Not a Wave, a Tsunami!—Part 3

Street harassment in Havana

In previous posts we looked at women’s situation in the United States and three European countries. Today let’s check out a few of the countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

According to the Gender Equality Observatory, “In the 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that reported data for the year 2022, the highest rates of femicides…were recorded in Honduras (6.0), the Dominican Republic (2.9), El Salvador, and Uruguay (1.6 in both countries). The lowest rates (less than 1 victim of femicide…per 100,000 women) [were] in Puerto Rico, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Chile and Cuba. The latter country has the lowest rate (0.3 cases of gender-based homicides per 100,000 women).”

Keep in mind that much of this is data based on reports by the respective governments. As you will see below, femicides are often not prosecuted, so the rates are surely higher than governments are willing to admit.

Reader, I know we’re dealing with really depressing information in these posts. Read on to the end for a note about how we can put these matters in historical perspective.

El Salvador

Gang violence has plagued El Salvador for decades. According to the Carnegie Endowment, “Women have been coerced into sexual relationships and forced into becoming ‘girlfriends’ of gang members. They have been raped and killed when extortion payments are not made.”

Femicide in El Salvador was off the charts. A United Nations survey from April 2018 states that the rate of femicide was 13.49 per 100,000—and this was from data provided by the national police. Meanwhile, 67% of women age 15 and up stated that they had suffered violence, but only 6% complained to authorities. The rest were afraid to report, or ashamed, or thought they wouldn’t be believed.

In 2022 a government crackdown on gangs and gang-related violence by the current dictator seems to have reduced the homicide and femicide rate. However, the police themselves estimated that one in six of those arrested and imprisoned under harsh (and sometimes lethal) conditions were innocent. Also, while women in some neighborhoods may feel safer from gang violence, they are subject to abuse by police and soldiers. Who can they complain to then?

El Salvador prohibits abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest, severe fetal abnormalities, or where the mother’s life or health is at risk. In some cases, according to Amnesty International, women who suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth were charged with homicide and sentenced to decades in prison.

Honduras

As noted above, the Gender Equality Observatory listed Honduras as having the highest femicide rate in 2022. Like El Salvador, the country is plagued with gang violence. The Globe and Mail reporters traveled throughout the country, speaking with “dozens of women’s rights activists, professors, lawyers and survivors of violence organizations.” Per their report of August 9, 2023, “Women’s organizations estimate that 90 per cent of Honduran femicides go unpunished.”

Also as in El Salvador—and Nicaragua—abortion is forbidden under all circumstances. According to Human Rights Watch, “more than 30,000 adolescents ages 10 to 19 give birth in Honduras each year.”

Uruguay

According to a survey done in 2019 by Feminicidio Uruguay and reported by researcher Helena Suárez Val, “more than three out of four women aged 15 years or over (76.7%) have experienced some type of gender-based violence in their lifetime, and almost half (47%) have experienced gender-related violence by a partner or ex-partner…”

Suárez Val notes that the rate of femicide is calculated for every 100,000 women. Records over a 20 year period show that the average rate in Uruguay was 1.67 (per 100,000 women). But since “practically all the perpetrators” are men, one can also calculate the rate in terms of those who commit the murders. “In this case, the feminicide rate is 1.81 (per 100,000 men). Almost two out of every 100,000 men in Uruguayan territory have murdered a woman due to their gender in the last 20 years.”

On the positive side, Uruguay is one of only four Latin American countries where abortion is legal upon request, but only within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (14 weeks in cases of rape). However, the Women’s Media Center tells us that these time limits do not apply “if the pregnancy presents a serious risk for the woman’s life or if the fetus has a malformation that is incompatible with life.” However, doctors may refuse to perform the procedure, so in some areas of the country it is inaccessible.

Chile

Although Chile is reported to have a low rate of femicide, according to a research paper published by the World Bank in 2022, one in four women in a partner relationship report some type of violence in the past 12 months. Only 22% of the women filed a complaint with the authorities, generally because they feel ashamed, because they don’t think the violence was that severe, or because they don’t believe the police will help.

Abortion was forbidden in all cases until 2017. Now  “when the life of the mother is at risk, when the fetus is not viable, and in cases of rape during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (or 14 weeks if the woman is under 14 years old).” Even so, here, too, some doctors refuse to perform abortions, particularly in cases of rape.

Cuba

Here’s a bright spot. The Cuban government cited the Gender Equality Observatory, showing 16 femicides in 2022, or 0.35 per 100,000 women.

The feminist magazine Alas Tensas and the Yo Sí Te Creo platform stated that the actual number of such murders was 34, more than double those reported by the government, or 0.74 per 100,000. To put this in perspective, even using the higher figure, Cuba is way ahead of the United States. Our femicide rate is 2.6 per 100,000—3.5 times more than in Cuba.

As of 1965, according to a Massachusetts Peace Action report, abortion became legal in Cuba under the following circumstances: “it is the woman who decides, it needs to take place at a hospital, it needs to be carried out by expert staff, and it needs to be totally free.” Human Rights Watch confirms this, while highly critical of the Cuban government in other areas of life.

A personal note—my mother’s family emigrated to Havana when she was seven, in 1921, and she lived there until 1930. She told me that young men would hang around the streets echando flores, literally “throwing flowers.” It gets translated as giving compliments, but is essentially street harassment. If a woman so much as turns her head to see who is yelling at her, he will follow her for blocks. Per a 2020 report in El Toque, this obnoxious behavior, from wolf whistles to groping to stalking, is still common in Havana.

*          *          *

The next posts will look at a sampling of countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. As in every corner of the world, there’s been progress in some aspects, with stagnation or even regression in others.

Dear readers, while some of this may seem discouraging, it is important to remember that for many millennia, in most of the world, women were considered property. We were sold by the patriarchs of our families to other families, in exchange for so many sheep, cattle, or camels.

We need both the patience that comes from awareness of the long struggle, and the furious impatience that refuses to accept the status quo.

2 Responses to Not a Wave, a Tsunami!—Part 3

  1. Perry Brass May 6, 2024 at 6:01 am #

    Wonderful post, Martha. I especially loved your end note, about how things have changed somewhat, but not nearly enough. I was in Cuba in 2016; what I noticed more than anything was how young the country is, and how beautifully young people get along with each other. I think there is no gang violence there, possibly because of constant surveillance from the government, and the sheer egalitarianism there.

  2. Martha Shelley May 7, 2024 at 12:17 pm #

    Thanks for your kind words. I suspect you are right about the lack of gang violence in Cuba. By comparison, the more capitalist countries south of the border, particularly Mexico and some Central American ones, are infested with gangs and drug dealers.

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