MADRID — Venezuela’s political and economic crises have human rights experts concerned about the country’s rate of gender violence, for which legal systems are in place but no government data is available.
Luz Patricia Mejía, a lawyer at the Organization of the American States (OAS) and women’s rights expert, says there is reason to believe the rate of violence against women may be rising.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Women’s Association of Guatemala in Madrid on Tuesday, Mejía said that while the political and economic crisis has impacted all sectors of society, women bear more of the burden on a variety of rights violations — particularly violence and abuse.
“The crisis has made Venezuela’s women much more vulnerable than men, more vulnerable to poverty, to neglect by the state, and especially to violence,” said the Venezuela expert.
Mejía, a Venezuelan by birth, is the Technical Secretary for the MESECVI, a specialized agency of the OAS for the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality. Previously, she served as Rapporteur for Women’s Rights, Commissioner and President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR).
At present, she said Venezuela has a comprehensive law that protects women from any type of violence. The legislation includes the creation of protection structures, special jurisdictions and bodies, and the training of civil servants who specialize in gender-based violence.
Compared to other countries in the region, Venezuela has one of the more advanced legislations, being one of few to have broadened the focus of gender-based violence legislation to the areas of migration, trafficking and conflict and crisis situations.
Still, human rights campaigners say Venezuela has not yet managed to create a climate of justice, permitting alarming levels of impunity in the South American nation. Mejía lamented that only 5 percent of the lawsuits filed by women in Venezuela end in sentences that favor their rights.
“There is not yet a culture of justice for women,” she said, “especially now in Venezuela, nor in the rest of the [South American] region.”
The country also has an increasingly dismal transparency record when it comes to public information on the rates of violence and abuse, she added — a problem which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to create accurate national figures.
Throughout the current crisis, rights groups have also denounced the government’s hesistancy to release health data on maternal and infant mortality rates, which — among other health measurements in Venezuela — are increasingly dire. More and more Venezuelan women are even opting to be sterilized, incapable of caring for children in a country where healthcare is a luxury and the inflation rate approaches 800 percent.
Desperate for money, more Venezuelan women are also selling sex in Colombia and other countries of the region. The United Nations and rights campaigners say these women are vulnerable to sex trafficking, often lured by false promises of well-paid work only to find they are forced to work long hours with little or no pay, are not free to leave the bar they work in or remain trapped by debts owed to the agent that brought them over the border.