SEMlac reports

SEMlac reports (334)

Guatemala, August 13, 2012 (SEMlac). – Spiritual leaders will discuss ways to deal with violence against women at a meeting on the forthcoming Baktun (the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, according to the Mayan calendar).

“As of next December 21, we will seek new paradigms for renewal. And women will play a key role in this process,” said leader Cirilo Pérez.

A report by the Village Elders anticipated that the human race will be better equipped to solve all types of conflict in the next 20 years.

Central government representative Clarisa Castellanos highlighted the need to take this opportunity to fight violence against women.

Anthropologist Irma A. Nimatuj recalled that some Mayan women had ruled in the past.

Commissioner Trinidad Gutiérrez told SEMlac that male-chauvinistic traditions have made people forget about equality between men and women.

Mayans account for 60 percent of the country’s population. Indigenous women are particularly vulnerable to poverty and family violence. And those who decide to get out of this vicious circle are punished in public.

“Acculturation has negatively affected moral values and spiritual guide teachings,” Gutiérrez noted.

A report by a local prosecuting agency indicated that many indigenous women have been shot to death or strangled in Quiché, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, and San Marcos .

Castellanos hopes that the three-day meeting to be held next month will devise ways to help violence victims and make women visible in society.

Carolina Neshtiel, manager of a community-based program in Colombia (Women Listen), will participate in the event.

Gutiérrez highlighted the fact that the Mayan view of the world promotes respect for women.

Castellanos told SEMlac that meeting participants will also deal with traditional medicines, health and nutrition. “Current problems can be solved using knowledge of the past,” she added.

“Time has come for women to take control and rule,” Pérez concluded.

Santiago de Chile, August (SEMlac Special). - Daniel Zamudio was 24 when he was brutally beaten by several neo-Nazi young men in the street. After 25 days in the throes of death, he passed away.

This crime led to the passing of a piece of legislation that had been sitting in parliament for seven years. It was finally approved on May 9 and enacted last July 12.


The law

The new legislation establishes the concept of “arbitrary discrimination,” which involves any act of distinction, exclusion or restriction lacking reasonable justification against any individual on grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, religion, ideology, physical appearance, disease and/or disability.

It also establishes fines ranging from 370 to 3,700 dollars, prison sentences, and aggravating circumstances. It asks the State to develop public policies along these lines.

Speaking at the ceremony to enact the law, President Sebastián Piñera indicated that it was only after Zamudio’s murder that Chile decided to take a major step to build a fairer, more inclusive society.

Reporter Víctor H. Robles said that there were people who were not physically present, but were very much recalled at the ceremony, including Sandy Iturra, a transgender who was beaten almost to death by a neo-Nazi group, and Karen Atala, a judge who lost custody over her daughters shortly after she came out of the closet.

“Will Education Minister Harold Beyer boost the inclusion of sexual diversity into school curricula?,” Robles wondered.

The legislation took so long to get passed because some MPs feared that it would pave the way for similar laws on same-sex marriage and child adoption by homosexuals.

Jaime Parada, a spokesman for the Homosexual Liberation Movement, highlighted the need to establish some public institution under the law, similar to the Argentinean National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism.


Karen Atala

Karen Atala, a lesbian judge, lost custody over her three daughters in 2004, when the Supreme Court decided that she was setting no good example for her children.

“The same judges will in the future decide whether or not arbitrary discrimination applies under the new law. Will they be prepared?,” Robles also wondered.

Eight years after the ruling on Atala’s case, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that she had been discriminated against and forced the Chilean State to make amends for the wrong done.


Gabriela Blas

Gabriela Blas, an Aymara pastoralist, was put in prison for five years after her son went missing. She was thought to have committed murder and only the President’s pardon could set her free.

She will get no reparation from the State, however, and she will not have her daughter back because she was adopted by a foreign family.

Marjorie Cortéz, a feminist who has supported her throughout the process, told SEMlac that Blas has endured all forms of violence, including sexual abuse by her uncle and brother.



Women are often harassed, raped and even murdered in Chile.

Soledad Rojas, a representative of the Chilean Network to Fight Violence against Women, indicated that women’s murders are usually given a low media profile.

