When I was a child, I was taught that the men of the house were very important. As heads of households, gentlemen, and providers, men were the ones who knew so much more and were the obvious protectors. I remember hearing—many times—that men needed to be respected and never questioned, even when unfaithful. Men were there to protect us, and we needed to understand, as young women, that unfaithfulness was in their nature and ultimately they existed to look after us.
Most of the women I knew then in the D.R. were housewives whose husbands and partners provided for their families and therefore, were “in charge”. And there was something noble in that lifestyle, the idea that a family man might be a knight in a shining armor; a leader of the home; the father, husband, and lover.
But those romantic days are long gone. Times have changed. Maybe the way I grew up opened my eyes to a dark reality: Violence against women—in any culture—is anything but romantic. More often than not, Latin American and Caribbean women and girls are subjected to aggression from men in general, and way too many times at the hands of their own partners.
A few weeks ago, a report titled “Violence Against Women: A Comparative Analysis of Population-Based Data from 12 Countries” was published as a collaboration between the Pan-American Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report sadly states that Latin American women are victims of physical and sexual violence on a daily basis.
As per the report, 53 percent of women in Bolivia, followed by 39.7 percent in Colombia, said they had experienced some sort of physical or sexual violence from their partners.
More than 180,000 women were interviewed for the national surveys that resulted in the following violence trail, in descending order: Peru (39.5%); Ecuador (32.4%); Nicaragua (29.3%); Guatemala (27.6%); El Salvador (26.3%); Paraguay (20.4%); Jamaica (19.6%) Haiti (19.3%) and Dominican Republic (17%). In Honduras, 9.9 percent of surveyed women said they had suffered violence from their partners in the past 12 months prior to the study.
As frightening as these numbers are, most likely they’re not even the complete picture. Many women will not talk because they fear they will be punished.
One of the worst consequences of the violence is the impact it has on children. Evidence suggests that children who experience violence in the home are at an increased risk of becoming victims or perpetrators when they grow up. The circle of violence continues.
Every day, women in Latin America and the Caribbean die as a result of violent actions of a spouse or another perpetrator.
In addition to physical injuries suffered from the violence itself, other negative health consequences resulting from abuse include sexually transmitted diseases, maternal mortality, abortion, unwanted pregnancy, suicide, depression, and PTSD, among others.
Research shows that there are financial consequences to the violence in terms of the demands it places on the health and justice sector for providing services to victims and prosecuting aggressors.
What We Can Do
There are many organizations that support women’s empowerment in Latin America and the Caribbean. Donating and getting involved with them is a great way of becoming part of the solution to a growing problem. But there are also important steps we can take to empower our own daughters and women friends in our communities:
1) Build confidence by teaching girls how much they are worth
2) Address the insecurity and body image issues that often arise during the pre-teen and teen years. Turn them into empowerment opportunities
3) Create an environment in your home that fosters conversation so your daughter will come to you if something is wrong
4) Treat boys and girls equally. Teach the boys how to respect girls and women
5) Get involved with a local shelter and/or women’s center. Take your daughter with you to do community service together