The Economic Costs of Gender-Based Violence in Latin America

Tuesday, December 4, 2018
REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

Adjunct Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Rosa Celorio

Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies and Burnett Family Professorial Lecturer in International and Comparative Law and Policy, George Washington University Law School    

Julie T. Katzman

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Inter-American Development Bank

Research indicates that gender-based violence costs the world approximately $1.5 trillion a year, but governments have struggled to address it. Though Latin America has made significant progress in empowering women, gender-based violence remains widespread throughout the region. From the classroom to the workforce, gender-based violence stymies opportunity and undermines development. Rosa Celorio and Julie T. Katzman discussed what governments in Latin America are doing to reduce gender-based violence and promote women’s economic empowerment through legal and political reforms, as well as through shifts in cultural norms.



BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Good afternoon, everybody. I think we’re going to get started.

So my name is Carrie Bettinger-Lόpez. It’s wonderful to see so many folks in the room, many old friends and colleagues and new faces as well. So it’s wonderful to be hosting this today. I am an adjunct senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations. I also teach at University of Miami Law School where I direct the Human Rights Clinic. And here at the Women in Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, we’re very focused on analyzing how we can elevate the status of women and girls around the world to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

A reminder that today’s program is on the record. So I’d like to just start giving a little bit of an overview on the theme of today, which is the economic cost of gender-based violence in Latin America. Research indicates that gender-based violence costs the world approximately $1.5 trillion a year but governments around the world have struggled to address it with thinking about strategies, and we don’t oftentimes think about that economic cost factor when we, and I count myself amongst this, when we as advocates or we as policymakers are thinking about approaches to gender-based violence.

Oftentimes, the economic cost is either separated or not considered when we’re focused on policy approaches, and today’s roundtable and much of the work of the folks in this room is committed to thinking about a more integrated approach there.

Throughout Latin America, we’ve made significant progress in empowering women and gender-based violence, however, remains a widespread problem and a public health concern and a criminal justice problem. The Pan-American Health Organization reports that two out of three women killed in Central America are killed for reasons related to their gender, and a 2018 survey by Oxfam reported that most fifteen- to twenty-five-year-olds in eight Latin American countries believe that women are to blame for violence, including sexual assaults, because of the way they dress.

And so our roundtable today focuses on how governments in Latin America can reduce gender-based violence and promote women’s economic empowerment through legal and political reforms as well as shifts in cultural norms, and we’re going to be taking a hard look at the numbers and at some innovative strategies from a financial perspective as well.

I’m thrilled to introduce our two speakers today, both friends and colleagues that I cherish and who are just doing really innovative and path-breaking work. To my immediate left is Rosa Celorio, and Rosa is the associate dean for international and comparative legal studies and the Burnett Family professorial lecturer in international law and comparative law and policy at George Washington University Law School.

Previously, she served as a senior attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and she has a deep professional background in human rights, discrimination, and gender.

Rosa, thank you for being with us today.

We are also privileged to welcome Julie Katzman, who is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Inter-American Development Bank. Previously, Julie served as the general manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund, which provides grants that support private sector-led development benefiting the poor. Julie is a long-time investment banker and throughout her career she has been a champion of women’s economic empowerment.

So please join me in welcoming Julie and Rosa. (Applause.)

So our format for today is that—and those of you who have attended CFR roundtables know this format well—I’ll pose a series of questions to Julie and Rosa and we’ll engage in a dialogue, and that’ll happen for the first half of the program and then for the second half we’ll open it up to questions and when we do so if you could just take your name placard and place it vertically and then we will get to as many questions as we can. We’re looking forward to a robust dialogue.

So, first, we want to lay the groundwork for the nature of the problem, right. I always tell my students that if we don’t understand the nature and prevalence we can’t think about solutions. So according to the United Nations, Rosa, Latin America and the Caribbean is considered the most violent region in the world for women. Femicide occurs on a, quote, “devastating scale,” according to the U.N., in Central America, where two out of three women who are murdered die because of their gender—a statistic that I just mentioned.

What factors contribute to such high rates of violence against women and can you talk about some of the consequences, whether they’d be about migration or access to education, employment, political participation, or likewise?

CELORIO: Thank you, Carrie, and good afternoon. It’s really an honor to be here to be able to spend this time with you, to be joined by such a distinguished group of panelists and to really be discussing such a timely issue in Latin America.

I really like the way Carrie started this panel talking about the nature of the issue because at the end of the day, when we’re thinking of strategies governments can employ, part of the challenge that we have in Latin America is that we’re still learning not only about the widespread nature of gender-based violence but also its features, its components—who are the women affected and how to engage the different levels of a specific state or country in addressing this issue.

So in terms of the nature of the issue, I think it’s important to highlight, again, that gender-based violence in Latin America is still a very widespread issue. It’s a major human rights issue. The numbers speak for themselves. When you study the numbers of international organizations, most of them really highlight one in three women and girls that are affected by different forms of violence, and Latin America is not an exception in that trend.

And I think one thing that’s really interesting about the Latin America context is that there are certain forms of gender-based violence that have had a significant amount of documentation, like, for example, gender-motivated killings, forms of sexual violence and torture, and domestic violence.

But every day there are other, I would say, forms of gender-based violence that have been there historically but now they’re really coming more to the forefront or at least they’re starting to be more documented or at least more understood, even though maybe the international community hasn’t necessarily caught up entirely to where these forms should be in terms of how to address them or even governments themselves. Like, for example, sexual harassment, I would say, is one of the forms. Online violence against women is one of the forms as well. Economic violence and the way access and control of economic resources can be used not only in the home but outside of the home to actually produce violence against women.

These are all concepts that we’re starting to understand better now and you see a lot of governments starting to pay attention to them but not necessarily with all the guidelines necessary. So this is why the work of so many organizations is important here. And I think if we’re talking about the factors and the consequences, I think another very important feature of gender-based violence is the amount of settings where it occurs, right.

