|Women against Violence: Breaking the Silence (UNIFEM, 1997, 116 p.)|
|Beyond the Conventions: Violence Prevention in the Andean Region|
ALEXANDRA AYALA MAR
"The experience of work to prevent violence against women has demonstrated that one of the most difficult tasks is to penetrate the deeply engrained cultural norms and assumptions that still make men and male values the referent for humankind's thinking and behaviour."
During its first year (1994-95), Ecuador's Women and Family Court received a total of 6,101 complaints concerning violence. Of these, 96 percent were by women, 86 percent of whom had been attacked by their partners or former partners. In Peru, out of 9,000 complaints to the Women's Court of Lima in 1993, 95 percent featured husbands or a woman's male partner.1 In Colombia, the Women's House in Bogota reports that 62 percent of the women requesting advisory assistance between 1989 and 1991 had problems with violence in their families. These figures are approximately the same in Venezuela and Bolivia, according to national reports prepared by NGOs for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. They not only make visible but also document a reality that until recently has been concealed.
1. Luis E. Delgado Villena, "Conocer los derechos de la vida en pareja," in La instituciolicial y los derechos humanos de las mujeres (Quito: UNIFEM, 1995), p. 122.
Although official statistics are rarely available, given the reluctance of relevant governmental agencies to pay attention to this subject, work by women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has documented the magnitude of gender violence and the implications for its victims. Within the Andean sub-region, the phenomenon of violence is similar in all countries, whether or not social violence is on the increase, as demonstrated by data from legal and psychological assistance services. Common to all is the fact that "the risk factor is being a woman." Regardless of the socio-economic status, ethnic group, religion, age, urban/rural setting, most women are subject to violence in various forms, in different social contexts.
However, the most frequent, jolting forms - especially in terms of their psychological and mental-health consequences - occur within the home: abuse in the couple's relations and sexual violence against girls and young women by fathers, uncles, brothers and/or other relatives. These expressions of violence are also the hardest to denounce, riddled as they are with cultural and emotional factors that hinder attempts to intervene.
Given this common denominator, women's organizations in all of the Andean countries have struggled for over ten years to get laws passed or revised in order to permit intervention in the home, which is where, under the veil of privacy, the greatest number of crimes occur, and typically go unpunished. They have called for the creation of Women's Courts which not only expose the problem but provide a place where victims can have a hearing without being themselves condemned. These are non-police entities created by an agreement between the Ministry of the Interior and women's NGOs, which provide the technical staff (psychologist, attorney and/or social workers). The response has been overwhelming:
"We have four people receiving the complaints, and an amazing demand of 50 cases a day. Sometimes women have to wait, or staff are unwilling to see them. Most of the time, I have to take the charges by hand to speed things up, because we can't make women wait so long to be served," said Victoria Neacato, head of the Women and Family Court of Quito, in a 1996 interview. Her remarks describe the situation women typically face when they bring a complaint - even at such a specialized agency, and reflect the relatively minor importance the government gives to this problem. As a result of poor resources, little political support, and a predominantly male staff which is only minimally trained, the courts do not yet provide the support these women need, or the conviction that aggressors must be punished.
Thus creating and/or strengthening Women's Courts; sensitizing and training justice administration agents and staff as well as all those responsible for citizens' security to protect the rights of women and girls who are victims and/or at risk of violence - are part of the recommendations for national governments. The recommendation for the women's movement is to promote research into the violence in women's lives in order to obtain records that will make it possible to disseminate information, propose, coordinate and implement policies.
Gender violence is a social problem that demands social intervention. According to the Beijing Platform for Action (paragraph 112): "Violence against women makes it impossible to attain the goals of equality, development and peace...it violates, narrows or prevents women's enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms...." These statements summarize the findings of studies in numerous countries: violence against women is an obstacle to personal and community development, and constitutes a violation of human rights. As long as there is violence against women, failure to respect their human rights, and ignorance of the reasons for their history of subordination and discrimination, it will not be possible to promote their empowerment. For this reason, UNIFEM's Andean office concluded that training in gender and human rights is a strategic way to further the goals of preventing and eradicating violence, strengthening the enjoyment of citizenship, and promoting empowerment.
Since 1994, UNIFEM has provided financial and technical support for a variety of projects, all linked to gender and human-rights training. In Peru, 281 people from the National Police, Justices of the Peace and Women's Courts were trained to process complaints from women who have been victims of aggression. All judges and prosecuting attorneys in Cochabamba, Bolivia, have received gender training. The Gender Training Manual for justice administration personnel - an outgrowth of training female attorneys from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and of the replication by these attorneys in their own countries - has broad prospects through the multiplier effects of such actions. These efforts have enabled UNIFEM to lay the groundwork to pursue their main aim: promoting women's empowerment.
Current projects are part of the regional programme to prevent violence against women, which the Andean office announced in December 1994 at a seminar entitled "The Police Institution and Women's Human Rights."2 This seminar was the culmination of a series of workshops to train female attorneys and judges, held in coordination with the Latin American Human Rights Association (ALDHU), the Centre for Women's Promotion and Action (CEPAM) and the National Bureau of Women (DINAMU).
2. Representatives of the police, government and NGOs from nine South American countries shared experience of courts specialized in serving victims of violence. See Alexandra Ayala Marin, "Women's Human Rights and the Police: An Andean Regional Seminar," in Ana Maria Brasileiro, ed., Building Democracy with Women (New York: UNIFEM, 1996).
Since then, UNIFEM has conducted a series of workshops and seminars in the various countries of the sub-region, offering training in gender and women's human rights, targeting male and female legal professionals and academics, judges, specialized court judges, police staff, radio communicators, and indigenous and peasant audiences. These activities have been oriented towards making violence against women visible; sensitizing the citizenry, states and justice personnel, raising their consciousness and, above all consolidating that gender awareness that is so necessary in order to effectively undertake other relationships that can ensure respect for women's human rights.
The reason for targeting legal and justice administration personnel is the belief that preventing violence requires not only legal reform but the creation of new attitudes and worldviews as well as the political will to ensure that law enforcement will be guided by an accurate understanding of legal equality for men and women. The goal is to discover the male-centredness that pervades both the spirit of the law and the mentality of men and women. As Alda Facio points out, "in most cases, different outlooks on reality are male-centred, and have therefore failed to take women's experiences and viewpoints into account; this has cloaked the daily violations of their human rights in invisibility, along with a slighting of their needs as human beings and consequently construed legal equality with a male referent.3 In order to understand violence against women as one of the manifold expressions of imbalanced power relations between men and women it is necessary to de-mystify the roots of this male-centred thought that permeates societies.
3. See Aldo Facio, "The Principle of Equality Before the Law," in Women's Human Rights: Conceptual Approaches (Lima: UNIFEM, 1996), pp. 82-83.