Ecuador Leads the Battle Against Domestic Violence in Latin America

  • Domestic violence, a grave and long-standing issue, reflects a history of handicapping nations’ development projects.
  • Fortunately, the United Nations, along with other international governmental bodies, have brought this issue to light.
  • Ecuador seems to be emerging as leader in the battle to conquer domestic violence in Latin America; a region where the practice surpasses passive acceptance.

Domestic Violence Overview

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women worldwide –accounting for more injuries than car accidents, muggings, cancer, and rape combined.[1]This issue spurs from the second-class status placed upon women in most parts of the world, making them more susceptible to various kinds of victimization. Spousal abuse can potentially kill an individual, devastate a family, and cripple a community. Internationally, domestic violence generates effects jeopardizing countries’ overall development. The destruction caused by this violence now ripples into international unemployment and homelessness rates. A survey of Fortune 100 executives revealed a significant number of respondents affirmed domestic violence as a significant handicap to company productivity (49 percent), attendance (47 percent) and medical expenditures (44 percent).[2]

For centuries, a stigma has blinded the public from viewing this private matter in full, and without a public profile any solution is inconsiderable. Fortunately, the present-day emphasis on human rights and public security measures has thrown light on this grave issue. In 1979, the United Nations (U.N.) acknowledged the matter publically by adopting the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).[3]Working as a catalyst for policymakers and advocates, CEDAW is described by advocates as a practical blueprint for women’s progress. Countries that adopt CEDAW convention are expected to increase the safety and opportunity available to women. Presently, 185 out of 192 countries, including Ecuador, have ratified the legislation.[4]

Furthermore, a branch of the United Nations-UN Women (formerly UNIFEM) was formed in 2010 with the objective of preventing violence against women.[5] The first-selected Executive Director of UN Women, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, stated in a speech in November 2010 that “more than 130 countries have laws against domestic violence, but more needs to be done to enforce them and counter impunity.”[6] Bachelet’s experience as one of the first females elected to presidential office in Latin America prompted her to confront the region’s vast shortcomings regarding gender rights and domestic violence.

Addressing the Issue in Latin America

Although the U.N. has proclaimed domestic violence a “universal problem that must be universally condemned,” it is often ignored in Latin American countries. Ecuador has led the quest to end domestic violence as a leading country in the region to pass effective legislation, as well as establish public awareness programs and female-run police stations.[7]Exemplifying strategies to diminish gender inequalities, this carefully devised and successfully executed plan, combined with a decreasing wage gap, suggest that Ecuador is becoming a role model for other Latin American countries.

The victims of domestic violence are not always female, but, in the view of the rigid machismo expectations placed on Latino males, almost no male victims of domestic violence are reported in Latin America.[8] This strong expectation among Latino males to exert their dominance is pervasive throughout Latin American culture. Machismo anticipates men to assume their right to subordinate mothers, sisters, daughters and especially wives, consequently resulting in physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Furthermore, severe poverty rates and a lack of employment options further emasculate Latino men, inspiring them to use their wives as scapegoats in an attempt to shift their frustration and inner feelings of unworthiness.[9]

Valuing family over idiosyncratic needs provides Latina women with sufficient resources to bear the spousal abuse in order to preserve the family’s adhesiveness. Marianismo, the female counterpart of machismo, glorifies compliance, passivity, and endurance. The term derives from the Catholic Church’s adoration of Mary as both virgin and Madonna. Catholicism, practiced by over 80 percent of the population, condones the endurance of marital abuse as a virtue.[10] Feeling desolate, a pious victim may likely seek comfort from the Church. Despite condemning domestic violence, priests will not advise a woman to leave the sacrament of matrimony under any circumstance. Dominican Fr. Chuck Dahn, ordained for 57 years and author of Parish Ministry in a Hispanic Community, describes domestic violence as “a dirty little secret” of the Church, a matter they are slow to confront[11].