It occurs in the family. It occurs in schools and employment places, in health institutions, in entertainment and press outlets, in political venues, in prisons, and many other settings. It really occurs everywhere and we’re starting to understand or at least grasp what that means in terms of a notion and in terms of a problem to address, and we have a range of actors involved. We have government actors that can be perpetrators. We have private actors that can be perpetrators as well. So that adds to the complexity of the problem.

In terms of factors, it’s very difficult to understand or deconstruct why gender-based violence is in Latin America or anywhere, really, without understanding discrimination and without understanding stereotypes and they need to really address this historical discrimination, how it’s ingrained in social norms, and also the conceptualization of stereotypes and how they affect the actions of all levels at the state level in Latin America, in the Caribbean, and I would say this is a global problem as well.

I think we still have a problem of social tolerance of violence and the view that this is normal, that this is just part of our day-to-day lives. High levels of poverty are not very helpful to reducing levels of gender-based violence.

In Latin America, you see something really interesting, too. You see a lot of women now assuming very important economic positions in their families and you see this evolution of the conceptualization of the family in Latin America, and it’s interesting how now we’re starting to understand how that can fuel domestic violence, how that can produce more gender-based violence, and you see also women every day occupying more public roles as human rights defenders, as women that are on the streets protesting not only gender-based violence but other gender issues and other social issues—women opposing extractive and investment projects, and all of this is producing also gender-based violence that we’re starting to understand and grasp, right, especially women that are working to defend sexual and reproductive rights for LGBTI issues or that are opposing extractive industries, right.

And in terms of consequences—and there’s a lot that we can discuss here—one of them that’s very important, especially because this is a panel about economic cost, is the impact on women’s access to the labor market, and not only to access the labor market but to stay in the labor market, to be promoted in the labor market, and to really have a substantial control over economic resources, right.

I think that’s a big consequence. Also, obstacles to really have that participation in public life or in political life or have decision-making positions in that regard I would say affects also under psychological and physical integrity including reproductive health consequences and forced migration, and there’s a lot of issues there. I mean, that’s a very complex issue that requires its own study in itself, and we’ll pause here because we have other—many other issues to discuss.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Well, that’s fantastic. Thank you, Rosa.

Well, I’d like to pick up a little bit more on something you mentioned in terms of the actors who are responsible for the violence. And so you mentioned, you know, state actors and private actors—of course, also institutional actors. Could you talk a little bit more about the evolution in terms of international law and domestic law in terms of accountability and attribution of responsibility for the violence?

Of course, kind of historically violence against women was—and gender-based violence were considered private matters, that individuals should, you know, resolve amongst themselves or that happened behind closed doors. And so could you talk about whether that—whether perceptions in Latin America are changing that kind of track these changes that we’re seeing in international law?

CELORIO: I think that’s a wonderful question and I do think that you see some progress, and I think where the progress is is in discourse. I think what international law has given us and what the human rights framework in particular has given us, and this conceptualization of gender-based violence as a human rights violation, as a woman’s rights violation, is this understanding of gender-based violence as a public problem—as a problem the states need to tackle because it has social, economic, political consequences and many other consequences.

And you see this in the discourse. When you talk to governments in Latin American countries, it’s very difficult right now to find a government that can deny publicly that they don’t have a major gender-based violence issue or that they don’t have major legislation on gender-based violence or a major national plan to address gender-based violence. It’s in the public discourse and it’s in the public mindset, right. But the problem is we have a huge distance between that public discourse and what happens on the ground. The problem is still endemic.

Women are still victimized on a daily basis. So I think that what international law has been good about in Latin America particularly is piercing the family, right. It has entered the family. Like, at this stage, gender-based violence is not necessarily only a private issue anymore, at least in the public perception, right. But I think we still have a long way to go in terms of how do we translate that into an actual implementation of policies, of legislation, of programs, of services, that really help women and the prevention aspect.

I think the prevention aspect we really have a lot to work on and there’s actually a lot of strategies there that you can think of that, in my view, are connected with international law but that really go beyond the realm of international law because, I mean, there are things like the economic empowerment of women, for example, the education of women, for example, fostering the leadership of women, for example—that that’s part international law but that’s part of a multidisciplinary strategy also at the national level.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Fantastic. You’re getting me very excited about possibilities here. Great. Well, and I’d like to return in a little while to the question of some promising practices and examples that we might look to for future directions.

Before we do that, in terms of continuing to lay the groundwork and to think about the nature of the problem, I’d like to turn to Julie now to talk about data and the importance of data. Could you tell us about what data we have on this issue? What do we have on gender-based violence, what are we missing, and why is data important?

KATZMAN: OK. So I’ll put that in the context of you can tell I’m Inter-American Development Bank—the bank part versus the academic part. So I’ll be a little bit more transactional, shall we say—


KATZMAN: —because, in fact, all of this we’ve known for a long time and yet did we move the needle in the region in terms of what was happening. And we go to countries and sit with women’s ministries—called lots of different things but, generally, that—and along with the environment ministries, sadly, generally the weakest ministries in government. And so getting things done, getting resources, really hard, right. So I promise I’ll get to the answer on statistics.


KATZMAN: But so we decided to take actually a page out of the climate change folks’ book where our climate change people said, OK, where’s the power, where’s the money—finance ministries. So we developed a type of loan product that is budget support and it requires governments to take on a set of policy reforms in order to get that kind of loan, and that worked in the climate space and we got countries energized around making major changes in climate environments.

So we’ve taken that and applied it to gender and, actually, to disabilities. Why were we able to do it? Why were we able to get finance ministers to decide that this was a smart way—reason to borrow money? That goes to the data. So we know, thanks to GiZ that violence against women costs small and medium-size enterprises 6½ percent of GDP per year in Paraguay—Bolivia. Sorry—Bolivia.

