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close this bookWomen against Violence: Breaking the Silence (UNIFEM, 1997, 116 p.)
close this folderBeyond the Conventions: Violence Prevention in the Andean Region
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View the documentPrevention for Empowerment
View the documentParticipatory Methodology and Multiplier Effects
View the documentFilling Information Gaps
View the documentTraining: Targeting Strategic Players
View the documentResearch and Analysis of Laws
View the documentGender Training with a Long-Term Outlook
View the documentReflections

Prevention for Empowerment

Understanding empowerment as "appropriation, interiorization and wielding of power" entails a concept of citizenship that involves "knowing what women's rights and duties are in society."4 This concept grows out of the creation and/or consolidation of gender awareness with the capacity to counteract the obstacles that stand in the way of enjoyment of citizenship. These obstacles include people's lack of awareness of their human rights, and the violence that they are subject to, in both public and private situations. If the goal is to promote women's empowerment, it is necessary to clear away such obstacles.

4. Ma MuVargas, "Hacia el empoderamiento y la ciudadande las mujeres," Unidas para un mundo mejor (Quito: UNIFEM 1995).

Beginning in the late 1970s, actions to address violence were initiated by NGOs in all countries of the sub-region, especially through legal advisory support for abused women.5 By the end of the 1980s, all five countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela) had NGOs providing at least some legal and/or psychological care, and specialized services to help battered women. Studies in each country began to reveal the problem's magnitude.6 More recently, NGOs have begun to form coalitions such as the Latin American and Caribbean Network Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, which works for full enforcement of women's human rights through prevention, punishment and elimination of violence.

5. See "Hacia la Conferencia Mundial de Mujeres: documento de Venezuela," Mujeres: una fuerza social en movimiento (Caracas: JUVECABE, 1995); "Informe del sector no gubernamental," mimeo, Ecuador; "Informe Nacional de las ONGs peruanas," mimeo, Peru; Platforma y Coordinadora de la Mujer en Bolivia. Situacie la mujer en Bolivia: 1976-1994. Una protesta con propuesta (La Paz, 1995); and "Movimiento social de mujeres de Colombia. 1985-1995, mimeo, Colombia.

6. In Ecuador, for example, the Planning and Social Research Centre (CEPLAES) researched violence and provided services in grassroots neighborhoods in Quito, publishing the Educational program on husbands' violence against women in 1992. The Ecuadorian Commission for Cooperation with the Inter-American Women's Commission (CECIM) did research in Guayaquil (1988) to compare violence among grassroots housewives and professional women.

After ten years of intense activities by organized women, one might expect that violence against women would be significantly reduced. All five countries have signed the 1981 Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Declaration and Action Programme from Vienna (1993), and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). All but Colombia have ratified the 1994 Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Belem Convention), and signed the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Laws and policies have also undergone review and change. In Venezuela, the National Women's Council drafted a Law Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in 1993; in Ecuador the National Women's Bureau lobbied female attorneys and NGOs to formulate the Law Against Violence Affecting Women and Families, passed in November 1995; in Bolivia, the Under-Secretariat of Gender Issues formulated the National Plan to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women, enacting the corresponding law in 1996. In addition, government agencies at various levels now deal with women's policies and projects, and have pushed for laws against violence. At the parliamentary level, there are commissions to legislate on topics related to women and families. Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia now have Women's Courts, and Colombia has Family Courts, which have begun to work together with women's NGOs.

In addition, gender-related violence has become an issue for discussion in universities, through conferences, seminars and lectures in the different countries, through the Women's Studies Centre of the Central University of Venezuela, founded in 1992. In Bolivia, the National Plan to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women provides for inclusion in primary and secondary schools' curricular and extracurricular activities of subjects that can help create an awareness of this problem.

Despite these achievements, however, it remains true that governments generally do not display enough political will to implement mechanisms that would genuinely help to prevent this problem. Justice administration personnel know little about international conventions that their governments have signed, and they often rule in flagrant contradiction to the provisions of the CEDAW, or the Vienna Declaration. Moreover, relevant bodies do little to collect or disseminate information about gender violence. Women's Courts are poorly funded, short staffed and insufficiently trained. Specific laws are not always enforced; those administering justice are unaware of them, or interpret them according to male-centred criteria. Enforcement is restricted by lack of financial resources, such as in Peru, where a law on intra-family violence has been on the books since 1992, and in Ecuador, where the law was passed in November 1995, but corresponding regulations are still pending.

Finally, despite international commitments and ad hoc laws, other bodies of law, such as criminal law and procedure codes, not only feature discriminatory standards which "uphold women's role as fundamentally involving sexuality and motherhood," but treat women the same as handicapped or elderly persons.7 As Alda Facio notes: "Law remains patriarchal, although over the centuries the anti-woman legislation has developed greater subtlety."8

7. Lucila Larrandart, "La mujer en los cos penales: control sobre el rol de madre," in La instituciolicial y los derechos humanos de las mujeres, p. 55.

8. Facio, "The Principle of Equality Before the Law."

To deal with this legal discrimination, NGOs of all five countries have presented proposals for reforms geared to make a place in the law for women, as complete human beings, and not only in their reproductive facets; to abandon the use of value-laden terminology (such as "forcing of a virtuous woman" to mean rape); and to establish that a sexual crime violates a person's right to self-determination.