GUATEMALA CITY — In Guatemala, femicidio (female homicide) is widespread and accepted. Guatemala harbors a culture of violence against women and a judicial system that refuses to prosecute crimes against females. Behind El Salvador and Jamaica, Guatemala ranks 3rd highest in average femicide rates per 100,000 females from 2004-2009.
Kelsey Alford-Jones, the director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission says that “women are one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in Guatemala; the ways in which they are targeted have been much more brutal than with men.”
In 2011, there were around 700 records of femicide. Many of them were sexually assaulted, maimed and abandoned in public. Their deaths are attributed as a method of revenge and coercion between gangs and criminal organizations. However, many of the deaths are a result of domestic violence.
Hundreds of cases of sexual and domestic violence go unreported and undocumented. Language barriers, social stigma, fear of punishment and the acceptance of domestic abuse prevent many victims from successfully seeking justice.
Violence against women in Guatemala can be traced to the country’s history of civil war from 1960 to 1966. During those 6 years, more than 200,000 people were killed. Trained soldiers in the state army were taught to target women with violence and sexually abuse female civilians as “an instrument of warfare.” In both historical and modern conflicts around the world, soldiers and armies targeted women as a method to demoralize the enemy and destroy their homes. Guatemala’s past violence against women during the civil war is occurring again today.
The Guatemalan government does not prioritize the country’s plague of femicidio. In response to domestic and international pressure, the government has started to address the country’s widespread violence against women. In 2008, the Guatemalan Congress passed the Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women. This created a legal framework for individuals to seek justice for violence against women. However, weak law enforcement has prevented the law from reaching many women. Another problem is that due to lack of resources, there is no nationwide database for perpetrators who have targeted women
There is a lack of female representation in the Guatemalan political system. There are only 12 women in the 158 member Congress, representing women who make up over half of the total population.
Women in Guatemala must be educated about their rights and have courage in reporting the crimes against them. There must be a dependable judicial system and legal framework that supports them. Both men and women in Guatemala must be dedicated to changing a society that accepts and perpetuates violence against women.