We know that it costs 2.4 percent of GDP in Paraguay and 3.6 percent of GDP in Peru. Those numbers are stunning, and when you say to a finance minister whose economy is growing 1, 2, 3 percent a year, look, this is the cost of gender-based violence in your country and if you can get your arms around that you can actually change your growth trajectory. That’s compelling. And so when the previous finance minister in Argentina where we did the first of these policy-based loans said to me, has the violence against women thing always been this bad or is it that we just, right—or it’s only now that we understand it.

I said, right, so we can’t answer that question because we don’t know. We can imagine we know but we don’t know, and that’s why this loan is so important because a component of that loan is actually creating a national registry with a national standard around reports of gender-based violence.

So, you know, those kinds of statistics that make this not just the right thing to do but the smart thing to do, the necessary thing to do, are what I think open the conversation in a very different way with very different actors to create different vectors to create change.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Fantastic. Thank you. Thank you.

Can you talk a little bit more, Julie, about the economic aspects of violence against women? You already spoke about that, of course, and specifically, how is gender-based violence connected to access and control of economic resources?

KATZMAN: Yeah. So let’s take another example. We created something called the Gender Transport Lab. It’s a collection of seven cities in the region who are part of the Gender Transport Lab that are looking at the criticality of transportation and the role it plays in economic empowerment, and violence in the transport system is actually a really important thing.

So and it goes beyond violence, right. It’s, like, how do you include women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises in the procurement value chain in transportation. It’s how do you think about equity in terms of pricing in transportation, because if you look at how a man uses transportation and how a woman uses transportation, when the majority of primary care givers are women you find that a woman will get onto a form of transport and drop off, say, a child at school, get back on transport, drop off another child at school, get back on transport, go to work. If that woman is charged three fares and a man just gets on transport and gets off at work, there’s an inequity problem there, right. So this covers a broad range of issues around transport.

But on violence, you know, there’s a lot of experimentation going on because transport’s connection to economic empowerment is really huge. So some countries are experimenting with single-sex cars—metro subway cars or buses. You know, the vote is out because if you look at those single-sex cars in São Paulo on an average evening you will not find that there are only women in those cars.

But there are other experiments going on as well. For example, in Quito they put a—let’s call it a panic button—on the bus and what that does is it notifies the driver that there’s a problem, and at the next stop the police are there and they address the person who’s the perpetrator. And about six months ago, the first case was fully adjudicated and this guy, who was groping a woman, went to jail for thirteen months.

I mean, I think that that is the kind of intervention that you need to see if you’re going to interrupt those kinds of blockages in front of women in terms of economic empowerment. If the culture of impunity—if people see that someone goes to jail and they go to jail for a serious period of time, then I think we can begin to change behavior and remove some of those impediments.

You know, there’s the other piece of this, which is less directly about violence. We have launched something called the Gender Parity Task Forces in Chile, Panama, soon to be in Argentina, and one or two other countries, and those task forces look at the economic gender gap—the gap in wages, labor force participation, and the seniority of women—and it’s a public-private initiative where public sector and private sector companies join the initiative and agree to move the needle on two of those three gaps over a three-year period of time.

Well, if there is more equity in the workplace, this also goes to the overall view of how women are seeing what kind of gender parity exists in the dialogue of the country and we see that as playing a less direct but an important role.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Great. Thank you.

So we’ve now kind of bridged into thinking about programs and solutions, and I’d like to move back to Rosa to talk a little bit about legislative and policy reforms at the governmental level. So the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law report has noted that all the countries in Latin America have legislation that protect women from domestic violence and most of the countries have legislation addressing sexual harassment in employment, though not all, as you noted.

So could you talk about—a little bit more, as you alluded to earlier, about the next steps in legislation and policy to address violence against women in these various places and sectors?

CELORIO: Thank you, Carrie. I think Latin America has been—it’s a fascinating place to study when it comes to legislation because, I mean, it has—

KATZMAN: Lots of it.

CELORIO: It has tons of it. (Laughter.)

KATZMAN: (Inaudible.)

CELORIO: Tons of it in on gender-based violence, right? I mean, it has been amazing all the legislation that we’ve had on different forms of gender-based violence, and I come from the human rights world, right. I mean, I worked thirteen years at Inter-American System of Human Rights and every time we had a hearing with a government on gender-based violence, the governments would come in and they would be, like, look at all of my legislation.

Look at all of my policies. Look at all of my programs, and they were impressive. So I have to say that my read is that those are steps that we have to recognize from governments. The problem is that usually those formal steps are not consonant with what’s happening on the ground.

I mean, at the end of the day, you can have the most beautiful piece of legislation but if you don’t have adequate funding or training of public officials of how to implement it or basically a set of regulations to make sure that this is properly applied by different officials in the government system, if you have different languages in a country—I’ve worked extensively with indigenous peoples, for example, and women of African descent and a lot of women that speak different languages in different countries and they weren’t familiar with the legislation on gender-based violence. They didn’t have sufficient information or they didn’t have any participation in this legislation.

Because that’s part of the problem also. We have this beautiful legislation but it’s legislation that has been adopted maybe by a very small group that doesn’t really represent, you know, the diversity in women—the different ethnicities, the different races, the different economic decisions.

So there are a lot of problems in the text of legislation but also in the way that the legislation is implemented as well. I think legislation is not enough and I think we’ve learned that and we’ve known this for a really long time as well. Legislation is just one step forward.

I mean, there’s a lot of strategies and, I would say, a multilayer set of strategies that involve many different sectors that you really need to be able to address a problem as vast as gender-based violence, right. and I really think that we have to go beyond the legal strategies. Even though I’m a lawyer by training, at the end of the day, one thing that I’ve learned working with gender issues is that you need to go beyond the law, right.