Despite traditional complacency, not all women welcome the practice of the subordinate marianismo. Unfortunately, these women still face obstacles preventing them from reporting the domestic abuse they must routinely endure. Lack of education and the fear of backlash ultimately impede women from filing a report. From a young age, women are dependent on men because of an intractable social attitude that domesticates them. As a result of poor education and their obligations as mothers and homemakers, Latina women are financially dependent on their husbands; thus, they are forced to endure violence on account of their lack of socioeconomic options.

Aside from the reliance that prevents Latina women from more factually reporting the abuse, they are also reluctant to inform authorities. The Spanish phrase “la ropa sucia se lava en la casa” (“the dirty clothes are washed in the house”) elucidates the degree of privacy Latinos place on the matter, unwillingness to discuss abuse outside of the home means that instances that necessitate attention are not reported to the authorities. To contrast Latinas with other women, a study was conducted by the Journal of Family Violence in 2000. Results revealed that Latina women were 30 percent less likely to report cases of domestic violence than Caucasian women. Concurrently, Latina women were 50 percent more likely to be abused than Caucasian women.[12]

Ecuador’s Advancement

Decades of legislation and reforming of institutions laid Ecuador’s foundation for advancements in the field of women’s rights. In 1929, Ecuadorian women were the first in Latin America to gain suffrage. Anti-domestic violence legislation specifically the Law against Violence toward Women and the Family, was drafted in 1995,along with the rewriting of the Constitution specifying equal rights for men and women in numerous areas in 1998.[13]

Since women have often failed to report cases of abuse because of fear or embarrassment, Ecuador moved to establish female-operated police stations known as Comisarías de la Mujer y la Familia in 1981. Located in every major city, the stations have been used as a method to put women at ease when reporting their abuse. The stations are also staffed with female doctors who perform medical examinations of the women when needed. For the first time in Latin American history, family member assailants could be ordered to be removed from the home, and be prevented from contacting or being in a position to intimidate the victim.

In an effort to empower disenfranchised women, Ecuador also embraced initiatives recognizing the family as the basic unit of society. One such program, Centro Ecuatoriano para la Promoción y Acción de la Mujer, includes awareness efforts for the general public, anger management counseling for men, and workshops for children aimed at teaching prevention methods.[14]

Domestic violence has repercussions in the economy at a national level that jeopardizes the countries development on top of violating individual human rights.

Domestic violence has repercussions in the economy at a national level that jeopardizes the countries development on top of violating individual human rights.

Any solution should call for the closing of the income gap between women and men, and a primary step should entail educational impartiality so that, on average, women can become equally as qualified as men. Ecuador, along with many other South American nations, aims to improve education and increase female literacy rates. Ecuador also has engendered the equalizing wages ahead of other countries. For example, although one million Brazilians have recently escaped poverty, Brazil staggers behind Ecuador in gender-related income disparity. On average, Brazilian women earn 30 percent less than men, putting the country on par with Colombia, Mexico, and Chile as one of the nations with the highest level of wage inequality between genders.[15]

Conclusion

Domestic violence not only evokes physical, emotional, and mental implications for individuals, but also possesses the potential to cripple an entire society. The acceptance of domestic abuse in Latin America evolved from a tradition of machismo mixed with high regional poverty rates. Women’s reliance on their partners for survival and men’s exploitation of their spouses’ dependence has further pinned the family into inescapable threatening situations.  All these factors have amounted to a harmful and inhumane stance popular throughout the region. Despite its shortcomings, Ecuador’s integrative approach reflects a strategy of more advanced nations and should be emulated by neighboring states advancing toward national development.

References for this article can be found here

Source News Americas

2 thoughts on “Ecuador Leads the Battle Against Domestic Violence in Latin America

  • August 1, 2011 at 9:00 pm
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    Interesting and well written

    Reply
  • August 2, 2011 at 10:58 am
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    Very good statistics to support points made. I agree, very well written, nice diction used.

    Reply

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