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Understanding and Combating Femicide in Guatemala

Banner reads "Stop Femicide in Guatemala"
Picture: Banner advocating to stop femicide in Guatemala
Introduction: Defining Femicide

Femicide is a form of gender-based murder that is committed against women and girls due to hatred, sadism, contempt, or sense of ownership[1]. Femicide is a severe and violent form of gender inequality, and it violates women’s rights. It is a universal human rights issue that has been and continues to affect Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.[2] Latin America and the Caribbean are known to have the highest rates of femicide in the world. [3] 14 out of the 25 Latin American countries contain the highest rates of femicide [4]. To address this issue, countries such as El Salvador, Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala, to name a few, have already criminalized femicide by implementing public policies and legal reforms. The United Nations and Latin American countries have gone as far as to establish the Latin American Model Protocol for gender-related killings.[5] This is a tool that helps improve the investigation of violent female deaths. Although femicide has become criminalized, it hasn’t been enough to eliminate it. It is also important to note that not all countries have the same definition of femicide and are different in how they implement programs and policies to eliminate it.[6]

Indigenous Women
Indigenous woman weaving
Picture: Indigenous women weaving fabric

Research has concluded that gendered violence in Guatemala is caused by factors such as impunity, violent crime, and machismo (a strong sense of masculine pride).[7] In 2019, 702 femicides were recorded in Guatemala, but this quantity failed to capture any Indigenous female victims.[8] The deaths of Indigenous women in Guatemala are not recorded most of the time because they are considered “disposable women”.[9] They are perceived to be the “garbage of society” in Guatemala, creating the idea that their bodies do not need to be accounted for.[10] Instead, ladinas (non-indigenous or white females) are viewed as the ideal women in Guatemala’s social stratification and are given more importance and coverage in the media.[11] Indigenous women’s bodies are even claimed to be “prefigured as “already violated and thus violatable””.[12] Furthermore, when Indigenous women are portrayed in the media, they are frequently characterized by victim blaming.[13] The femicide against Indigenous women began when Guatemala was first colonized by the Spanish and it erupted to an all time high during Guatemala's 36-year civil war in 1960. By 1996, Guatemala's civil war came to an end but the violence and femicide against Indigenous women had only begun. For instance, in Alta Verapaz German coffee plantation owners and settlers committed sexual violence against Q'eqchi women [14]. On top of that, the military comitted acts of sexual terrorism and gang rape to "break the social fabric" in Indigenous communities. [15]


Sex Workers

Female sex workers and women who work at nightclubs and bars hold stigmatized occupations that marginalize their female identity in Guatemala. They are a category of women who are overlooked when it comes to femicide and are also blamed for their own murders. In the media, their femicides are described with explicit and dehumanizing references to demean their status as sex workers.[16] In addition, connecting these victims to sex work is used to differentiate to the public which victims deserve respect and protection and which are “undeserving”.[17]


Gang-Related Victims

The Guatemalan media tends to label female victims of gang-related femicide crimes as “gang-members” when it is not the case for all victims. Associating female victims as “gang-members” immediately criminalizes these women, causing the public to lose any empathy towards their deaths. This shifts the blame from the perpetrator to the victim and the people start to assume that she was part of the gang.[18] Criminalizing female victims can influence the public into believing that they are “disposable”. The criminalization also takes away from another larger matter at hand that is the prominent insecurity and violence in socioeconomically marginalized

neighborhoods in Guatemala.[19]


Guatemala's Effort to Support Its Women

Thelma Aldana, Guatemala’s Attorney General has helped establish femicide tribunals or special courts that deal with gender-based violence.[20] In 2010, Guatemala became the first country to establish the Criminal Court for Crimes of Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women.[21] Now there are femicide tribunals in 11 of the 22 departments of Guatemala.[22] These courts contain judges and police offers who have received specialized training on gender related crimes.[23] Unfortunately, half of Guatemala continues to lack adequately trained police enforcement that can properly assist women and their families.[24] The State Prosecutor’s Office also lacks the capacity to hear all cases and only chooses those with the strongest evidence.[25] In addition, there continues to be biases within the judicial system causing some cases to never be examined.


Women protesting
Picture: Women in Guatemala protesting during COVID-19

Guatemala has also been able to implement a 24-hour court system in the capital of Guatemala City for Violence Against Women and Sexual Exploitation.[26] This court allows women to receive assistance and to help strengthen criminal investigations using scientific evidence.[27] It has a criminal court, a public defense office, a prosecutor’s office, a police station, a forensic clinic, and judges.[28] Women are meant to receive medical, psychological, and legal support from this court system. The court provides a 24-hour hotline where women can call for help, support, and legal advice.[29] Once again, the drawback to this resource is that it is only located in Guatemala City, and it is almost impossible for women and families living outside of the city or rural areas to access it.


Conclusion

Despite Guatemala's efforts to recognize feminicide as illegal, it has not decreased over the past 14 years. Even though resources to support domestive abuse victims and their families have been created, Guatemala's government has not sustained enough funding to provide these resources all over the country. A major issue within Guatemala is that femicide, including domestive abuse and other acts of violence against women are not reported. Without sufficient research or data, it is extremely challenging to document proper femicide rates in Guatemala. Femicide rates are the key to implementing, designing, and evaulating public policies that can prevent gender-based violence [30].


Call to Action

There is a disporportionate amount of femicide and violence against women amongst Indigenous women in Guatemala, especially in rural communities. Many of these women have gone missing, been brutally murdered and sometimes their bodies are never claimed. There needs to be more advocacy and support for Indigenous women in Guatemala, Latin America and all over the globe.

 

Endnotes


[1] Lardani A, ‘How COVID-19, Gender Violence, and Femicide Intersect In’ (2020) 50 From: The Journal of Employee Assistance


[2] UN Women, ‘Five Essential Facts to Know about Femicide’ (UN Women – Headquarters25 November 2022) <https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/feature-story/2022/11/five-essential-facts-to-know-about-femicide>


[3] Bay S, ‘Criminalization Is Not the Only Way: Guatemala’s Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women and the Rates of Femicide in Guatemala’ (2021) 30 Washington International Law Journal Association


[4] Lardani (n 1).


[5] Bay (n 3).


[6] ibid


[7] Hartviksen J, ‘A Matrix of Violences: The Political Economy of Violences against Mayan Women in Guatemala’s Northern Transversal Strip’ (2021) 24 International Feminist Journal of Politics 87


[8] Fuentes L, ‘“The Garbage of Society”: Disposable Women and the Socio‐Spatial Scripts of Femicide in Guatemala’ (2020) 52 Antipode 1667


[9] Ibid


[10] Ibid


[11] Ibid


[12] Ibid


[13] Ficklin E and others, ‘Fighting for Our Sisters: Community Advocacy and Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ (2022) 78 Journal of Social Issues 53


[14] Hartviksen (n 7).


[15] Ibid


[16] Fuentes (n 8).


[17] Ibid


[18] Fuentes (n 8).


[19] Ibid


[20] Bay (n 3).


[21] Ibid


[22] Ibid


[23] Ibid


[24] Ibid


[25] Ibid


[26] Bay (n 3).


[27] Ibid


[28] Ibid


[29] Bay (n 3).


[30] Bay (n 3)

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