Archive for feminicide

12 de Abril: Arruinar tu vida

Posted in Bolivia, violence against women with tags , , , , on April 12, 2012 by eugeniadealtura

Last Monday, after his 16-year-old girlfriend told him she thought she was pregnant, 18-year-old Rubén T. R. strangled Ruth A. T. and buried her–still alive–in an empty lot in El Alto.  Asked why he committed the crime, T. R. stated, “I didn’t want to ruin my life.”

Even if this explanation weren’t horribly selfish and heartless–ie., he didn’t want to ruin his own life, so he took hers–it would still be senseless.  If Ruth had continued her pregnancy and had a child (since evidently, T.R. wanted her to abort), how could this event possibly ruin his life more than murdering the young woman and facing all of the consequences of that crime?

Toward the end of the article, we begin to see why: Justice in Bolivia for men who commit feminicide or femicide (a term women’s rights activists in the region are utilizing to describe the targeted killing of women) is far from just.  Many of these men claim “crime of passion” defenses, seizing on sexist norms that excuse male violence against women when these women do not act as they “should”–ie., when they get pregnant (or fail to get pregnant); when they have sex with other men (or when there is a rumor that they have done so); when they talk back, etc., etc.

La Razón’s article suggests that T. R. is planning a similar defense.  First, to establish an idea that he was just “out of his mind” when he committed the crime–despite evidence gathered by police that he planned it days in advance–T. R. stated, “I really regret doing it, I don’t know what was going on with me at that moment.”  At the end of the article, a government official is quoted attempting to “explain the causes” of the murder.  Citing scientific knowledge–which we all know, is fool-proof and “objective,” Marcelo Claros remarked, “Psychology reveals that an excessively euphoric behavior, far from the rational, can cause one to make decisions of this type (of one young person killing another).”  Another cause cited at the bottom of the article is the consumption of alcohol and drugs–despite the fact that T. R. seems to have been stone cold sober when he murdered his girlfriend.

If psychology reveals that “excessively euphoric behavior” can cause one young person to murder another, why does it seem that in Bolivia, it is always young men murdering young women, and not the reverse?  Sexism kills.  At least it killed Ruth.

22 de Mayo: Ni amante, ni amigo

Posted in Bolivia, violence against women with tags , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

In general, I make an effort to highlight new issues in the blog, and not write in detail about themes I have covered previously.  That is, until reality forces me to. Last Saturday night, a young Bolivian man named Víctor Avendaño killed his “friend” Betty Condori by hitting her over the head with a bottle.  Once she was dead, Avendaño carried Condori’s body around the city–first to pick up some plastic bags at a garbage heap, and then to leave some items of the woman’s clothing at his parents’ home, where he lived–before dousing the body with kerosene and setting it on fire on a La Paz city street.  During his confession to police, Avendaño said in his own defense, “‘My only crime was to love a woman that did not pay attention to me.'”  (As always, all translations are my own.)

But clearly, Avendaño is mistaken.  Even before he murdered this young woman and then burnt her body on a street corner, Avendaño had committed other crimes.  First, he recorded and downloaded Condori’s private cell phone conversations with a young man in another city. Sometime in the last few weeks, Avendaño reports that he begged Condori to at least be his friend—a proposal that the young woman allegedly accepted.  Then, last Saturday night, Avendaño bludgeoned his “friend” over the head with a bottle.  Adding insult and disrespect to death, the murderer then stole some of Condori’s clothing—the article does not tell us which garments he took, but we can imagine—and then desecrated her body by setting it on fire.

Although feminicides such as this one occur frequently in Bolivia, my first reaction is always, “how is this possible?”  And by this, I do not simply mean the murder.  I mean, how can it be that so many men in Bolivia believe that any of these actions against women—harassment, spying, murder—are acceptable?  How can so many men have it in them to commit these crimes, and to hold the ideas about women that they must have to in order to make these crimes possible?

