Between poverty and machismo

Ranging from verbal humiliation to rape and murder. Violence against women has many facets. In Latin America, a toxic cocktail of power, machismo and poverty is exacerbating the situation. This is where today's International Day Against Violence Against Women has a special meaning.

"They attacked me, beat me and took away important documents. Because they were masked, I could not recognize them." Cristina Auerbach Benavides should be taught a "lesson" on that summer day in 2007. The theologian and human rights activist was caught in the crossfire of powerful interests because she campaigned for the rights of the mostly female family members of the 65 miners killed in a mining accident in the Mexican state of Coahuila in February2006. Since then, the Catholic woman has been subjected to repeated attempts at intimidation and regularly receives threatening phone calls. Open brutality, on the other hand, is demonstrated by the "feminicidios," murders of women, with which the city of Ciudad Juarez on the border with the United States has achieved sad international fame. It is thanks to the efforts of artists such as actress Jane Fonda that the world is talking about the more than 400 unsolved, mostly sexually motivated murders of women in the last 15 years. "As a sign of recognition", Esther Chavez Cano therefore also understands the gesture of the Mexican government, which awarded the 78-year-old this year's National Human Rights Award last week. Chavez Cano is honored for her work on behalf of the vulnerable women of Ciuaded Juarez at the Casa Amiga women's shelter, which she runs. "The state is doing something" Women's rights activist Cristina Auerbach is skeptical of such honors. Often they aimed only at the message, "the state does yes what". But she welcomes the award for Chavez because it keeps the many unsolved murder cases in the public eye. However, it should not be overlooked that the less brutal forms of sexual harassment are a mass phenomenon. It is particularly common in the workplace. But women could do little to counter this through official channels. One reason: "The unions are firmly dominated by men". Disproportionate violence against women is not limited to Mexico. Non-governmental organizations in neighboring Guatemala have reported more than 400 murders of women this year alone, compared to 590 in 2007. Capital crimes are also piling up in tiny Costa Rica: According to official data, 13 "feminicidios" were already registered there in the first half of 2008, compared to 17 in all of 2007. There is also alarming news from Argentina, where human rights activists have registered 92 murders of women this year. When men see their livelihood threatened Auerbach sees the causes of this threatening trend in the poverty and lack of perspective that affect many people. Mexico, he said, is a country of contrasts, "where the majority of people, whether men or women, have few rights and few opportunities to succeed". The emancipation of women in the labor market is not the least of the challenges. "When women penetrate men's domains, as has happened in recent years, men naturally see their power and even their existence threatened."It is true that violence against women is widespread worldwide, adds Esther Chavez Cano. But in Latin American countries like Mexico, the problem is particularly virulent, he says. In the mixture of impunity for the perpetrators, corruption, macho culture and poverty, she fears, "the suffering of women will not stop anytime soon, despite all the days of action.".

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