You need to work with the health sector. You need to work with the education sector. You need to work with the economic sector. You need to work with both public and private entities. You need to work with corporations, with individuals. You really have to work with a range of persons in sectors to be able to address this problem, and we really have to start studying—and I think this needs more studying—how to adequately prevent.

In international human rights law we’re very good at saying prevention, prevention, prevention is so important. Prevention. You know, it’s our—it’s our main line, right. But what is prevention? How do you really prevent, right? And I think it’s something that we really have to examine and also what does it mean to have the adequate availability of legal avenues and reporting conditions.

One thing that we have learned with the #MeToo movement, for example, is that we have all these women voicing their experiences and voicing things that should have been voiced for a really long time but now we have more conditions to be able to do so. But what happens next, right? Where are the reporting mechanisms? Where are the legal avenues? What kind of reform are we going to see after this? What is our response to the #MeToo movement? You know, and that’s really where we are and we have to figure out what is an adequate response there.

I think also the tools to economically empower women are very important. One thing that we have learned is the more economically empowered a woman, is the least likely or at least maybe a little bit less exposure, maybe—or at least more control in how to respond to that exposure. But the exposure is still there because all women experience gender-based violence in some way or the other. But at least economic empowerment could give you more tools to respond, to report, to defend yourself, right.

So we have to think about how to economically empower women, how to expose them more to education, how to expose them more to access, to quality and decent employment, opportunities to access public domains. I mean, I think the more we see women in public office, for me, it’s a fascinating process that we’re seeing in countries like the United States where you have more women entering public life. What does that mean? You know, where are the conditions, you know? How do you facilitate or motivate that women actually enter public office? I think that’s very important to address problems like gender-based violence, right.

I think one big challenge that we have is intersectionality and how to address the diversity of experiences that women have. And I can tell you this. Coming from a regional human rights protection system, we talk so much about intersectionality and the need to incorporate the different experiences and races and ethnicities and economic positions and conditions that women may have and how all these factors can combine to expose a woman more to violence. But there was really little understanding of what that meant in terms of a legislation or a program or a service or how do you properly include these women in the development of laws and public policies and reforms.

We talk so much about intersectionality but I think we’re still at a point where we really have to start adding more practical components to what that means in practice, right. And I think also we have these amazing international platforms like the Sustainable Development Goals, for example. International development efforts. I’m sitting next to, you know, a very important representative from the Inter-American Development Bank. I used to work at the OAS and the Human Rights Commission. How do you combine the human rights framework with international development efforts?

I mean, I think there’s a lot there to be said in terms of also combining strategies because at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s only a legal problem. But one thing that we do know is that when we’re talking about one in three women around the world, this is a problem that needs more resources, needs more thinking, needs more strategizing.

But I think we have to start thinking outside of a box. I think we’re at a moment where we have a lot of tools there. We have a lot of legislation. We have a lot of formal steps. But we’re not necessarily at a point where we can really say this is what we should be doing, you know, to really address this or to change women’s lives and that’s really what we need to do. I mean, that’s really the next step in many ways.

KATZMAN: Can I jump in?


KATZMAN: So the tools beyond laws, right. So first I’ll tell a story of a law, which is as a result of the Gender Parity Task Force in Argentina. We found a law from the 1920s that prohibited women from operating heavy machinery. It’s still on the books. So really high-paying jobs in ports, roadworks, et cetera, against the law actually to hire women, which there were a minority of women being hired but until we went looking we didn’t know, great, yeah, lots of laws to protect women that actually are doing the reverse. So there’s that piece of laws as well.

But, you know, I think there’s a broad range of tools that we think about. One is transparency and knowledge. So, you know, the launch of the Mexican National Data Bank and Information Center—I wrote it down so I actually said it right this time—I think is important because now there’s actually out there a transparent platform that the government owns that is tracking and putting out there gender-based violence statistics for everyone to see and when everyone sees them they get horrified and then, you know, the population kind of goes, oh, what are we doing. So I think that’s an important tool and creating the similarity of the way people start to look at these statistics so that they’re comparable across countries.

Second, you know, the IDB has created a model that’s most robust, let’s say, in El Salvador, Ciudad Mujer, which is an integrated way to look at treating victims of those who experience gender-based violence but also a more holistic way to look at their health, their economic opportunities, and to bring the state to bear in terms of investigation and prosecution.

Third is technology. So in Uruguay, we know—and Carrie, you certainly know better than I think probably most in this room—you know, the restraining order is a very flawed instrument. But using, like, ankle monitoring-type GPS-based technology for those on whom restraining orders have been placed so that if they’re violating the restraining order it’s being monitored in real time police can be dispatched so that tragedy does not happen.

And then financial tools. So there’s a website that I encourage everybody to look at called and they launched last month a tool that lets you look at every single mutual fund and ETF in this country, and then it’s got a score based on the companies in which it invests and how well each one of those companies do on gender policies and—OK, there are two categories. They sound kind of alike. I pulled up the page so I can say it right. Gender balance and gender policies, and under gender policies, for example, are protections for employees reporting harassment and initiatives to reduce trafficking in human rights risks throughout their supply chain.

So you look at your own 401(k) and you say, well, I’ve got this T. Rowe fund and I’ve got that BlackRock fund and I’ve got that PAC Zelidate (ph) fund. I care about this. So let’s see how they all do. And then you go to your employer and you say, you know what, we shouldn’t be in that fund because we need to move money toward companies that are doing the right thing and away from companies that are doing the wrong thing.

And the other tool that I’ll mention on that is the Criterion Institute, which has created something called the Trillion Dollar Campaign, and it’s a really fascinating thing that they’ve done, which is they’re getting institutional investors to sign what I will call a letter of intent which says, in effect, I really wish that the money that we invest was being invested in ways that had an impact on gender-based violence.

