Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the country’s 32 governors signed an agreement Tuesday to advance women’s rights.
In a country where 99% of abortions last year were illegal, a 2010 study found a woman was killed by her partner on average every four days and women work ten hours a week more than men but receive 20% less pay, the president pledged to fight the entrenched culture of gender discrimination.
“There is still a societal attitude of men versus women,” said Santos. “Many men believe that hitting women is normal, they have this in their heads, but this violence generates more violence, violence which generates huge economic costs.” The president cited statistics from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Department of National Planning estimating that violence against women cost between two and four percent of gross domestic product.
The new National Agreement for the Defense of the Rights of Women calls on government departments to set aside part of their budget for measures such as publicity campaigns and internal communication strategies to raise awareness of violence against women.
They must also design action plans to make women aware of their right to live without violence, and to demand effective responses from authorities when they do fall victim.
Speaking to media outlets including Colombia’s national government radio, Santos said a study by Colombia’s Department of National Statistics illustrating the disturbing status of women in the country. “There is a predisposition, an attitude of men towards women, where 59 percent according to a survey believe that if women dress in a provocative manner, they risk being raped,” said the president. Around 40% of men surveyed believed a woman’s place was in the home, “cooking and keeping house, watching over his family.”
At the signing of the agreement, the state leader said, “Here we are committed to this cause, the cause of eliminating discrimination against women and violence against women.”
He focused specifically on the need to reduce Colombia’s high teen pregnancy rate, which according to Santos, “perpetuates inequality [and] encourages a decrease in student numbers, [because it] forces these girls to be isolated from their schools and their study sites to take care of their babies, so they do not have the opportunity to move forward.”
The High Presidential Adviser on Equality for Women, Cristina Plazas, added, “Colombia must advance in understanding the lack of equity between men and women because violence against women is one of the most serious social problems we have, which directly influences the country’s development.”
In 2011 the United Nations Development Program ranked Colombia 91 out of 187 countries on the Gender Equality Index.