Impunity and Violence Against Women Drive The American Refugee Crisis
An estimated 35% of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence. The number of victims is likely much higher as these crimes go often unreported by the victim or state. The perpetrators, incredulously, involve not just strangers, but mainly family members and intimate partners. Women are constantly facing abuse and harassment across the globe, but femicide is growing as a cause of death for women.
American Refugee Crisis
In America, femicide is one of the leading causes of death among women and one of the main driving factors behind the refugee crisis at the U.S. border. An estimated 2 million people who’ve fled the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras since 2014 have chosen the U.S. for safety. An increase in violence against women is driving many of them to flee their countries in search of safety and refuge. The Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean found the highest rates of femicide per 100,000 women in Latin America to be in Honduras and El Salvador. This drove the United States to restore the opportunity for women fleeing violence to apply for asylum protections in the U.S.
The COVID19 Pandemic has only made matters worse for women in the region as they struggle to keep financially afloat and safe within their own homes. COVID-19-related factors such as lockdowns, the global economic crisis, increases in alcohol consumption—have exacerbated femicide and violence against women at the hands of their partners and family members. The lack of financial resources to flee their situations or seek safe passage to the United States has forced scores of women and children to cross through Mexico. The perilous journey to the US border includes dangers from organized crime and bandits. These women face further violence, femicide, rape, and even rape slavery during their voyage through Mexico. This has forced many families to form caravans to keep eachother safe and which have been villainized by US and Mexican media; also used as political fodder by unscrupulous politicians pushing stricter for-profit immigration policies.
In Guatemala, more than one woman has been killed per day in the first four months of 2021. The number of femicides and complaints of violence has only skyrocketed since. The number of femicides registered in Guatemala increased by 31% between January and August 2021, in that same time period the Public Prosecutor’s Office registered 58,975 different crimes against women and children. There have been at least 20,000 complaints of violence and the number of facilities available to help victims are nearly nonexistant. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the most committed crimes in Guatemala during recent years are femicide and violence against women. Guatemala is among the 15 most violent countries in the world, and in the last decade alone, it has recorded more than 60,000 murders.
In El Salvador, one woman has been murdered in a femicide every twenty-four hours on average in 2018. 67 percent of Salvadoran women reported experiencing violence in their lives in 2017, and in 2019, the country had one of the highest femicide rates in Latin America. Although El Salvador passed legislation to combat violence against women in 2011, establishing sentences up to 50 years for femicide, acknowledging and prosecuting these cases remains difficult. Gaining justice for victims has become especially difficult since the country has normalized misoginy and patriarchal norms that often ignore human rights, especially those of women. El Salvador's justice system also suffers from hipocrasy as it often punishes women for having abortions, stillbirths or miscarriages in most cases—while failing to pursue prosecutions for femicides. Women in El Salvador are subject to abuse by both their aggressors and the state.
In Honduras, 6.2 out of 100,000 women were murdered as a result of femicide in 2019, the highest figure in Latin America and the Caribbean. Statistics so far in 2021 record a femicide in Honduras every thirty-six hours; at the beginning of February 2021, four women were ruthlessly murdered within forty-eight hours. Some of the deaths that have shaken the Central American country include the alleged suicide of a female nurse while detained by police, and a mass grave found in the back yard of a former police officer. The mass grave contained mostly women and other youths who had gone missing. The lack of resources for women and the perception of insecurity has driven many victims of violence to remain silent and femicide cases to be unresolved.
How can we start to solve this?
Coordinated action and focus on violence against women from civil-society, business leaders, ngos, and the international community are necessary to support the female victims in the Northern Triangle and elsewhere. If the perpetrators were to face justice for femicide and violence against women, it would deter future aggression. The impunity enjoyed by men in the region, guarantees that perpetrators of violence, often involved in organized crime or police officers, face zero consequences for their actions.
Without support by institutions or better systems to protect society’s most vulnerable and hold their aggressors accountable, women and children are left with little choice than wait to die or flee the country.