So it doesn’t require somebody to do something. It isn’t a divestment approach. It’s saying we really want our money to help move things in this direction and in parallel with that is work to say what are some of the things money could be invested in to actually move the needle on gender-based violence. And when a trillion dollars starts to speak things start to happen, and that’s the underlying thought there and they’re already at close to $100 billion. Yeah. And so we don’t necessarily think about financial tools as a big tool in the tool set. I think it’s going to become and is becoming an increasingly important tool.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Great. I have one last question and then we’d like to open it up.

Rosa, you mentioned #MeToo, and, of course, #MeToo is kind of hanging over all work around the world right now in terms of thinking about kind of what it means for movement building, what it means for institutional and legal change. So can you talk a little bit more about the #MeToo movement in Latin America? Any promising developments? Any places we should be watching, where it’s reached, where it hasn’t?

CELORIO: Thank you, Carrie. I think it’s a movement that has had a very interesting impact in Latin America. I think where you’ve seen it more publicly is in the streets and the movements on the streets. Women every day are marching in the streets of Latin American countries demanding accountability and more serious attention to gender-based violence, and we have well-known campaigns in that regard like #NiUnoMenos, for example, the 16 Days of Activism. Like, some of the historical campaigns have also been focusing on the #MeToo movement as well in Latin America. So it’s really interesting to see that.

I think it’s very interesting also in Latin America on gender-based violence the activity of the movement itself, you know, of the woman’s rights movement itself and what they have been focusing on and what they’re focusing on right now. I mean, it’s a movement that has evolved historically in terms of what they’re focusing on and right now they have specific fears and concerns that they’re voicing and a lot of it is connected to the #MeToo movement and what has been happening globally, in my view.

There’s fears for a regression of rights. It’s interesting. There’s a lot of #MeToo concerns, a lot of documentation of stories, a lot of women coming out with their stories, but also a lot of documentation of what we—fears that we have with specific legislation, with specific—that the steps that or the gains that the women have had to make sure that we don’t lose them, right, in Latin America, and this is probably the most palpable in sexual and reproductive rights.

I mean, at the end of the day, even though this is a roundtable on gender-based violence, when you’re thinking of gender issues in Latin America and when you’re thinking of mobilization issues, it’s very difficult to divide gender-based violence from anything happening with sexual reproductive rights and it’s seen as something very interconnected and it is very interconnected in international law.

So there’s a lot of fears of regression there. There’s also a lot of fears of this interpretation of what gender is—the contemporary interpretation of what the gender term is or what we have gained in international law when it comes to this gender perspective. There’s a lot of fears toward the gender ideology—I’m sure a lot of you work with gender ideology directly—this interpretation or misinterpretation of gender or what has been defined as international law of this gender perspective that is supposed to be empowering women, that is supposed to be addressing discrimination historically, that is supposed to be addressing gender-based violence to this term that’s supposed to be promoting patriarchalism and traditional notions of the family, right.

So there’s a lot of misuse also of language that has been a game and there needs to be not only a redefinition but also highlighting what the real or at least the international law accepted definitions are of this term, so especially gender. So that’s a big fear, I think, of the movement right now.

A lot of the human rights, especially the woman’s rights movement, is really fearful of its defenders right now. I mean, probably from the situations that I’ve studied in gender-based violence in Latin America one of the most concerning right now is the situation of women human rights defenders in general.

We see killings on a daily basis. We see harassment on a daily basis. We see acts of sexual violence on a daily basis against women human rights defenders for the causes that they defend, for the context where they’re working, for basically defying what the social expectation is of a woman in a society because they’re holding leadership roles.

I think it’s a situation of a lot of concern and I know a lot of the woman’s rights movement is very concerned about the situation and this has been the subject of a lot of documentation by not only the Americas’ human rights system but also the United Nations’ system, and I think a lot of women in Latin America are wondering what comes next. If you have #NiUnoMenos, if you have the #MeToo movement, what do we do now?

How do we—what do we do with these stories? What do we do with this mobilization? You know, what do we do with all this information that is now public, right? Do we change legislation? Do we change public policies? What are our strategies, you know, to really address gender-based violence in the future? And not only against women, but there’s a lot of concern over girls, for example. You know, this is a huge concern in Latin American countries right now. We have all these girls that are ten years old, twelve years old, basically with early pregnancies because of sexual violence, very well documented.

So the layers of the problem are still acute, right. There’s a lot that’s out there now, right, and women are taking a more leadership and protagonistic role in this, right. At the same time, where do we go from here? What does this mean, you know, for the future of international law, for the future of government action in this area, and for multilayer strategies to address these issues, right. I wish I had all the answers, but I don’t. At least I can (throw ?) the questions.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Julie, is there anything you’d like to add?

KATZMAN: Yeah, I just had one quick thing, which is that, you know, I think some of this relates to how you redefine what it means to be a man and you can’t forget that side of the equation here, and there are—I just recently stepped down from the board of the International Center for Research on Women and ICRW did this amazingly successful program in the schools of Mumbai, which is now in Maharashtra State as a whole, hundreds of thousands of kids involved in it, using sport to in fact redefine what it means at an impressionable age—of what does it mean to be a boy—what does it mean to be a man, and it’s had a measurable impact on views about violence and later on behavior, and I think that that’s something that the region as a whole has to start to embrace more fully because that’s a big part of what’s going on here, as Rosa said.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: And I’ll just add that that theme, of course, was a huge concern of my former boss, Joe Biden, and, you know, with a campaign that he worked—It’s On Us campaign—and thinking about the role of men and boys in addressing and stopping sexual violence in schools and beyond, and so it’s incredibly important.

We’re having this conversation in my own university right now about as we’re thinking about retention and promotion of women, for example—you know, taking a step back and saying, my goodness, we’re so focused on kind of women and women’s roles and women’s voices and there’s not a focus on men’s role in all of this. And so as we all kind of think of our own institutions and the ways in which we are advancing these conversations in our own institutions I think it’s a great point.

