Participants in International Women’s Day 2019 events around Cali this weekend may notice a disturbing topic trend: rising femicide and gender-based violence rates.
Valle del Cauca, the department in which Cali is located, registered the country’s highest femicide rate in 2018. Thirty-six femicide cases were reported by the the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Valle del Cauca in 2018, 22 of which occurred in Cali. Just two months into 2019, it appears that number may continue to rise.
According to Valle’s Secretary of Women, Gender Equality, and Sexual Diversity, Luz Adriana Londoño, Valle’s Public Prosecutor’s office has already recognized four femicides in the first two months of the year and four more cases are under investigation. Increased homicides of women have been registered in 2019 in Buenaventura, Cartago, Palmira, Jamundi, and Yumbo.
Valle del Cauca was also listed among the three departments with the highest nonlethal gender-based violence rates, along with Bogota and Antioquia, however, interestingly enough in terms of partner-based violence, Bogota reported the highest number of cases last year, followed by Antioquia, Cundinamarca, and then Valle del Cauca. This leaves many caucana gender equality advocates responding to the question of how reported cases of partner-based violence are not higher, if the department is leading in femicides.
First, partner-based violence statistics in Colombia don’t include femicides. Femicides are not officially recognized as a separate category and are classified as female homicides, making it hard to differentiate.
The difference between homicides and femicides being that in the later the victim’s gender contributed to the victimizer’s intent to harm. Additionally, the statistics are based on reports from the the Prosecutor’s Office and do not reflect the number of cases were women could not provide evidence of the abuse, that have chosen to remain silent, or that do not recognize that they are victims of gender-based violence, note gender equality advocates. Furthermore, accessibility to report instances of abuse is an issue for women in rural areas.
Former domestic violence victim and leader of the advocacy project “Soy Mia” Claudia Garcia, who was kidnapped by her ex-husband, offered insight based on her experience reporting her case to the police, the Family Warden’s Office, and the Prosecutor General’s Office, at an event at la Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia on Wednesday evening.
Garcia said that when she reported her case, officials revictimized her by interrogating her and making her feel that she was at fault for her situation. Officials did not initially recognize her case because they said there was a lack of evidence, “they wanted to see blood and bruises,” she said.
According to Garcia, “the Law of Guarantees for Female Victims is not sufficient” because in actuality it’s not applied and suggested that a lack of sensitivity training among officials is partly responsible for many instances going underreported.
A study presented March 7 at the Universidad del Valle, that was conducted in collaboration with Valle’s Secretary of Gender Equality’s Office and backed by the International Development Bank, sought to assess the reality of gender-based violence in Valle del Cauca.
The report found that six out of every ten women are victims of some form of gender-based violence in Valle del Cauca. The report considered physical, sexual, economic, psychological and emotional forms of violence.
There is no one prototype of a woman who falls victim to gender-based violence, it can happen to a woman of any socio-economic class, education, race, and appearance. However, Universidad del Valle’s Study of Health and Life Experience of Women in Cali found some vulnerability trends.
Women in rural areas of Valle were the most affected; 64.4% of the women participating in the study from rural areas reported being physically abused by their partners on at least one occasion.
According to Jeanny Posso and Rosa Emilia Bermudez of the Center for Investigations and Socio-economic Documentation and the Center for Investigations and Studies of Gender, Women and Society, education level is linked to vulnerability to femicides, but that women of any socioeconomic level can be victims – the type of violence they experience, however, might be different.
Women with only a primary school education and that dedicate themselves to the home, are more vulnerable to long term economic and physical violence. Women with a university education, are more likely to experience emotional and psychological violence. Physical violence has more potential to escalate to a femicide. As there is no physical evidence of abuse, emotional and psychological partner-based violence can be harder to prove and victims may not recognize the abuse.
Indigenous women were found to be the most vulnerable to gender-based violence across all categories; physical, economic, emotional, and psychological, but afro-colombian women reported the highest rates of physical violence.
What factors are contributing to the high rate of femicides in Valle del Cauca? Londoño pointed to the patriarchal culture that remains ingrained in Colombian society and particularly in some indigenous communities, the frequency of intra-family violence, access to mental health care, access to report instances of abuse, and lack of guarantees of justice.
Additionally, the secretary mentioned a recent trend in Valle of victimizers reporting abuse by their partner, who perhaps responded in self-defense, before the woman can report them.
Finally, there is a societal norm to keep quiet about instances of partner-based violence, Londoño said. “We say ‘It’s a couple’s issue,’ but no, it is societal issue and we should report it.”