Last Thursday night, after a few beers at a pub across town, my friend “Alicia” and I decided to enjoy the crisp night air of La Paz and walk the 20 minutes to our homes.  The constant, and often violently themed, catcalls that we received on our walk, plus this article on yet another murder of a young woman in La Paz, sparked much reflection.

As I have mentioned before, I do not believe that Bolivian men’s frequent alcohol abuse is a cause for high rates of sexual and physical violence in the country.  However, what alcohol does do, is lower inhibitions.  That’s why people all over the world go out to bars, grab a few drinks, and end up hooking up with someone at the next table—it’s a natural part of life that often facilitates lasting romance.  But when drunk men on a La Paz street comment on women’s bodies as if they are something to be consumed, and even reach out a hand to see what they can grab on a passer-by, that is not the alcohol.  When drunk men go home and beat their wives and children, that is not the alcohol. That is the man.

I do not mean to imply that every drunk man in La Paz that catcalls women on the street could end up committing rape or murder.  What I do mean to say is this: if he’s doing it drunk, he could do it sober.  If—drunk or sober—your partner, or any man you know, is taping your cell phone conversations, threatening you, or showing way too much interest in your relationships with other men, then this man is not your friend. He’s not your friend, and he does not deserve to be your lover.  And he might just try to kill you.

Si usted cree que podría estar en riesgo de violencia de su pareja o de cualquier otra persona, comuníquese con CIDEM al 249-0358 (La Paz), o al 281-0041 (El Alto).  If you believe that you might be at risk of violence by your partner or by any other person, call CIDEM in La Paz or El Alto at the above telephone numbers.

27 de Marzo: Puntos de Reflexión

Posted in Bolivia, images with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, I’d like to offer a number of simple facts about Bolivia that impact women’s lives, along with some images of La Paz and El Alto.  I hope that these will serve to raise awareness about the country and about some of the issues it faces, and perhaps spark comparative reflection about the countries where you all live and work.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please contact me for citation information for the facts presented below.

City scene in La Paz, Bolivia.

Bolivia’s maternal mortality rate of 222 women per 100,000 is the second highest in Latin America (after Haiti).

About 30% of maternal deaths in the country are due to complications from abortion.

6 of 10 Bolivian women will have at least one abortion in her lifetime.  (The rate for women in the United States is 1 in 3.)

Graffiti penned by Bolivian youth from El Alto, reading, “You decide – Don’t let yourself get carried away,” with drawing of condom.

69% of Bolivian women lack access to reliable contraceptive methods.

In 2008, 1 in 4 of women giving birth at one of the largest public women’s hospitals in La Paz were teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19.

The same hospital saw 1,122 cases of incomplete abortion and “miscarriage” in 2009—over 3 per day.  Doctors insist that the majority of these cases correspond to incomplete provoked abortions.

Some women facing unwanted pregnancy end up abandoning their children rather than seeking an abortion during pregnancy.  The above image is a “foundling wheel” embedded in the wall of a La Paz-based orphanage, where desperate parents can place an infant and then spin the wheel to safely deposit it inside the home without revealing their identities.

Abortion in Bolivia has been legal since 1973 in cases of rape or to save the mother’s life, yet only five legal abortions have ever been performed.  In most cases, women and adolescent girls deliver their babies before the bureaucratic processes required to obtain a legal abortion come through.

7 of every 10 Bolivian women suffer physical violence three to five times per year; 6 of these 7 are victimized by a member of their own family.  About 53% of women do not report these crimes.

143 girls and women were murdered in Bolivia during 2009.  98 of these murders can be considered feminicides–murders of females for the simple fact that they are female.

International Women’s Day protesters in La Paz carry a banner reading, “A dignified life without violence.”  The woman in front and to the left of those holding the banner carries a paper sign reading, “Enough with corrupt attorneys and  judges!”  Many feminist activists in Bolivia contend that legal representatives in the country accept bribes from men who have murdered women in exchange for lenient prison sentences.

