How is gender-based violence in Latin America measured?

femicidios2Note: On Oct. 19 throughout Latin America, people demonstrated against violence against women. This call was born in Argentina after the killing of Lucia Perez, 16, who was raped and murdered on October 8. In this article, the Americas Program analyzes the data that only partially shed light on the true dimensions of the problem on the continent. The photos are of the mobilization in Mexico City, Courtesy of Desinformémonos.

“If my life does not matter, produce without me.” With that slogan was born, from Argentina, the call for the first national woman’s strike. The idea quickly spread to several Latin American countries, and women from Honduras, Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, among others joined the call to mobilize.

While in recent years gender-based violence began to occupy more space in the public agenda, there are still many difficulties to overcome – as stated in the Convention of Belém do Pará in 1994– “prevent, punish and eradicate all forms of violence against women.” Including the lack of uniform data: How is gender-based violence in Latin America measured?

There is still no common criteria of how to measure the phenomenon and each country has distinct ways of conceiving of and registering gender-based violence. In addition, in each region the agency responsible for sharing the information is different. The Gender Equality Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), gathers the main data of the region in each of its annual reports. The entity was created after the tenth Regional Conference on Women of Latin America and the Caribbean (Ecuador, 2007).

In the results, you can see the diversity of institutions: in Costa Rica data is obtained from the Statistics Department of Judicial Power Planning; in Ecuador they use those of the Ministry of the Interior. In El Salvador, the Attorney General’s Office is responsible; in Guatemala, the Public Ministry. In Honduras, it’s up to the University Institute of Democracy, Peace and Security, the National Autonomous University of Honduras and the Observatory of Violent Deaths of Women and femicide. In Nicaragua the Women’s Commissariat of the National Police provides the information, in Paraguay the National Police and the Ministry of Women provide it. In Uruguay, the Violence and Criminality Observatory of the Ministry of the Interior, the Public Ministry in Peru and in Argentina, the Supreme Court of National Justice.

But if we look inside of the countries, we find more than one institution measuring the data at a time. And it is not uncommon to find disagreements between government agencies and civil society organizations. The case of Argentina is graphic: although late last year the Supreme Court of National Justice presented the National Register of Femicide, up until then, the most reliable data came from the hands of a civilian organization. From the Femicide Observatory, Marisel Adriana Zambrano, La Casa del Encuentro coordinator, were engaged in monitoring the media to record all cases that qualify as femicide. According to them, from 2008 to 2015, there were 2,094 femicides, leaving 2,518 daughters and sons motherless.

Last year, the National Council of Women, which depends on the Office of the President, presented the National Register of Cases of Violence Against Women, based on 50,000 records. Some of the results were that 50 percent of the violence is against a current partner and 33 percent of the violence is against an ex-partner, most of the victims are between the ages of 30 and 39, live with their aggressors and are financially dependent on them. The creation of this organization was part of the law 26.485, passed in 2009 with the aim of giving “full protection to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women.”

It was no coincidence that both registers (the executive and judicial) were submitted in 2015, the year in which the movement, Not One Less filled city squares across the country. It is estimated that on June 3 about 200,000 people demonstrated repudiating gender-based violence in Argentina. This time, it was directed at the femicide of the 14 year old girl from Santa Fe, Chiara Paez, who was found buried in her boyfriend’s backyard in a hole 80 centimeters deep. The Oct. 19 strike was powered after the bloody femicide Lucia Perez, a young woman of 16. When on Saturday October 8 her body came to health parlor, she was already dead: she had been raped and impaled.

Some stories become more familiar than others. But each and every one of the 40 Chileans, 14 Costa Ricans, 97 Ecuador, 217 Guatemalans, 531 Hondurans, 36 Nicaraguans , 90 Peruvians or 24 Uruguayans had one. The data are from a 2014 CEPAL Observatory report, the latest available. “At least 1,678 women were killed in 2014 because of their gender in 17 countries throughout the region,” he warned from the organization.

Women gathered at the Obelisk of Buenos Aires and in almost 100 other places throughout Argentina. Also at the Government Palace of Mexicali, in Guadalajara, the Revolution Monument in Mexico City, Guatemala City’s Central Park, Antofagasta and Plaza de Armas in Chile, La Paz, Bolivia, in Plaza de Entrevero of Uruguay and in Tegucigalpa, among dozens of other points. Why a strike? Some data that broadcasts the collective, Not One Less answers that question: “If the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women its 10.5″ and “women do 76% of the unpaid domestic work.”

Meanwhile, Montevideo recently hosted the XIII Regional Conference on Women of Latin America and the Caribbean. The focus of the meeting was on “the integration of women in development to sustainable development with gender equality.” The document they presented shared some consistent regional data:

I. “The overrepresentation of women among people in poverty, lack of their own, sufficient income, the overload of unpaid work, the gaps in economic participation and unemployment rates consistently higher than those of men is evidence that there are still significant challenges for men and women to live in conditions of equality and to fully enjoy their rights. Thus, in countries where poverty levels exceed 40% of households, the femininity index fluctuates between 100 and 109 women per 100 men.”

II. “Women’s income measured in poverty lines are markedly lower than that of men. While nearly one in four women do not have an income equivalent to the poverty line, the proportion among men is almost one in ten (9.8%) ”

III. “Women perform between 71% and 86% of total unpaid work demanded by households, depending on the country. In all countries in the region with available data, women in poor households have a higher burden of unpaid work ”

Finally, CEPAL concludes something that will be discussed in the streets: “Strategies for overcoming poverty alone will not improve the living conditions of women.”


Julia Muriel Dominzain is a journalist based in Buenos Aires.