Combatting Femicide in Latin America: The Urgent Need for a Stronger Legal Framework

by | Nov 21, 2023

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About Desiree Terriquez

Desiree Terriquez is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in International Affairs Policy and Analysis at the American University in Washington, D.C. She has experience working with non-profits that promote the rights and protections of domestic violence victims, immigrants, and children.

In March 2023, an Argentine court convicted two men for the 2016 rape and murder of 16-year-old Lucia Perez, a pivotal case in the Ni Una Menos movement against violence towards women and girls in the region. Likewise, local lawmakers in Mexico adopted legislation in February 2023 to suspend parental rights for men being investigated for femicide. Although these developments made the headlines, there remains an urgent need to establish a consistent definition and understanding of femicide in Latin America, using an intersectional approach.

‘Femicide’, a term used to describe the killing of a woman by a man due to her gender, was first coined and then popularised to account for the serious rise in discrimination and violence against women, specifically in Latin America and the Caribbean. A 2016 survey found that 14 of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rate worldwide were found in this region.* In Latin America, femicide is perpetuated by both social and systemic factors, including a prevailing culture of male dominance and a significant level of impunity that provides no justice to victims. While countries in Latin America work to address this epidemic through their legal framework, they continue to misrepresent the issue, fail to account for the intersectionality of identities, and overlook the resources and protections needed for all vulnerable communities.

Latin American efforts to combat femicide include 16 countries having specific legislation on femicide and the adoption of the UN Latin American Model Protocol for investigating gender-related killings of women. For example, Mexico penalises femicide with 45-65 years imprisonment, while aggravated homicide faces 30-60 years. In 2016, Peru created a national plan against gender-based violence, establishing several specialised task forces working toward femicide reduction and prosecution, emergency centres for women, hotlines for victims, and specialised police squads. Despite this progress, further advancement is needed.

The limitations of such legal frameworks include the misrepresentation of femicide terminology, including varying definitions and inconsistent use. For example, in Mexico, the subnational state of Mexico requires the victim to demonstrate signs of sexual assault and/or mutilation, or have experienced abuse in order to be considered femicide. Meanwhile, in the state of Chihuahua, the law does not differentiate the murders of women and other homicide. Additionally, Chile and Nicaragua do not use the term ‘femicide’ if the victim did not have a relationship with the perpetrator. This misrepresentation of femicide hinders accurate reporting and understanding of the issue and perpetuates a culture that fails to address the systemic roots of gender-based violence in order to provide its victims with the support they need.

The current legal framework around femicide also fails to provide resources and protection for marginalised communities that face greater risks. For indigenous women, the intersectionality of their identity, such as race and gender, exposes them to multiple levels of discrimination and violence. Furthermore, victims of violence who live in poverty have a greater struggle finding resources for their safety. Contributing to this limitation, the current legal framework fails to account for the femicide of transgender women, who across Latin America, do not live past the age of 35 on average due to their lack of rights and protection in the face of extreme violence. This, coupled with the extremely low rates of convictions for the few femicide cases that have been investigated, has led to the creation of more vulnerable victims.

While Latin America continues to see a rise in the rates of femicide, the figures do not include the victims of femicide that still go uncounted for due to national variation in criminal justice recording and investigation practices. The current legal framework remains inconsistent in its attempts to stop the growth of femicide and fails to address the unique vulnerabilities of marginalised women, leaving them disproportionately exposed to the horrors of femicide with insufficient protection and resources. Significant steps and collaborative efforts are essential to evoke the much-needed change in addressing and preventing femicide in Latin America. Awareness campaigns of femicide are imperative as legislation in these nations continues to develop, and advocacy for the intersectionality of identities is crucial to ensuring all vulnerable victims of this violence are represented and protected.

*This is the most recent survey available. Overall, this exemplifies a further issue surrounding femicide, which is the lack of up-to-date data.

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