Well, with that, we’re going to open it up for questions. So, yes, please place your cards in a vertical position and I’ll start with individual questions. Well, actually, for purposes of time maybe we’ll group a couple questions at a time and then have our panelists respond. So why don’t I take these first three and then we’ll go down the line.

So Loribeth.

Q: Great. Hi. I’m Lori Weinstein from JWI.

STAFF: Could you use the microphone, please?

Q: Oh, the mic. Yeah. I’m Lori Weinstein from JWI.

We do a lot of work to end domestic and sexual violence here in the States and we also do work through partnerships around the world. Thank you both for your wonderful remarks. I thought I was depressed about our country. Clearly, the depression only grows.

But I have a couple of questions. One is about the SDGs, because the U.N. and the Commission on Women, of which we play a role or are involved, has put such an emphasis on ending violence. I think it’s number five. And I’m wondering, kind of from your perspectives from where you both sit how you see that’s going and whether we’re really having any impact, and I appreciated your point earlier about how things stay at the top.

The second question has to do with women and employment. Many years ago, we did a project in Russia, in the former Soviet Union, where we used two strategies. One was creating domestic violence programs in small cities but the other was encouraging and creating employment opportunities for women, and we found in that three-year project that was funded by the State Department a real decrease in the amount of domestic and sexual violence in those homes where women had jobs, had access to employment, and were actually more of the breadwinners oftentimes than their spouses. So I’d love your comments on those.


Q: Thank you. Thank you for your remarks. Very interesting. Monica Tejada from the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

So we have—we’re funding an education project in El Salvador and the data in El Salvador is 90 percent of the victims of sexual crimes are girls and adolescents. So I have two questions. One is how does the analysis—the economic analysis of the costs of GBV take into account underage women and girls who are not officially in the labor market yet and—well, if you could elaborate a little bit of that. And then the second part is are there any interesting programs or measures that address GBV within the schools system that, from your experience, you’ve seen as successful within the Latin American context? Thank you.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: And over to Begoña Fernandez.

Q: OK. Hi.

(Off mic.)

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Do you want to go ahead and—

KATZMAN: You go ahead.

CELORIO: Thank you so much for your question on the sustainable development goals. You know, I try to be positive in nature because I’m an international human rights law lawyer by training, right. So if not, I would give it up and not do anything, right. So and I think—you know, I think it’s very difficult to measure right now what kind of impact the sustainable development goals have really had.

But I do think there’s been a measure of progress. It’s not as if we’re in a moment in time that when we talk about women’s rights or we talk about, you know, the rights of girls, et cetera, that we can say that there hasn’t really been any sort of progress. I mean, every day, especially in the area that I study the most—international human rights law—you see more government action. You see more private actor action. You see more actions from individuals to address gender-based violence. You see more women vocalizing, you know, what’s happening with gender-based violence or their own stories. I mean, you do see a lot of tendencies that, in my view, at least they give me hope, right.

It’s very difficult to say that this is an advance or a good practice. I’m usually very careful about using that kind of terminology. But at least I see some steps in the right direction. I think what the sustainable development goals give us is language and a platform—a consensus platform.

I’m a big fan of consensus platforms because I’ve always worked historically with governments, and at the end of the day when you have governments on your side there’s a lot that you can accomplish, right. Governments have resources. They have influence. They have connections with other governments. They can use things like international law to protect and to create good interventions.

So for me, there’s promise there. I think it’s very difficult to really talk about a good practice or, really, advances at this stage. But there’s been some progress. The problem is that at the end of the day, what most of us are trying to do is improve the situation of women, improve the situation of girls. Make sure we have prevention. Make sure we have adequate redress, right. and we’re not seeing that yet, right. So there’s a long way to go here. But I do think you have at least some light there.

In terms of women unemployment, it’s fascinating what you said because most of what I’ve studied and what I’ve learned from my practice is that it does make a big difference, right, to have quality and decent employment, to have economic resources. But then you have documentation in areas, you know, especially in Latin America. For example, so in Juárez, Mexico, which is one of the most—best documented cases in Latin America where there were a lot of killings, you know, right after you had all these maquila corporations coming and employing all these women and suddenly women were the main income earners of their households, right.

It’s not clear whether it was the maquilas employing the women. It’s not clear whether it was because they were, you know, the wage earners. But there was a specific change in that locality happening economically in terms of economic roles and it was actually happening at the same time of the killings, right. I think you would have to study more whether this was connected or not. But it was certainly presented, for example, as expert testimony—as part of expert testimony before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights when they ruled on their main case on the killings in Ciudad Juárez.

So just—it’s interesting. I think employment and I think quality and decent employment and I think economic empowerment are key. But we have to also study the short term, the medium term effect—what does that mean in terms of gender-based violence. I just think it’s a very interesting issue to look at more.

In terms of El Salvador and education and the situation of girls, from my experience, at least in the realm of international law and human rights where I’ve worked with the most, the situation of girls is invisible. It’s invisible, and I think that’s something that we really have to work on, especially in the area of women’s rights. A lot of the standards that we have today were conceptualized not thinking of the particular situation of girls. Even though technically and legally they’re applicable, there’s a lot of nuances and needs there that need to be better studied and there’s a lot of governments that are trying to understand that now, especially—because especially in the past five years the situation of girls in Latin America have become more of a forefront issue, especially because of the situation of the early pregnancies and the situations of sexual violence.

But in my view, we’re a long way to go in terms of understanding really the situation of girls and how to best apply international law to really understand the nuances, their needs, and to really protect their human rights, and I think that that’s very connected to your question as well. I think there needs to be more standards developed when it comes to connecting the situation of women and girls and I think we have to start with an understanding of what that means—that connection.

