To Fight Femicide in Guatemala, New Law, But Same Culture

Karim Velasco

New anti-domestic violence law in Guatemala classifies denying a woman the right to use contraceptive methods or STI prevention measures as a violent sex crime.

For more than fifteen
years women in Latin America have been the target of indiscriminate
extreme violent crimes, especially in Central American countries like
Mexico and Guatemala, where the figures of murdered women have shockingly
escalated in the last years.  Women are being tortured, raped and
murdered on a regular basis, with total or almost total impunity, regardless
of numerous and unanimous claims for justice from the civil society
and even from the international community.  

Amnesty International’s
report "Guatemala: No
protection, no justice: Killings of women in Guatemala
collects stories of some of the horrendous crimes
against women and girls that have gone unpunished mainly because of negligence and the lack of effective investigation and prevention
strategies of the Guatemalan authorities. The report points out that
"the brutality of the killings … reveal that extreme forms of sexual
violence and discrimination remain prevalent in Guatemalan society"
as a result of the 36-year internal armed conflict that afflicted the
country until 1996. 

The CEDAW Committee and the European Parliament have both urged the Guatemalan government to
take all necessary steps to effectively combat violence against women,
ensuring full respect for human rights. 

Although the government
has made some efforts to tackle the violence, these have proved to be
insufficient. In this context, on April 9, 2008 the Guatemalan Congress
passed the Law against Femicide and other Forms of Violence against
(Decree 22-2008), that aims to severely punish any kind of gender-based violence, guaranteeing the life, freedom, integrity, dignity and
equality of all women, in the private or public sphere, promoting and
implementing strategies to prevent and eradicate femicide and any kind
of physical, psychological, sexual or economic violence against women.   

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This initiative was possible
due to the remarkable work done by all the female parliamentarians — 20
in total — who, regardless of their political party affiliation, came
close and managed to get the support of 112 out of the 158 parliamentarians.   

The importance of the
Decree — which became effective on May 15 — not only lies on the goals
it intends to fulfill, but also on the fact that it justifies
its enactment on Guatemala’s obligation to comply with the CEDAW
and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and
Eradication of Violence against Women "Convention of Belem
do Para"
that have been
ratified by the Guatemalan government. Similarly, the Decree literally
recognizes that the violence and discrimination against women in the
country has flourished because of the "power inequality between men
and women in the social, economic, legal, political, cultural and family

The Law typifies femicide
as a crime and defines it as the murder of a woman committed
because of her gender within a context of unequal exercise of power;
it imposes punishments that range from 25 to 50 years imprisonment.
Likewise, the law also criminalizes all physical, psychological, sexual
and economic violence against women committed in the private as well
as in the public sphere, imposing punishments ranging from 5 to 12 years
in the cases of physical and sexual violence, and from 5 to 8 years
for cases of psychological and economic violence. 

However, maybe one of
the most relevant and groundbreaking aspects of the law is that "forced
prostitution and denying [a woman] the right to use contraceptive methods,
whether natural or hormonal, or taking measures to prevent sexually
transmitted infections" are considered sexual violence crimes.  This is particularly important in a country like Guatemala
where — according to a 2005 barrier analysis conducted by WINGS
25% of women consider their partner’s disapproval as a reason for
not using a family planning method. 

It is also important
to highlight that the law also aims to strengthen the government bodies
in charge of the criminal investigation by setting up specialized judicial
bodies with properly trained staff and providing legal counseling as
well as shelter to victims of violence. 

Although this law represents
a big step, still there is a lot to be done to protect Guatemalan women’s
lives and integrity. For Doris Cruz, "the discussions previous to the approval
[of the law] made it clear that the dominant ‘macho culture’ in
Guatemala will make it difficult to implement the law." Precisely
for this reason she believes that women in Congress are the ones who
have to be primarily involved in the application of the law and should
therefore "explain the law to women organizations, just as they have
already done to the judiciary, police, public health sector and army."  

Surely women’s organizations
will keep playing a key role in this process but it has to be the Guatemalan
government the one leading the crusade to tackle violence against women. 

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