Voices from the Field features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This piece is authored by Esta Soler, President and Founder of Futures Without Violence.
The latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Study on Homicide: Gender-related Killing of Women and Girls, provides alarming evidence that gender-related killings of women and girls continues to be a serious problem that may be getting worse. The main culprits: their own husbands and families. In 2012, 47 percent of all female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner or family member; in 2017 that number jumped to 58 percent. While more men are murdered overall, women are almost always the victims when the perpetrator is a partner or spouse exclusively (82 percent female versus 18 percent male). These crimes, contrary to what many think, are rarely one-off spontaneous acts of murder. They are most often the culmination of prior acts of violence, such as domestic violence, driven by and rooted in gender stereotypes and inequality.
In Latin America, violence against women is particularly high. Fourteen of the twenty-five countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world are in Latin America, where twelve women and girls in the region are killed every day because of their gender. Domestic violence at the hands of an intimate partner or family member is a significant factor in the decision to migrate for many women and children fleeing Central America. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rank first, third, and seventh, respectively, for rates of female homicides globally. Violence against women and children in the region is inextricably linked to criminality, state insecurity, and the subordinate status of women in society. It is this violence and a sense that there is no hope for improvement that is propelling an increasing number of women and children to flee their homeland and seek refuge in the United States.
What Can Be Done?
At the international level there have been both criminal justice and policy responses to the pandemic of violence against women. UN Resolutions calling on Member States to develop and implement strategies and programs to prevent and effectively respond to gender-related killings have been in place since 2013. A number of countries have put in place laws to prosecute gender-related killings of women and girls and others have passed laws related to the continuum of violence perpetrated against women, such as domestic violence. Even with legislation in place, the judicial and law enforcement systems in many of these countries are ill-equipped to bring perpetrators to justice or protect victims. For example, Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office received over 50,000 cases of violence against women in 2013, of which only 983—about 2 percent— culminated with a prison sentence for the perpetrator.
While these laws are important steps, laws and criminal justice responses alone, as these data show, are not enough. Nations must pursue strategies and laws that recognize the continuum of violence and integrate a multi-sectoral approach that addresses the gender inequality at the root of so much of the violence. In addition, success will only come when efforts bring together law enforcement with health, economic development and social services. Equal amounts of effort must be put into prevention, services for adult and child victims, and accountability for perpetrators. Paths to freedom must reflect and respond to the complexity and difficulty of escaping the violence perpetrated at the hands of those with whom the victim’s life is intimately intertwined and controlled.
Engaging men and boys is a particularly critical piece that must complement the other efforts. We need men to lift up their voices in alliance with women and girls to change a culture that accepts gender-based violence. The good news is that men are increasingly using their positive influence as fathers, educators, coaches, and policymakers to challenge the attitudes and beliefs that support violence. Our policies and programs need to incorporate more deliberately the role men and boys can play to turn the tide on the scourge of violence against women and girls globally.
At Futures Without Violence we have spent more than 30 years working to prevent and one day end this violence. While solutions must be culturally appropriate and locally led, we know that preventing violence is entirely possible. During these 16 Days of Activism, we join with our sisters and brothers around the globe in demanding that nations devote the necessary resources to end the violence and call on the US Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). I-VAWA calls for a comprehensive U.S. response to end violence against women and girls globally. Passage of this crucial piece of legislation would represent a big step forward in the U.S. government’s commitment to ensuring that every woman and girl can live a life free from violence and fulfill her basic human rights.