From Survivors to Defenders: Violence Against Women on the Rise in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala

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“The war on drugs in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala has become a war on women,” say Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchú. Women in these countries are at an increased risk of gender-based violence, including murder, rape, forced disappearances, and arbitrary detention. Violence is on the rise in all three countries, due to many factors, including the war on drugs. The vast majority of violent crimes are not investigated or prosecuted in these countries, which has created an atmosphere of impunity for the perpetrators. More than 95 percent of crimes against women in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala go unpunished. This lack of justice discourages victims from reporting crimes when doing so is unlikely to result in convictions. In addition, victims may be targeted if they attempt to bring charges or to call attention to the problem. In particular, women human rights defenders, journalists, indigenous activists or women who are otherwise advocating for change in their communities are targeted.

 The Nobel Women’s Initiative and Just Associates released a report titled “From Survivors to Defenders: Women Confronting Violence in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala,” which brings awareness to this crisis of violence against women in Mexico and Central America. The report calls attention to gender-based violence against women in all three countries, including how and why “sexual violence is used as a tool to silence women human rights defenders.” They conclude that gender-based violence is used as a tactic to silence and intimidate communities and people advocating for change.

Circumstances in each country have resulted in a dramatic increase in violence in the last several years, such as the Honduran coup in 2009 and violence caused by the war on drugs in Mexico. However, this increase in violence has manifested in different ways for women than it has for men. In Honduras, for instance, the homicide rate for women has been increasing four times faster than that of men, according to Gilda Rivera, of the Center for Women’s Rights in that country.

More than half of acts and threats of violence against women human rights defenders were committed by government security forces and other government members. The report comes to the conclusion that “Increasing militarization and police repression under the guise of the war on drugs has led to more violence overall and more frequent attacks on women, who lead efforts to protect their communities against threats to their lands and natural resources, and protest military and police abuses.”

The report names several strategies for reducing this crisis of violence against women in Mexico and Central America. First, we need to publically denounce violence against women and women human rights defenders in order to bring attention to the issue. In addition, we must prioritize human rights and women’s human rights in foreign policymaking. We should also support women’s organizations in these countries whenever possible, so as to support the work that these women are doing to fight for justice.