We usually lump them together, right, but we don’t necessarily understand what it is—you know, what the specific needs of protection are for girls, you know, and where the differences may lie or the nuances may lie, and I think that’s a shortcoming that we have in international law from the—in that specific field, right. And I think that was it, right. OK. For now. (Laughter.)

KATZMAN: So I will start by saying I’ll probably disappoint because I think they were really good questions and I’m not sure I have anything definitive to say in the context of the answers. But, you know, the point about the decrease in violence for women who had jobs, there was a lot of talk early on that the reverse was true and I think as time has gone on it’s become more and more clear that women who have resources are in a better position across the board.

You know, it’s interesting in an agricultural context that you do have to be really careful about unintended consequences. So we have an experience where, for example, you use extension services to increase production of what are the cash crops and the cash crops are generally the domain of the male in the household, and that minimizes the percentage of the income of the entire household of the woman who’s generally managing the crops that feed everybody, and it upsets that gender balance and then you see a rise in violence, right.

So I think that the big picture of be careful when doing these programs that all look like they might all be good if you then don’t make sure that the women are benefitting from the extension services and et cetera.

Do you know, I have a supposition that girls and adolescents aren’t taken into the account in the statistics because we’re looking—the statistics that look at the economic impact—because we’re looking at the formal and informal economies but, yeah, I’m going to guess that those girls are very underrepresented in that and I think it’s a really interesting point and it’s something that I’m going to bring back and ask somebody about.

You know, we’ve done some interesting programs in the schools and I was looking to try to find the results of this impact evaluation in either Guatemala or in Mexico where—and I couldn’t find it. There happens to be something wrong with the website, which is also something I’m going to bring back. It won’t let me in to that specific impact evaluation.

But where the work that was done in schools with young kids and adolescents really did have an impact on future violence. So there are some programs out there and I’m, you know, more than happy to get in touch with you with those, and how to connect those two agendas about children and girls.

So I do think that there’s an underlying issue here, which is if you look at the region and you look at the age of consent, that’s a place where actually more laws are actually needed and, you know, in a lot of countries there’s an issue here around indigenous rights. But that’s a piece of this that—you’re not even there yet and you can deal with that, and I think that’s actually a place where the two agendas do come together and relates to, you know, a woman’s right to her body and what happens there and family planning and, you know, we see all sorts of statistics around this, which I think could be better leveraged and thought about if we’re thinking about the intersection of the two agendas.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: So let me ask my colleagues—my CFR colleagues—may we go over for a few minutes? OK. So we have five minutes. So I see about five or so cards up. Why don’t we—why don’t we just go through the remaining—

KATZMAN: Take them all.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Let’s tick them off. We’ll be efficient. We’ll do this. Go ahead.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. My name is Aapta Garg. I work with Promundo.

And I wanted to ask in terms of when the—when governments are looking at these numbers around the economic cost, to what extent are they going deeper towards more entrenched and preventative—entrenched norms and preventative measures to address these rather than just kind of accommodating measures?

I mean, we talk about the single-sex trains but that doesn’t stop men from harassing women on the trains. It just removes the women from those opportunities. And thinking beyond just kind of like how do we, like, put a bubble around women. And then I guess kind of a little bit further, how do we—to what extent are they also going beyond punitive measures to address violence? Because in many countries—I’m thinking of Brazil in particular—you have communities that have high interactions with the police that don’t necessarily address the root causes of violence but actually can exacerbate it. So how do we address violence without increasing police interactions for communities that are highly surveilled anyway?

And then in terms of school-based interventions on preventative violence, in El Salvador our colleagues in Brazil are working on our program (age ?) program in the school-based situations there. I don’t have data on that. But I’m happy to connect you with our colleagues in Brazil if you would like that—


Q: —as well as anyone else who wants to have that information. Thank you.

KATZMAN: Yeah, and I should have mentioned program (age ?) program in because we’re involved in that and it’s rolling out.

Q: Hi. I’m Cindy Dyer from Vital Voices, and I just have a quick question as a follow-up to the question about laws and policies.

I know that many of us are familiar with the many countries that are passing femicide laws to address high rates of GBV and they’re certainly willing to use their criminal justice system to address, you know, really outrageous forms of violence against women, which is good. But I’m wanting to know if any of you are familiar with countries that are trying to address GBV by focusing on the low-level violence against women so that we can try to prevent the need for all the femicide laws. Are there any countries that are really trying to aggressively address first-time violence or low-level violence that does not result in a front-page newspaper story?

Q: Hi. I’m Jenna Ben-Yehuda, recovering State Department official—(laughter) —and I teach at GW on security and the Latin—in Latin America.

MS.     : How is that recovery going? (Laughter.)

Q: Right. I’m sure there are others.

MS.     : (Laughs.) I’m sure there are.

Q: So, you know, Rosa, your excellent comment on the need for donors and multilateral actors to come together on some of these issues had me thinking back to my Haiti days—like 2004, pre-earthquake, major raise round, right? So like these—I mean, could you use the donor roundtable model; like when there is a no-kidding crisis, what would this look like for multilaterals if this were really treated as a crisis? Because I think it is a crisis, but it’s kind of like a creeping, silent crisis.

So if we take Julie’s point about the data and how these countries are barely creeping up with 2 percent GDP growth, right? I mean, if they could harness even half of that, there would be like landslide electoral victories for incumbents, right? Like, it would really be huge.

So I mean, kind of a big question, but like what would that look like to have a huge, multilateral kind of donor community push to come together on these issues, collapse some of these strategies, band forces, and just charge ahead?

Q: Sure. Hi, Cindy Arnson with the Woodrow Wilson Center. Thanks.

Just as a note of advertisement, we’ve had over the past year and a half a project with the IDB on gender-based violence, lots of resources on our website covering various Latin American countries.