Valeska Salazar (16) was beaten up by her ex’s family after they learnt she was lesbian.

Network coordinator Sandra Palestro told SEMlac that Salazar’s case should be critically reviewed by the media and society at large.

“Our society needs to address pressing problems that have to do with freedom of choice and violence against women,” she concluded.


Mexico City, July 23, 2013 (SEMlac Special).– Violence against women has grown under the current administration, and over 18 million local women have endured family and/or sexual violence in the 2006-2011 period alone.

The most serious situation, however, is affecting women prisoners, because laws are not being enforced as they should, including the so-called Gender Violence Warning, and millions of dollars are being allocated but not spent.

The 2011 Survey on Violence against Women (ENDIREH) showed that 42 percent of household violence victims are aged 15 to 49, around 4,000 women are going missing, and only three percent of cases are actually taken to court.

Conducted by X Justice for Women (NGO), the survey also revealed that the situation has remained unchanged despite new laws and heavy financial investment.

Irma Saucedo, an experienced trainer of government officials and police officers, indicated that such a picture is negatively affecting both democracy and social stability.

“It is a public health issue. A World Bank report recently said that violence has a direct impact on labor productivity, family stability and women’s rights,” she added.

MP Enoé Uranga feels that there is no accountability on the part of local authorities. “They keep on talking about women’s advancement,” she stressed.


Indigenous women in prison

The survey helped confirm that the situation of women prisoners is not being properly addressed in country reports to international organizations.

A representative of the Public Security Secretariat announced that women account for five percent of all local prisoners. Out of 455 penitentiaries in the country, only 13 (2.8 percent) are used for women only.

Out of 91 facilities under inspection, 22 percent have the same dormitories for men and women, and they are often overcrowded.

The Human Rights Commission in the Federal District has recognized that detention pending trial is being over-used.

The survey also showed that there are 10,623 women at 266 penitentiaries under review.

Another study over 21 out of 32 facilities in the country concluded that 67 percent of the 7,301 women prisoners are aged 18 to 37, including mothers and heads of households.

Around 27 percent have developed addictions and are not being psychologically supported. Over 16 percent are peasants or indigenous women involved in drug trafficking.

A report by the International Center for Prison Studies indicated that 22 percent of local penitentiary centers have no gynecology and obstetrics service available.

Lack of visibility is also an expression of injustice because there are no data about women subject to prosecution or detention pending trials.

The National Children’s Rights Committee has since 2006 recommended that the Mexican government should devise and implement feasible alternatives to detention pending trial.

Dr. Elena Azaola has conducted research works showing that justice administration is being hindered by the fact that many peasants and indigenous women cannot speak Spanish.


Laws with no teeth

The general law on women’s access to a violence-free society was enacted in 2007 and was further supplemented with amendments to the Criminal Code, but justice administration has not got any better.

Most laws are wide-ranging, while legal standards are very limited, a recent X Justice for Women report indicated.

Out of 240 sentences passed by 15 high courts, only four (1.6 percent) make mention of the so-called Access Laws.

The local legislation has been developed in a way very similar to Spanish law and has therefore failed to take local realities into account.

The so-called Gender Violence Warning is a new procedure to fight women’s murders, but it has not been appropriately applied because it is not well understood.

In 2008, for example, over one million dollars went to a national fund seeking to support this procedure, but only 100,000 dollars have actually been implemented to date.

Bogotá, July 9, 2012 (SEMlac Special).– In December 2004, Johana and Lena Acosta were not allowed in a disco in Cartagena because they were Afro-descendants.

Almost seven years later, they have won their racial discrimination case and have made the State devise new mechanisms to prevent racism and punish those involved in such crimes.

In 2007, a group of young Afro-descendants were not permitted in another disco in Bogotá.

After having considered these two cases, the relevant authorities passed a law to fight racial discrimination in November 2011 and have just set up an observatory against racism.

“The fact that the national government has established an observatory clearly shows that there is racial discrimination in the country, something it has denied for long,” said Eliana Antonio, a researcher at the University of the Andes .

