Source: Angel Boligan, Cagle Cartoons
In Latin America, International Women’s Month focused heavily on issues related to femicide and gender-based violence. On March 8, International Women’s Day saw large, defiant gatherings and protests against gender violence and inequality. In the weeks that followed, continued protests, reports, and court cases capped off a year in which COVID-19 profoundly affected women across the region.
On International Women’s Day, women in Mexico City marched to the seat of government and the presidential residence in an act of solidarity against gender violence chanting, “We fight today, so we don’t die tomorrow.” The women came ready for clashes with security forces, armed with blowtorches, bats, and hammers that resulted in multiple skirmishes and left 81 injured. Mexico suffers from one of the world’s highest rates of gender violence. Despite arguing that his coalition uplifts marginalized populations, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is seen by many as having done little to address the issue during his term. In 2020, an average of 10 women were killed in Mexico every day, and there were approximately 16,000 cases of rape.
In Peru, the disappearance and murder of a female student by a local police officer this month added to the toll the “shadow pandemic”—the UN’s term for the recent surge of violence against women and girls—has had both in the country and the world during COVID-19. Only 138 total femicides were reported to Peruvian authorities in 2020, and there were only two sentences, despite documentation of more than 5,521 disappeared women. A report from Peru’s justice and women’s ministries found that there were more than 23,000 calls and messages to a domestic violence hotline between May and October 2020, doubling the number from the same period in 2019. Violence against women has long been a problem in Peru, and the new wave, coinciding with nationwide lockdowns and soaring COVID-19 cases, has prompted another round of protests.
Argentine women have also used this month to highlight the continued toll of gender violence in their country after femicides reached a 10-year high during the COVID-19 lockdown. Outrage and widespread demonstrations have provoked calls for the government to prioritize legislation to protect women. These calls come after authorities released a report last month that found that 52 femicide victims between 2017 and 2019 had protective measures in place that were not enough to prevent their murders.
In addition to protesting violence against women in the streets, women’s rights moved forward in several important court cases. Testimony in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights from Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya, who was kidnapped, tortured, and raped in 2000 during the country’s armed conflict, has the potential to set a precedent for sexual violence survivors in the country by seeking to hold the government accountable for failing to protect her human rights. It could also reframe the political and symbolic meaning of sexual violence as a systematic weapon used against women. Sexual violence was rampant during the fighting between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), government forces, and paramilitary groups. Between 1985 and 2016, 15,076 people were victims of sexual violence during the conflict—91 percent of them were women.
Two cases in El Salvador also have the potential to promote positive change around women’s rights and reproductive health. Lawyers working to release Sara, a Salvadoran woman sentenced to 30 years in jail for aggravated homicide after falling and suffering a miscarriage, and Manuela, another woman sentenced to 30 years in prison after suffering complications during childbirth, are hoping the cases could signal a step toward abortion decriminalization. El Salvador banned abortion in all circumstances in 1998. The Inter-American Court for Human Rights began hearing arguments this month that could force the country to recognize that the policy violates human rights.