27 de Febrero: La violencia también migra
Last Thursday, a 26-year-old Bolivian woman was murdered by her husband in the town of Almería, Spain, where they both lived with the attacker’s sister. Evidently, the 31-year-old Bolivian man was moved by jealousy to stab his wife in the neck and to beat her on the face and head. The aggressor’s sister ran out of the house to call the police, but by the time they arrived, the woman–who is being called M.R.E.–was already dead. M.R.E. is survived by her two children in Spain, and various family members in Bolivia, who have recently succeeded in repatriating her remains to the city of Santa Cruz. Although the Bolivian press has not been quick to identify this murder as feminicide or even as gender-based violence, some Spanish papers and organizations fortunately have. (Click here for an example of an article from the Bolivian press; here for a Spanish-language article from a Spanish women’s rights organization, and here for an English-language article from a web-based directory on Spain.)
According to the Bolivia Information Forum, there may be as many as 300,000 Bolivians living in Spain, including those that are unregistered. These Bolivians, although doubtless poorer than Spanish natives, are most certainly wealthier than the majority back home. The fact that violence against Bolivian women–something that 9 of 10 women face in Bolivia–continues in Spain, is a powerful reminder that domestic and sexual violence are not simply problems of the lower classes, but occur across socioeconomic spectrums–including among migrants.
Migrants are in many ways a vulnerable population, particularly when it comes to engaging with law enforcement. It is not surprising that migrant women who suffer violence abroad often choose not to report these events, since calling the attention of police could jeopardize their statuses in the host country, especially if they are “illegal” migrants. (In addition, the police often do not take domestic violence calls seriously, or are ineffective at dealing with them.) Although scores of organizations in Western Europe and the United States (and elsewhere) work to inform migrants of their rights, many still fear exercising those rights due to the precariousness of their legal situations. In addition to the fear of law enforcement, women migrants are made more vulnerable by their frequent isolation from the social and family networks that, in their home countries, might help them escape situations of violence.
For readers of Spanish, an interesting article emerged this week in the Spanish press that takes a rather poetic approach to this issue. (All translations are my own.) The author, Nieves Fernández, highlights the anonymity and isolation that many women feel when they suffer violence. Fernández titles her article “Eme,” for the initial “M.” that is being used to identify this young Bolivian woman who was recently murdered–as if to say that even in death, this woman remains unknown. One of the terrifying aspects about the anonymity and isolation that domestic violence produces is the sense that it can happen at any time, anywhere, and to anyone–as Fernández is quick to point out. “M. lived in the center of the country,” she writes, “but this could have occurred in the north or the south, in the east or in the west and still she might not have reported [the crime]…” Writes Fernández, “She was young, but she could’ve been much older than her 25 years…, she could’ve been thirty or forty…since age is not a factor in love nor in the antilove [that is expressed with] knives.”
And finally, “Her name was M….M, for mujer…” Here’s to hoping–and to fighting to make sure–that you, or I, or any other woman, does not become another “M.”