Wednesday, August 27, 2008

To Fight Femicide in Guatemala, new Law, but Same Culture

t r u t h o u t | 08.27

To Fight Femicide in Guatemala , New Law, but Same Culture

Wednesday 27 August 2008

by: Karim Velasco, RH Reality Check

For more than fifteen years women in Latin America have been the target of indiscriminate extreme violent crimes, especially in Central American countries like Mexico and Guatemala , where the figures of murdered women have shockingly escalated in the last years. Women are being tortured, raped and murdered on a regular basis, with total or almost total impunity, regardless of numerous and unanimous claims for justice from the civil society and even from the international community.

Amnesty International's report " Guatemala : No protection, no justice: Killings of women in Guatemala "[hotlink:] collects stories of some of the horrendous crimes against women and girls that have gone unpunished mainly because of negligence and the lack of effective investigation and prevention strategies of the Guatemalan authorities. The report points out that "the brutality of the killings ... reveal that extreme forms of sexual violence and discrimination remain prevalent in Guatemalan society" as a result of the 36-year internal armed conflict that afflicted the country until 1996.

The CEDAW Committee and the European Parliament have both urged the Guatemalan government to take all necessary steps to effectively combat violence against women, ensuring full respect for human rights.

Although the government has made some efforts to tackle the violence, these have proved to be insufficient. In this context, on April 9, 2008 the Guatemalan Congress passed the Law against Femicide and other Forms of Violence against Women (Decree 22-2008), that aims to severely punish any kind of gender-based violence, guaranteeing the life, freedom, integrity, dignity and equality of all women, in the private or public sphere, promoting and implementing strategies to prevent and eradicate femicide and any kind of physical, psychological, sexual or economic violence against women.

This initiative was possible due to the remarkable work done by all the female parliamentarians - 20 in total - who, regardless of their political party affiliation, came close and managed to get the support of 112 out of the 158 parliamentarians.

The importance of the Decree - which became effective on May 15 - not only lies on the goals it intends to fulfill, but also on the fact that it justifies its enactment on Guatemala's obligation to comply with the CEDAW and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women "Convention of Belem do Para" that have been ratified by the Guatemalan government. Similarly, the Decree literally recognizes that the violence and discrimination against women in the country has flourished because of the "power inequality between men and women in the social, economic, legal, political, cultural and family spheres."

The Law typifies femicide as a crime and defines it as the murder of a woman committed because of her gender within a context of unequal exercise of power; it imposes punishments that range from 25 to 50 years imprisonment. Likewise, the law also criminalizes all physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence against women committed in the private as well as in the public sphere, imposing punishments ranging from 5 to 12 years in the cases of physical and sexual violence, and from 5 to 8 years for cases of psychological and economic violence.

However, maybe one of the most relevant and groundbreaking aspects of the law is that "forced prostitution and denying [a woman] the right to use contraceptive methods, whether natural or hormonal, or taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections" are considered sexual violence crimes. This is particularly important in a country like Guatemala where - according to a 2005 barrier analysis conducted by WINGS - 25% of women consider their partner's disapproval as a reason for not using a family planning method.

It is also important to highlight that the law also aims to strengthen the government bodies in charge of the criminal investigation by setting up specialized judicial bodies with properly trained staff and providing legal counseling as well as shelter to victims of violence.

Although this law represents a big step, still there is a lot to be done to protect Guatemalan women's lives and integrity. For Doris Cruz, "the discussions previous to the approval [of the law] made it clear that the dominant 'macho culture' in Guatemala will make it difficult to implement the law." Precisely for this reason she believes that women in Congress are the ones who have to be primarily involved in the application of the law and should therefore "explain the law to women organizations, just as they have already done to the judiciary, police, public health sector and army."

Surely women's organizations will keep playing a key role in this process but it has to be the Guatemalan government the one leading the crusade to tackle violence against women.

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