13 de Marzo: Ni flores, ni gases en nuestro día

Posted in Bolivia, International Women's Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

As many of you know, last Monday, March 8, was International Women’s Day (IWD), and while I shared some images on the blog from a La Paz-based IWD march, I have not yet had a chance to comment here on some of the events that took place.  IWD was a busy day in La Paz and I doubtless missed some of the activities that occurred, so the reflections that appear below are partial, at best, and represent my own experiences during the holiday.

The day began with a televised speech by Bolivian President Evo Morales that was even more disappointing than many local feminists expected.  (I have not yet been able to find a transcript of this speech; if I do, I will post it to the site.  This article, however, includes some brief quotes from the speech.)  Regular readers of the blog will remember that Morales recently instituted a policy of gender parity in his government cabinet which has gained international attention, despite the lack of political experience of some of these women.  Although Evo’s famous gender parity measure was instituted through a law, Morales’ speech insisted that women do not need government regulations, norms, or laws to achieve equality with men.  Instead, Evo argued that Bolivian women are often their own worst enemies, and that envy and in-fighting prevent them from achieving their full potential.  In other words, until all women can get on the same page, they have no business asserting themselves on the political scene.  (As if all men are on the same page, politically or socially, and refrain from political in-fighting.)

“The machismo of MAS [Movimiento al Socialismo, Evo Morales’ political affiliation] suffocates me more every day.”

Bolivian feminists had little time to react to Morales’ speech, since they were planning a morning march on the Ministry of Justice, a dilapidated yellow building on La Paz’s Prado street.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, feminist marchers hoped to call attention to the problems of violence against women and feminicide by insisting that women want justice for victims, not flowers and accolades, on IWD.  (Men typically give flowers to women for IWD in Bolivia.)  In the most recent issue of their bulletin La Escoba, La Paz-based feminist organization CIDEM estimates that 98 feminicides took place in Bolivia in 2009, 28 of which occurred in La Paz and El Alto.  (A PDF of this bulletin is available here for readers of Spanish: Boletina la escoba 8.  Regular readers may notice that a Spanish-language version of Eugenia’s January post on unsafe abortion appears in the magazine.)

Five groups of family members of recent victims of feminicide attended Monday’s march, most waving red signs bearing pictures of their deceased loved ones.  The woman pictured below is demanding justice for her daughter, who was four months pregnant when she was discovered late last year hanging by a rope in her living room–the main suspect to the crime is her own husband.

The marchers–who, in addition to the family members of victims of feminicide, included activists from local organizations CIDEM, CEPROSI, Gregoria Apaza, and Coordinadora de la Mujer, among others–blocked the street in front of the Ministry of Justice for nearly an hour, calling for the Minister to come out and address the issue of feminicide.  As I have mentioned before, feminist activists in Bolivia are pressing lawmakers to incorporate feminicide into local penal codes, so that perpetrators will be subject to prison sentences of at least 30 years and will be unable to escape on “crime of passion” defenses.

Eventually, it became clear that the Minister–a woman, as many in the crowd were eager to point out–was not going to emerge from the building.  Slowly, the crowd began to disperse, passing around water and candies to the tired marchers.  And then this happened. At the tail end of the march, when only perhaps 30 people remained, most standing on the curb holding a black banner denouncing feminicide, the group of motorcycle cops pictured below rode by and sprayed the line of women in the face with tear gas. The mayhem was immediate–women scattered, some collapsing to the ground, struggling against both gas and altitude to breathe.

Once the women recovered, some joked that the cops had sprayed us with tear gas to wish us a happy International Women’s Day.  “Men give us flowers,” one said, “but if we don’t want their flowers–if we want justice, instead–the cops gas us.”

Eventually, a small commission of women was received by the Minister to talk about the issue of feminicide.  Some say that Minister Torrico is sympathetic to the idea of incorporating the crime of feminicide into legal codes, as other Latin American countries have recently done.  However, it will most likely take a lot more than one supportive minister to change this law.  And unfortunately, we know how President Morales feels about laws protecting women.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

10 de Marzo: Imágenes de Protesta

Posted in Bolivia, images, International Women's Day with tags , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Below are several images of an International Women’s Day protest that took place last Monday in La Paz, Bolivia.  The central idea behind the protest was to insist that women want justice for female victims of violence and feminicide, not flowers, on their “special day.”  The family members of five recent victims of feminicide (murders of women for the simple fact that they are women) were present at the march.

