Latin Americans Admit Rampant Disrespect, Violence towards Women

Disrespect toward women in Latin America is nearly twice as high as any other region in the world, according to a recent Gallup poll.
Disrespect toward women in Latin America is nearly twice as high as any other region in the world, according to a recent Gallup poll. (Flickr)

EspañolA Gallup poll released this week asked roughly 1,500 people, across 21 Latin-American countries, “Do you believe women in this country are treated with respect and dignity, or not?” The results were not pretty.

Thirty-five percent of respondents in Latin America said they felt women were respected — by far the lowest of any region in the world. The next lowest scoring region, the Middle East and North Africa, nearly doubled Latin America’s score at 65 percent. Sixty-seven percent of participants in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 68 percent in the former Soviet bloc, said they felt women were treated with dignity and respect in their countries.

The United States topped all regions at 77 percent, followed by Asia (76 percent), and Europe (72 percent).

Where Women Are Least Respected

Only five countries in Latin America scored over 50 percent. Colombia and Peru were the lowest performers, where only one in five people feel women are treated with respect and dignity.

Colombia’s gender issues appear to extend far beyond a matter of respect. According to the Colombian National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science, cases of sexual assault have risen 40 percent over the last decade, while domestic violence is up 30 percent.

These figures, however, are a conservative estimate, since these crimes often go unreported. In an interview with Colombia Reports, High Councilor for the Equality of Women Nigeria Renteria Lozano said, “A lot of times women don’t even bother to report, because nothing will happen.”

She feels a machismo attitude of disrespect and acceptance is engrained in Colombian culture: “Even today there exist many cultural stereotypes that go back generations that justify violence against women in a specific manner.”

Ecuador Provides Glimmer of Hope

A 2011 study by the Ecuadoran Institute of Statistics and the Census found that 61 percent of Ecuadoran women reported being victims of sexual abuse. The following year, Gallup reported that 46 percent of Ecuadoran respondents felt women were treated with respect and dignity in their country. On June 26, 2013, the Ecuadoran Commission for the Integral Security of the Ministry of the Interior reported a 23 percent drop in sexual assaults since 2012.

Today, 63 percent of Ecuadorans feel women are treated with respect and dignity in the South America nation, the highest figure of any country in Latin America.

The most recent Gallup report attributes this relative success to increased media exposure of violence toward women. It also points to policy initiatives the Ecuadoran government has undertaken, including a 2013 law that incorporated femicide — the murder of a woman “because she is a woman in clearly established circumstances” — into Ecuador’s Integrated Organic Criminal Code. However, similar efforts toward formalizing the crime of femicide have been made in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru — all of which fall below Ecuador in the Gallup study.

Walter Molinari, professor at the University of the Americas in Quito, Ecuador, has seen all of this first-hand: “The Ecuadorian government has made a strong push for the protection of women’s rights. Gender and cultural inclusion campaigns are everywhere these days — from bus stop advertisements, to TV and radio ads. Men can now face jail time for domestic violence and sexual harassment. However, a lot of men feel the government has gone too far. Machismo is very prevalent in Ecuadorian culture, especially in the Andean region, which holds one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world.”

Consequences of Lack of Respect and Dignity

Among the wave of Central American migrants that arrived to the US border earlier this year were a large number of unaccompanied female minors fleeing their homelands.

According to the Pew Research Center, US authorities apprehended 13,008 girls under the age of 18 at the US-Mexico border from October 2013 through May 2014, compared to 7,339 for the entire previous year. This represents a 77 percent increase, even without data from the last third of the 2014 fiscal year, which is currently unavailable.

An astonishing number of these underage female migrants are brutally mistreated during their attempt to flee physical and sexual violence in their home countries. A study conducted by Fusion found that 80 percent of girls and women are raped en route to the United States. Rape is not only a common form of payment accepted by human traffickers, but it has become so prevalent that many women take contraceptives prior to beginning the journey to prevent pregnancy from the sexual assault they expect to experience along the way.

The vast majority of these migrants came from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala — all of which ranked in the bottom half of the Gallup survey at 31, 32, and 27 percent, respectively. In recent years, violence from the US-led “war on drugs” has ravaged this subregion of Central America known as the “Northern Triangle.”

Irony in Politics

The Gallup results run counter to the wave of female heads of state that have taken office in Latin America over the past few decades. Of the 29 female heads of state that have been elected since 1970, eight — or 27.5 percent — have come from Latin America, including current Argentinean President Christina de Kirchener, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Laura Chinchilla, who ended her term as president of Costa Rica in May.

Female prime ministers also lead the Caribbean island nations of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, which scored 30 and 27 percent on the Gallup survey, respectively. As with the rest of Latin America, the results of the survey suggest respect for women in these countries does not extend far beyond political office.

Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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