Activists laud renewed focus on gender-based murder law in Uruguay

A #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less) protest in Peru. (Credit: majka czapski/Flickr)

Women’s rights advocates are celebrating the reactivation of a 2015 senate bill that makes gender-based killings, or “femicide,” a special circumstance in Uruguay.

Media reports say two articles of the penal code will soon be submitted to the house of representatives for consideration. The bill would codify femicide as a very special aggravating circumstance to homicide, which could increase the sentence imposed upon a conviction, Jurist reported.

“We can’t say ‘violence is over’ and decree it. We will not end the violence with a law,” said Chairwoman of the Gender Equity and Diversity Commission at the Association of Bank Employees of Uruguay Milagro Pau. “But, we do understand that every grain of sand, every decision we can make, and every unit of organization is a step towards a better society.”

The South American nation was rattled after a string of gender-based killings, five of which were recorded over a 37-day period in February this year. One of the victims, a 21-year-old mother of one, was found dead; her boyfriend was charged with premeditated murder.

The spike in violence sparked nationwide protests that condemned the killings and called to reactivate a bill that sought to introduce femicide in the penal code.

The term “femicide” was coined by American feminists Jill Radford, Diana E. Russell and Jane Caputi for the misogynistic murder of women by men. Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and several other Latin American countries have already recognized femicide in their penal codes, as opposed to classifying it as a “crime of passion,” which typically is considered a lesser crime.

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Gender-based killings have become an epidemic in Latin America, which has seven out of the ten countries with the highest female murder rate in the world. Uruguay is not one of them; El Salvador tops the list with a rate of 8.9 homicides per 100,000 women in 2012, followed by Colombia with 6.3, Guatemala with 6.2, Russia with 5.3 and Brazil with 4.8. Mexico and Suriname are also in the top 10.

Experts point out that gender-based violence does not start and end with homicide, but is experienced by many women daily at work, on public transit and in their own homes. Due to high rates of impunity and the widespread normalization of violence against women, however, the United Nations says 98 percent of femicides go unprosecuted in the region.

Despite numerous legal reforms in recent years, the rate of femicide in Latin America still appears to be rising. But such statistics have not shaken the optimism of experts at the United Nations Women, which in 2014 helped launch the “Latin American Model Protocol” to help countries properly investigate and prosecute gender-related killings of women.

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“In 2008, nine countries in Latin America had special legislation on femicide, now we have 16 countries,” Adriana Quiñones, U.N. Women´s Country Representative in Guatemala, said earlier this year. “We see that more cases are being made public, people are talking about the issue and women are marching to protest in the streets.”

Rights activists have also taken to social media in recent years with campaigns like #NiUnaMenos (“Not One Less”), organizing marches in PeruBolivia and other countries in an effort to bring about social change.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com