"The observatory provides an effective mechanism to promote and disseminate the rights of black people and offer legal counseling,” stressed Boris Zapata, head of the Afro-Colombian Affairs Division at the Ministry of the Interior.

Law No. 1482 of 2011 basically amends the Criminal Code, establishing one to three years in prison and fines ranging from $3.148.00 to $ 4,722.00 dollars on those discriminating against other people on sexual and/or racial grounds.

The sentences can be tougher if discriminatory behaviors are shown at public places or in the mass media, or involve children or older people.

“This law cannot provide a final solution to the problem because the Colombian State is structurally racist,” said Eva L. Grueso, a member of the Network of Afro-Colombian Organizations.

“It was only in 1991 that the Constitution recognized that there is more than one race or ethnic group in Colombia ,” she recalled.

In fact, there are 102 indigenous peoples that account for 3.3 percent of the national population. And according to the 2005 census, 10.6 percent of the Colombian population said they were Afro-descendants.


Discriminatory practices

A research work financed by the United Nations and the Spanish Government has concluded that social exclusion and poverty continue to affect Afro-Colombians and that ethnic and cultural diversity has not been fully recognized to date.

Most of these people live in areas marked by high poverty indexes and unmet basic needs.

Only 14 percent of them have access to water supply and 19 percent, to sewer systems. Around 35 percent have not completed primary education, and merely 11.8 percent have access to higher education.

A household survey showed the unemployment rate among Afro-descendants had stood at 16.4 percent in 2006.

“They account for 22.5 percent of all displaced people in the country,” said a representative of Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (NGO).


Afro-Colombian women

“As the Colombian society has been designed for white, rich, heterosexual men, we black, poor women endure so much discrimination,” Grueso emphasized.

“While white women live 77 years on average, black women live only 66 years,” she added.

“The number of black women heads of households is four percent higher than that of white women,” she stressed.

“The unemployment rate among us stands at 24 percent, as compared to 17 percent among white women,” she also said.

“We are often seen as sexual objects and thought to be good only as maids,” she noted.

“Racial discrimination is closely associated with the way people are raised and educated,” Zapata indicated.

“My four- and six-year-old daughters are often called frizzy hair and they do not really like that,” said Jorge Iriarte, an Afro-descendant.

“There is a need to formulate inclusive public policies with special emphasis on education so that we can become visible in society,” Grueso concluded.


Buenos Aires, June 11, 2012 (SEMlac Special). – Memories grow stronger over time, especially those of events like the 1982 war between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Mentioning the Islands brings back to mind the military dictatorship, including martial laws, sunken ships and young fighters.

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister at a time when there were very few women in power and did what would never be expected of a woman: declaring war on a foreign country.

This chapter of history has not been written in full, however.

One of the missing elements has to do with the role played by women in the conflict, including nurses.

Some news portrayed women at the time as very nervous, but convinced that the bloodshed would never be negotiated.

Alicia Reynoso was one of them. Born in Entre Ríos, a province 500 kilometers away from the capital city, she wore the battledress when she was only 23.

She had been trained as a nurse for the Air Force and was deployed in Chubut (the southernmost province in Argentina ) during the war.

“We are nurses, but will do anything to defend our country,” she told a reporter back then.

And she has just told SEMlac that women’s involvement in the war had been given a low profile for many years.

She worked together with another five women; they all faced a situation as difficult as the one seen in the battlefield.

She recalled that they were shelled before the shelter was completed. “We had to spend the night in a sewer, surrounded by rats,” she added.

Photo 1: “This was how the shelter started to be built.”

Photo 2: “The shelter was finally completed; no need to get back to sewers.”

Photo 3: The five women walking. “We never lost our smile,” Alicia recalled.

The capitulation: “After we gave everything for the country, the war ended,” she indicated.

“Our presence in the war seems to have been forgotten or hidden due to male-chauvinistic prejudices,” she stressed.

“The Veterans Day has been observed on April 2 ever since,” she noted.

“It was only three decades later that we were invited to attend an official ceremony, along with other veterans,” she commented.

The war began on April 2 and ended on June 14, 1982. A total of 649 Argentinean troops, 255 British and three civilian islanders were killed.