My question goes mostly to Julie, and it has to do with how—and I’m not disputing the data, but I’m just wondering how one measures the economic impact of gender-based violence on GDP. And I agree that it’s a very good tool for getting people’s attention, but what goes into that calculation?

Q: And mine builds off of—I’m Alex Arriaga with Strategy for Humanity. Mine builds off of the previous.

So just umbrella question: In terms of what is happening in the region, there are some countries where we have really seen a reversal, and true threats on what has been gained, I think, in Nicaragua, for example. And at the same time, Julie, you have spoken about some very exciting initiatives with specific countries, so just big picture, I’d like to know how you are addressing—you know, how you’re—especially with the bank, how are you addressing the countries that are truly reversing, how that’s impacting your programming with them, and also, big picture, are there countries where you see the trend and potential for championing in a positive way?

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: And Judge Brower, you had a question.

Q: Thank you.

Charles Brower. I’m the only one not attributed to having any institutional connection on this list, but I’m an international judge in The Hague at the World Court, and also the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal by appointment of both Republican and Democratic administrations.

I just have two questions. Apart from emphasizing the importance of training boys how to be tolerant, non-violent men—that’s the major half of the—you’ve got to deal with the offense as well as the defense. My two questions are simple. Do these efforts involve also those whose gender identification has changed—so-called trans? The other is the march of thousands upon thousands of people from Central America through Mexico currently to the southern border of the United States—I understand from interviews on television and from reading the print press a lot of it deals with the gang violence. People are afraid of being murdered because their relatives have been murdered, and they live in poor sections governed by gangs, but a lot of them have said—and its mostly women and children—heavily women and children saying if I go back there my husband will kill me.

Now I wonder what all that says about the degree of success of these efforts in that part of the world. Does it simply say, well, you know, we’ve just got to keep on, or does it offer any judgment—preliminary judgment as to the level of success in that area? Period. Thank you. I figured it was appropriate for a gentleman—

Q: In the interest of time I’ll just pass.

Q: —to ask a question.

KATZMAN: OK, I’ll pick off a few hopefully accurately.

So the question about entrenched norms and how you get beyond treatment, on the one hand, and punitive measures on the other—so, you know, I’m not so sure we want to get beyond punitive measures, and I hear what you are saying about policing in communities, but I think that goes to the model of policing. And we actually—you know, I think the impunity is such a big problem that punitive action is OK in my book, in many ways.

And so we’re really focused on the model of policing, so in Honduras we have worked really hard to change the model of policing to integrate with the country many more women into the police force so at the community level women can—and it goes to another question that was asked, I think—women can go to the police locale and report lower levels of violence, not when it ends up being femicide, and have somebody who takes that report seriously, and a process in place to respond to that kind of report.

So, you know, it is part of changing the policing to a community model and not just a come in and raid the neighborhood to get guns, for example. So I think there is a certain amount of nuance associated with how you operate along that spectrum, which I think, Cindy, goes largely to your question as well.

So Jenna, I just—I think that what you said is really interesting and important, and you know, there are parts of the region where there are donors who are focused on this topic, and where we have tried to collaborate, and we do collaborate with those donors. I don’t think that anyone really has—we’ve tried to cast this as a big issue, and we have—you know, we’re a demand-driven institution, and so where we have demand, that’s how we’re approaching it, with that kind of lens. But across the region, and thinking about it the way you said it, I think there’s some really good food for thought there, and I’d like to continue that conversation.

So how do you measure the impact relative to GDP? I will tell you that those numbers are not IDB numbers; those are GiZ numbers, and the methodology which—the specific of which escape me at this moment was really very detailed. So there’s a really robust methodology which we would like to now replicate. We’re looking for donors so that we can replicate this in other countries, and Andy—who you know well—can have a conversation with you about that.

Judge Brower, I—yes, so the question of people with other gender identities, that—if we think that women’s gender-based violence toward women is bad, you know, multiply it, raise it to the tenth power, right? And so that is a part of the work that we do, but we—I mean, without doubt it’s an even more complicated path, but the reforms that we are working on, and where we work on this topic, we do it in an umbrella sense so that it’s not just, you know, not—not bipolar—yeah, forgot the word that—

MS.     : Gender binary?

KATZMAN: Thank you—gender binary. Thank you.

The comment that, you know, a lot of people are fleeing gender-based violence, I think there’s no question that the scale and the scope of the things that are being done are not sufficient to be able to say it can change in any way, shape, or form—at the macro level we’ve changed culture; it just hasn’t happened. And it has been exacerbated by the fuel of gangs and guns into Central America, and so it has made a bad situation worse; not a bad situation better. And everything that is being done—back to Jenna’s point—in some ways are still gathering drops in large buckets. And that’s why there is a lot more that needs to be done.

And just, Alex, I—I think for—well, for—speaking for the IDB, it’s hard to—if you have a country that is going in the wrong direction, that probably—although not necessarily—implies that their engagement on the topic with an institution like ours is not necessarily robust, which makes it hard to then kind of have a dialogue around why that is happening—not impossible, but not as the central core of the message or the work with that country because they must not be focusing.

But the flip side, we are trying very hard to take all of the very positive things that are going on in the region and use those to be advocates and leading voices. So when Mexico puts up the website that creates great transparency around the scope of the problem, we’re not marketing that platform to every country in the region.

When Argentina says, OK, I’m going to do all these things from changing the way we investigate femicide, to changing the way that we train our officers, to gathering all the data in certain ways, we’re marketing that across the region. And I think that’s the way we can carry the positive messages and start to show how that pays dividends to the countries.

BETTINGER-LÓPEZ: Well, with that, I want to thank our panelists. Please join me in thanking them. (Applause.)

And I want to thank all of you for your excellent questions and participation, and for joining us. So stay tuned for more CFR roundtables. You will be getting them in your inbox.



This is an uncorrected transcript.


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