Our own President, Mr. Bush, visited Latin America to mend some fences recently. Latin Americans accused him and us, the U.S., of getting our priorities mixed up. On some issues they are right. However, the leaders seem to have ignored an ugly problem in the world, in the U.S., and in particular, Latin America. Concentrating on immigration and the drug debacle does not help this problem.
Some are calling it femicide. The continuing murder of women with impunity has to be more important than the movement of bales of grass or the desires of some to come to America without a green card. Progress has been made in the more civilized world against the murder and abuse of women, but the carnage continues. In traditional societies where men rule, where law is easily bought or ignored, as in Mexico and Latin America, the murder and exploitation of women is just beginning to be publicized and fought. The battles are small, the war large, the advances slow. In the violent, primitive world of the Arab and Muslim, women remain disposable property. It is not easy to read Lolita in Teheran.
In December of 2006, the Mexican Congress passed a new law protecting women. The new President, Felipè Calderòn, signed The General Law on Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence, which for the first time in Mexico addresses broadly a problem suffered on a daily basis by close to half the women in this country, usually in silence. The President has made his first priority the promotion of law and order in a traditional culture that continues to kill women at the rate of 5 per day.
IPS News reported on the changes under the title "Law on Violence Against Women – Necessary but Not Sufficient" by Diego Cevallos. The campaign begins one spot with: "This is the last time Patricia will be battered." There are radio and TV spots about the new law, but the problem is that it seems to have no teeth, and, and while women are continuing to be raped and murdered, the issue is still being discussed and argued.
At least Mexico's new law brings an important light to shine on a problem too long kept in the dark. However, it has serious obstacles before it can be of any worth. There is the reality of gender issues that are new to a traditional culture. There are "no trained prosecutors, police or judges, nor is there a network of shelters for battered women, nor educational programmes about violence," said Mariela Martinez, the "gender affairs coordinator" for Etornos Educativos (Educational Settings).
Some efforts have begun in a country where Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua alone have reported 400 women murdered or disappeared since 1993. It is considered the "femicide capital of the world". President Calderòn is addressing the growing crisis with federal agents and the military, but the sport of killing women seems to defy eradication.
The problem doesn't reside only in Mexico. Guatemala, according to Amnesty International, has had 2500 women and girls killed since 2001. Amnesty International also addresses the Guatemalan crisis of femicide on their website.
"Amnesty International is proud to support Bordertown, starring Jennifer Lopez. This film tells the story of a reporter who is sent to Juarez, a city gripped with fear where hundreds of women have been brutally raped and murdered. Visit Amnesty's website."
As someone who has been a victim of this barbaric attitude, I cannot help but continue to ask, "why?" What sickness causes some men to enjoy raping, disfiguring, or murdering women?
Some think that femicide could be partly based on organized crime and "deep-rooted impunity" as reported by studies given in 2005 at a conference in Madrid with representatives from Guatemala, Mexico and Spain.
In a MS magazine article from 1992 the authors quoted the Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, in the anecdotal but frightening statement that she "… once asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women. He replied: "They are afraid women will laugh at them." She then asked a group of women why they felt threatened by men. They answered: "We're afraid of being killed."
They offered up this Canadian atrocity (lest you begin to think the tropics is the sole site of femicide). In Canada in December 1989, a 25 year old "combat magazine aficionado" named Marc Lepine dressed up for his war and attacked the school of engineering at the University of Montreal. He separated males and females, forced the men to leave and began to shoot women after yelling, "You're all fucking feminists."
During his half-hour of fame he killed 14 young women and wounded 4 men and 9 other women. He then shot himself leaving a 3 page suicide note blaming the failures of his life on women who "… he felt had rejected and scorned him." He also had a list of 15 distinguished Canadian women who he wanted to kill.
The authorities, so many of them men, must be made aware that femicide is just one extreme of an unbroken continuum that includes verbal and physical torment, "… such as rape, torture, sexual slavery… incestuous and extrafamilial child sexual abuse … genital mutilation… " When those forms of sexual terrorism end in death they are femicides.
Visit The Center For Gender & Refugee Studies and the article, "Help End Violence Against Women In Guatemala" and then download a pdf file of the article, "Femicide In Guatemala" by Risa Grais-Targow from BardPolitik — a journal from Bard College Globalization and Internationalization Program.
The administration in Washington must again concentrate on Soft Power in the world. We must export ideas and hopes and dreams again, and the rights that we enjoy, not the fast-food joints or the bombast and bombs unless they are both truly needed and to be used effectively.
Looking forward, relationships with the traditional nations of Africa and Latin America, Asia, India, and assorted Muslim nations should begin to push for more than wall boondoggles and narco-trafficking wars. It is time for America to get itself an administration that can think of more than one thing at a time and can maintain a position of leadership in the region and the world. Developing cultures do not appear to have much respect for law, justice, and some form of order. We, the U.S. of A., need to provide the model for that respect. If we do not, there will be more than enough candidates to provide examples — Hugo Chavez is ready to replace us if he can. Think about that.