widespread rejection of feminism and gender equality ingrained within Latin American culture is startling. Right now, most countries are facing the highest rates of femicides in decades. It is long overdue that we shed light on the alarming femicide crisis in Latin America and advocate for its resolution.
Violence against women isn’t confined to just one region — it pervades and ravages every corner of the world. However, Latin America disproportionately holds the highest femicide rates worldwide. In 2020, Nicaragua saw a staggering increase in femicides, averaging seven reported cases per month and 69 reported femicides in November alone. Chile saw five femicides and 17 attempted homicides on women in just the first two months of 2020. Peru alarmingly saw more than 160 femicides in 2019 – the highest in the past decade – and more than 55 reported femicides as of June 2020. Colombia saw 579 femicides in 2019. Femicides are flooding the region as thousands of women remain victims of the deeply-entrenched misogyny in Latin American society.
These numbers alone highlight the vulnerability and victimization of women across Latin America. But perhaps more alarmingly, these numbers do not reflect other violent acts, such as assaults and rapes.
Femicides are often the tragic ending to a cycle of abuse and violence. Steeped in “machismo,” or the behavioral pattern in which men dominate, gender norms in the region uphold attitudes that seek to justify the violence and dehumanization of women. From a very young age, girls are taught to be “good” by following orders and pleasing others. I was personally taught that women are fragile and need protection from someone with power, which usually infers men.
Misogynistic attitudes and abusive social standards have created a culture where men dominate women, and feminism is treated like a curse word. The fact that 11% of women in the region believe a husband is justified in beating their wife at times shows that some women are successfully brainwashed, belittling their own worth and rights.
The femicide crisis also exposes widespread impunity and institutionalized misogyny. Out of 33 countries in Latin America, only 18 have passed or amended specialized femicide laws to sanction the crime. Unfortunately, some of these only include cases where the husband or residing partner commits the crime, leaving a wide percentage of perpetrators scott-free from consequences. The international community, governments and policy makers must address this pressing crisis and undertake concrete actions to safeguard millions of women.
Incremental progress has been made thus far. Few countries, like Uruguay, Panama and 13 states in Mexico, have implemented innovative methods to decrease the alarming number of femicides, such as using electronic surveillance devices to uphold protective orders. New left-wing politicians in these regions are bringing positive changes for women and setting an example for the rest of Latin America. For instance, President Laurentino Cortizos of Panama has publicly advocated for the empowerment of women and a future with no violence or discrimination. So far, the government has made efforts to increase their safe house network plan to deliver comprehensive care to victims of abuse.
However, these steps are insufficient. It is of utmost importance to pass specialized femicide legislation that guarantees aggressors will face the consequences of their crimes and invest in youth programs to eliminate the wide gender disparities between men and women. As Emory students, we must raise awareness of the deeply-rooted ‘machismo’ in Latin America and its influence on violence, and evaluate the ‘machismo’ present in our own lives. For further information and engagement, read about the “NiUnaMenos” movement in Latin America, and become an ally to end the violence and murder of women.
For too long, women have been silenced. Although a brighter future for all women seems to be attainable — Latin America and its nearly 325 million women cannot be left behind. We are raised to believe we are inferior, fragile and dependent upon men. We must educate ourselves on this crisis and seek change. It’s time for all Latinas to take back what has been stolen from us — our voice.
Sara Perez (24C) is from Managua, Nicaragua.