Argentina has demanded sovereignty over the Islands , but they have remained under British control ever since.

“We simply did out duty,” she concluded.

Lima, June 18, 2012 (SEMlac Special). – He says he is “Juan Álvarez,” but nobody knows if that is his real name because he has no identity document and is homeless and poor.

A few days ago, he had a seizure in Miraflores, one of the wealthiest residential districts in Lima .

He panicked, fell down and asked for help. When Public Safety arrived, a policeman ordered to clear the area.

“He is just a drug addict or a thief,” he said. And those present in the scene reacted: “He is a human being and is thus entitled to receive emergency care.”

“He is an indigent; we cannot take him anywhere. Will any of you pay for his bill?,” he asked.

“In situations like this one, most fire-fighters and paramedics decide not to show up because they do not know what to do,” a Public Safety officer confessed.


The absolute poor are not considered a vulnerable population group

When deputy-minister Julio Rojas was asked about it, he corroborated that there is actually no law protecting these people.

Under the legislation in force, only children, teenagers, women, senior citizens, domestic migrants and disabled and displaced people are considered vulnerable population groups.

“There is a need for inter-agency coordination mechanisms, including the ministries of Health, Education and Housing,” he added.

“Ministries follow standards, and indigents are not included in any of them,” he told SEMlac.

“Why don’t you do anything in parliament?”, he wondered.


Is care available to all?

“We provide care to everybody,” said Omar Landauro, deputy-director of the Casimiro Ulloa Hospital .

“If a patient suffers from a mental disorder, he/she is referred to a psychiatric institution; if he/she is a drug addict, he/she is sent to Social Welfare,” he added.

“If the patient does not have any identity document, he/she is attended to and his/her fingerprints are checked by the National Identity Registry.


Local governments

The Mayor’s Office in Miraflores has implemented a program that is now being replicated in other districts and provinces. Under the title Miraflores: Inclusive and Accessible, it focuses on people with special needs.

SEMlac asked the Office secretary to arrange an interview with the mayor to elaborate on the program, but did not succeed.

It would have been appropriate to ask him about these issues in a country with 28 million inhabitants, including 31.3 percent living under poverty conditions and 9.8 percent under extreme poverty.

Local governments should be responsible for all citizens, including the absolute poor.

Montevideo, May 21, 2012 (SEMlac Special).- Uruguay saw last April the murder of a fourth transsexual girl in a relatively short period of time. The case was practically ignored by the media, and sexual diversity organizations strongly criticized lack of respect for the victims' gender identity.

The local society was shocked, however, at the brutal attack on Daniel Zamudio, a young homosexual who died in Chile .

The “Brazilian” and Gabriela had been found dead at a park in the middle of the night, while Pamela had been killed at a well.

They had all been often abused while practicing transactional sex, but their valuables had not been stolen when they got killed.


Rights violated

A report by Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep), a sexual diversity organization, indicated that all these cases had been given a really low profile by the media.

The situation would have been completely different if heterosexual people had been involved, it added.

There is a law, however, promoting respect for gender identity regardless of biological sex.

Media reports merely mentioned transvestites and sexual workers who had been shot dead.


Totally ignored

Andrés Scagiola, head of the Social Policy Division at the Ministry of Social Development, wrote a newspaper article highlighting the need for respect of transgender people’s rights.

“Their life expectancy merely stands at 40 years, and they often endure physical violence,” he indicated.

Social pressure

In this context, Black Sheep and other groups like the Federation of University Students organized a march against privately owned TV channel 4, which had referred to the victims “as men wearing women’s clothes.”

“Channel CEOs told us that if we did not refrain from organizing demonstrations, they would no longer cover sexual diversity issues,” said Black Sheep representative Diego Sempol.

"Despite all pressures, we will go on marching against homophobia and discrimination and for truly democratic and transparent media action,” he added.

“Time has come to enact a new law for the media to promote democracy and good journalism,” he concluded.


Who are they?

There is little information about the trans population in Uruguay . The School of Sociology has been conducting research to assess the impact of gender and sexual discrimination on education and labor opportunities.

