|Women against Violence: Breaking the Silence (UNIFEM, 1997, 116 p.)|
|Unequal Status, Unequal Development: Gender Violence in Mexico|
PATRICIA DUARTE SCHEZ AND GERARDO GONZEZ
"For feminists, it is important to give our work against gender violence a new perspective, incorporating it into the national discussion of democracy. To do this, we need to reframe our discussion of gender violence within the concept of citizenship, rather than relegating it to a struggle between men and women. "
Throughout the world, in virtually every society, the marginalization of women is perpetuated over generations, reflected in a complex pattern of discrimination and violence that pervades women's lives, both public and private. In Latin America and the Caribbean, feminists have worked for over 20 years to expose and prevent gender violence, most recently through the effort to broaden the concept of human rights to include the right to be free of violence. In Mexico, as elsewhere, women's groups have struggled to make the issue of violence against women a cornerstone of the national human development agenda.
The feminist movement in Mexico began speaking out against rape in 1975, calling public attention to a social problem which until then had not been made visible. Since then, a lot of ground has been covered: women have organized in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) throughout the country, extending services to survivors of domestic violence as well as rape - including medical treatment, counselling, and legal representation. They have succeeded in getting legislation outlawing gender violence, first proposed more than 50 years before, reintroduced in the national assembly. Since the late 1980s, feminists have concentrated less on opposing government policy and more on complementing it - with advocacy and public education campaigns - in an effort to get beyond individual treatment to collective prevention.
During that time, service programmes have been created in a number of different public institutions, specialized public agencies have been set up to address these issues, and centres have been established to provide therapy for victims and to offer education and assistance in dealing with intra-family violence. In addition, legal reforms have changed the ways in which sex crimes are treated in the courts.
In addition to providing services and engaging in the legal reform process, feminists have also managed to involve the government and broad sectors of the population in a wider discussion of gender relations. Today, as a result of all these efforts, gender violence is no longer confined to the private sphere; it is a public issue that is debated in academia, in labour unions and political parties, in grassroots organizations, in the urban movement and in professional schools. It is included in the stated policy of the public health sector, the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the Ministry of Public Education, and the Ministry of the Interior, as well as in human-rights organizations and some Attorney Generals' offices; it is also included in national programmes charged with working for the welfare of children and the family (the National System for the Integral Development of the Family, or DIF).
As a result, social images have been greatly transformed: ordinary people have changed their vision of rape victims, abandoning the widely held view that the woman is somehow to blame, that her looks or behaviour had in some way "provoked" the violence. Opinions toward the aggressor have also changed; the "medical" or "clinical" view of a rapist as someone who is "mentally ill" is now rare, and receives little support in academic or popular discourse.
Nowhere is the change more evident than in the Mexican legal system: not only are laws more effective in discouraging gender violence, they also challenge the view of violence as an accepted method for solving differences between men and women. In the revised Penal Code, issued in 1991, the term "sex crimes" was changed to "crimes against liberty and normal psycho-sexual development," the concept of copulation was defined to be more inclusive, and the designation "crimes against modesty" was changed to "sexual abuse." Such atavistic concepts as "chastity and honour" were removed from the definition of statutory rape, and the provision allowing an aggressor to obtain a pardon by marrying his victim was eliminated from the law. Also eliminated was the crime of "abduction," in a recognition of the erotic/sexual assumptions implicit in distinguishing this from other kinds of kidnapping. And, for the first time in Mexico, sexual harassment was defined as a crime.
Despite this progress, the experience of the last 10 years has made it clear that a much more extensive series of transformations are needed to change the condition of structural vulnerability which currently characterizes the lives of Mexican women and children. Although the laws look good on paper, there is no national system to make a record of these crimes, and a lack of institutional coordination (among Attorney Generals' offices, educational institutions, health services, family services, etc.) is common. No study has yet been undertaken to try to assess the extent of the problem. Moreover, the Specialized Agencies for Sex Crimes lack standardized criteria and are hampered by a bureaucratic dependency on various regional authorities; there is no centralization in the investigation of criminals with a regular pattern of behaviour. Training for law and social service agency officials includes technical education but neglects the human aspects which could help change attitudes of public officials, provide victims with integrated assistance and demystify the problem of crimes of gender violence. Currently women must face the costs of the violence they suffer alone; it is practically unheard of for victims of gender violence to receive economic compensation.
Legal reforms are also needed in order for legislators to recognize intra-family violence as an issue that is fundamentally different from aggression occurring outside the home or in public social situations. The legal system currently addresses these kinds of violence without distinction under the generic classification of "crimes of bodily harm." Also needed are public policies designed to incorporate large sectors of the community into efforts to prevent violence.
For feminists, it is important to give our work against gender violence a new perspective, incorporating it into the national discussion of democracy. To do this, we need to reframe our discussion of gender violence within the concept of citizenship, rather than relegating it to a struggle between men and women.
When we speak of the causes and effects of a phenomenon such as gender violence, we cannot and should not draw narrowly defined conclusions or offer single-cause analyses to defend our theories. A glance at the literature on this issue shows the widespread prevalence of such over-generalized concepts as "profiles of rapists," "post-traumatic syndromes," "profiles of rape victims," "formulas for the prevention of violence," and so on, as if there were some sort of standardized diagnostic recipe for this complex phenomenon.
The experience of people working with those, primarily women, who have been victims of gender violence is that the recipe changes constantly, according to such factors as class, education, emotional condition when the violence occurred, age, knowledge about gender violence, physical health, life history and even the victim's culture. This experience suggests that to prevent gender violence, it is necessary to open new ways of understanding, to ascribe new meanings to the ways in which the phenomenon is interpreted, to create the conditions necessary for a new level of reflection (both our own reflection and reflection by victims of gender violence) about what happened and its consequences.
In this regard it is import to remember that theories are only the tools that we use, according to our ability, to prevent gender violence, assist victims, offer therapy or create national programmes; the level at which we work is less important than the awareness that no level of work can be totally judgement-free. Changing a "social image" involves the social perspective, but it also involves the political perspective, the structural transformation of women's condition, and therefore it also involves changing myths in order to establish what U.S. anthropologist Margaret Mead called the new taboos appropriate to the society which we are working to create.