Ken Jones, member of a recent School of the Americas Watch delegation to Haiti, listened to “first-hand accounts of what’s been happening, especially in the tent camps that still remain, two years after the earthquake … So many are on the receiving end of systemic poverty, rape, and violence… The camps usually have very little food, no electricity, no health care and often not even water or toilets.”
Similar stories caused the United Nations General Assembly in 1999 to establish November 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Every year, from that date until Human Rights Day on December 10, governments and human rights groups are supposed to be campaigning for increasing resources and public awareness aimed at ending violence against women.
UN Women founding Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president, released a commemorative message, saying, “We will not rest until women and girls enjoy equal opportunity and the rights and dignity to which they are entitled, and can live free of discrimination and violence.” She noted that “six out of ten women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime… Worldwide up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16.”
The international movement opposing anti-women violence has Latin American and Caribbean origins. A 1981 women’s rights convention in Colombia set November 25 as a day dedicated to ending violence against women. That day was selected to honor the three Mirabel sisters in the Dominican Republic, whom agents of the Trujillo dictatorship killed on November 25, 1960. The United Nations General Assembly issued a declaration against violence towards women in 1993 and six years later institutionalized the International Day.
The regional background for the International Day lends a bittersweet quality to Latin American and Caribbean commentary on November 25.
Women’s rights campaigner Lourdes Contreras, interviewed November 25 in Santo Domingo, demanded that her government declare a “national emergency” in view of 211 women killed so far this year. The Dominican Republic, she said, vies with Mexico and Guatemala for Latin America’s highest rates for anti-women violence and killings. She blamed the government for failing to keep adequate statistics on anti-women violence, for tolerating judicial processes contributing to impunity, and for refusing to establish violence against women as a specific crime. She called upon men to appreciate women’s new roles in the labor force and to respect women’s reproductive rights.
In Honduras, National Front for Popular Resistance activist Ana María Sosa, told an interviewer on November 25 that family violence doesn’t account for all killings. Poverty is up, she explained, and women and children are its chief victims. And since the coup that removed elected president Jose Manuel Zelaya in 2009, “margins between what is or is not acceptable are blurred, and impunity prevails.” Power relationships must change, she said: “We have to do more politically but politics has to begin in the house … The man has to understand that he is as oppressed as the woman.”
Cuba is marking the 16 days leading up to Human Rights Day with conferences and workshops. Susan McDade, head United Nations representative in Cuba, commended Cuba for advancing gender equality. At the same commemorative gathering on November 25, Cuban Women’s Federation representative Mayda Alvarez highlighted dangers to women everywhere from exploitation, hunger, and war.
Writing from Cuba, Inter Press Service reporter Patricia Grogg reports the television soap opera “Under the Same Sun” has pushed the issue of anti-women violence into public consciousness. She tells how on the show, “The tall, burly husband beats his wife, who gradually leaves behind her passive vulnerability and starts to react, with the help of a friend.” This popular television program “is stirring debate inside and outside the home,” writes Grogg. She suggests that with violence against women on the agenda of the Cuban Communist Party’s upcoming national conference, new initiatives may be forthcoming.
Photo: Cuban woman. Bert 23 // CC 2.0