The Ministry of Social Development is developing inclusive policies, but the process is going very slowly.


Life experiences

María Paz, “a different woman,” as she defines herself, told SEMlac that the situation of trans people has got slightly better in the past two decades.

"I practiced transactional sex for many years. When I finally quit eight years ago, I did suffer from hunger. My self-esteem was very low. It is a fact that we are not seen as human beings, but as sexual objects,” she concluded.


Denver, Colorado , U.S.A. (SEMlac Special). – When President Barack Obama publicly supported same-sex marriage last May 9, he took a well calculated electoral risk.

A Gallup survey had shown overwhelming support for legalized gay marriage in the country. In fact, support has moved from 31 percent (of the population) in 1986 up to 63 percent today.

Opposition now comes mostly from Protestant men over 50 years of age, Republican Party members, and some South groups, it also revealed.

“This poses quite a risk because they control the House, the Senate and some state governments,“ said Margaret Thompson, a feminist activist and journalism professor at Denver University .

“Last May 15, the Senate rejected a bill that had already been passed by Congress allowing same-sex unions,” she recalled.

“And the Senate sent the bill to the Veterans Commission for review,” she added. ”Only a Democratic Party member supported the bill there,” she regretted.

On the other hand, Public Policy Polling indicated last month that some outstanding pastors are for it and some others, against it.

Jim Daily, an evangelical pastor who heads Focus on the Family, said that Obama is ignoring the will of the people. “I strongly believe that he should do what is best for the people and he should consider that God conceived marriage as the sacred union of husband and wife,” he noted.

Lutheran reverend Susan Schneider indicated in Wisconsin that no-one should be deprived of the right to express love through marriage.

“This involves a civil-rights issue,” she emphasized.

Paul Lakeland, director of the Catholic Study Center at the Catholic University in Connecticut , said that the Church has no theological justification for its position. It is based on fear and revulsion,” he stressed.

While Obama favors the idea of having federal laws supporting same-sex marriage, his Republican opponent Mitt Romney plans to amend the Constitution to make no room for gay unions.

Romney had in the past supported equal rights for gays and lesbians, but now opposes their legal marriage.

Obama’s change of position is also seen as a way to increase donations from the gay community. This became evident last May 15 in New York , where he joined Ricky Martin, an openly gay Puerto Rican pop star, at a fund-raising event.

A reception was also organized by the Rubin Art Museum for this purpose, with donors contributing from 5,000 to 35,800 dollars each.

The Center for Responsive Politics has identified 14 gay activists who have raised over 3.3 million dollars for Obama.

Homosexual marriage is legalized in New York , Connecticut , Iowa , Maryland , Massachusetts , New Hampshire , Vermont , Washington , and the District of Columbia . Civil union is allowed in Delaware , Hawaii , Illinois , New Jersey , and Rhode Island .

Managua, April (SEMlac Special). – Local women’s organizations have for decades been supporting violence victims, lobbying for new pieces of legislation, and promoting the establishment of women’s commissariats.

Enacted on January 26, 2012, a comprehensive law to fight violence against women and amend the Criminal Code has entrusted these tasks to the State.

The new legislation establishes the adoption of precautionary measures right after victims report their cases and the recognition of psychological violence.

It also sets forth new criminal categories such as women’s murders, children’s kidnapping, and sexual harassment.

While the number of violent women’s deaths is smaller in Nicaragua than in other Central American countries, feminist organizations have since 2003 reported a continued increase in crimes and attacks.

Mexico, April (SEMlac Special). – Sexual harassment has since 1991 been considered a crime punishable by law. It goes unpunished, however, in 99 percent of cases because it is not reported.

Abusers are usually powerful and victims are never believed to tell the truth.

A recent study by the Association of Jurists showed that around 1.4 million working women are abused, humiliated and/or harassed every year in the country.

Victims keep quiet because they do not want to lose their jobs, it also revealed.

“A great scandal has just occurred at the very headquarters of the National Human Rights Commission here,” said Teresa Ulloa, director of the Regional Coalition against Trafficking in Girls and Women.

Página 6 de 24