Come back and visit the site this weekend to learn more about the International Women’s Day events that took place this year in Bolivia.

27 de Febrero: La violencia también migra

Posted in Bolivia, violence against women with tags , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

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.)

Photo of Almería, Spain, courtesy of Gernot Keller via Wikimedia Commons.

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.”

13 de Febrero: Mejor no hablemos de excusas

Posted in Bolivia, Press, sexual violence, violence against women with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Back in November 2009, my first-ever post to this blog reflected on the problem of violence against women in Bolivia.  For the past few years, feminist activists in Bolivia have been pressuring lawmakers to incorporate the term feminicidio into legal codes, to prevent men who kill their wives, girlfriends, exes, sisters, cousins, etc., from getting off with “crime of passion” defenses.  A crime of passion defense usually reads like this: “Your honor, I was just so angry and heartbroken when I heard that Fulana was [insert actual or suspected infidelity here], that I just couldn’t control myself, and I [insert violent crime here].”  At last year’s march commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, one of the slogans we shouted until hoarse was, “No es crimen pasional–es asesinato.” (It’s not a crime of passion–it’s murder.)

For those of us who believe that men and women are indeed equal and that both have the unalienable right to live without violence, these crime of passion defenses seem laughable–or they would, if they weren’t so dangerous.  Then, why do they work?  Who or what contributes to the legitimacy of this type of defense in Bolivian society?

One culprit is undoubtedly machismo and the double standards that it engenders–ie., he cheats with impunity, but she can’t even have male friends; he has a job and a social life, while she is confined to the home and to the production of offspring.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, machismo in Bolivia is fierce, and seemingly endemic to both home and professional life in the country.

So, in part, we have everyday interactions between Bolivian men and women to thank for crime of passion defenses.  But perhaps more perilously, we also have the press.  This week, the La-Paz daily La Razón covered the story of one man’s brutal murder of a sex worker in an El Alto motel room. (As always, all translations are my own.)  Evidently, when the young woman Zulma Apaza refused to have sex with her would-be client, he strangled her and used a broken bottle to cut her vagina.  In a statement to police, the murderer Óscar Condori Vargas said, “The señorita turned up dead, I got up and I don’t know, I don’t know anything, I didn’t see anything; I don’t know in what moment they did [killed] her; I had fallen asleep, I was drunk.”

My first reaction after reading Condori’s statement was to ask, “Well, which was it??” But no–it’s better to not talk about excuses.  Because the fact is, there is no excuse for murder. That is why we call a person’s “reason” for committing murder a motive, not an excuse that absolves the murderer of responsibility for the crime. And yet, this article traffics in excuses, rather than motives, offering them up like sacrifices.  In the Condori case, the reporter informs us that the excuse was the sex worker’s refusal to seal the deal.  (Violence against sex workers is a pervasive and troubling phenomenon that I cannot cover in detail in this post, but see here for recent treatment of this problem in the U.S.)

In its closing paragraphs, the La Razón article reviews other crimes that were recently perpetrated in El Alto motels, offering an excuse for each.  Last Christmas Eve, one man decapitated his girlfriend with a kitchen knife before attempting to escape, carrying her head with him inside a cardboard box.  “The motives of the crime were passionate, according to the [local police],” assures the reporter.  “In two other cases [of murder in El Alto motel rooms],” the article continues, “the victim unleashed her lover’s jealousy by calling him by the wrong name.”  Are these “motives”?  Explanations that we can add to a case file before locking the bastards away for 25-years-to-life?  No–these are excuses. In this article, La Razón is, perhaps unwittingly, justifying the crime of passion defense and ultimately excusing the absence of just prison sentences for male perpetrators of feminicide in Bolivia.  So please–no more “passionate” excuses.  Just give us cold hard motive, evidence, trial, and finally–justice.