Despite the various and permanent campaigns against violence against women and feminicide, the problem persists and is one of the most serious in our society today, along with corruption of officials, delinquency and organised crime and family violence.
In documents published by the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations and the Observatory against Violence, a series of fundamental concepts and principles have been set out in order to understand that we are facing a very serious social problem with a scope that extends to the judicial, criminal and criminalistic spheres, especially in the case of feminicide.
In this article I will quote fully from documents issued by the aforementioned institutions, due to the clarity and forcefulness of their statements.
Violence against women is understood as “any action or conduct that, based on their gender status, causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or private sphere”. Furthermore, “Violence against women shall be understood to include physical, sexual and psychological violence: within the family or domestic unit or in any other interpersonal relationship, whether or not the aggressor shares or has shared the same domicile as the woman, and which includes, among others, rape, ill-treatment and sexual abuse”.
It also includes violence occurring in the community and perpetrated by any person, including, but not limited to, rape, sexual abuse, torture, trafficking, kidnapping and sexual harassment in the workplace, in educational institutions, health facilities or any other place. It is also “perpetrated or condoned by the state or its agents, wherever it occurs”.
Violence against women, regardless of the place where it occurs, has serious effects at the individual and social level. In the first case, it causes serious physical and psychological damage, which can even end women’s lives. Survivors often suffer lifelong emotional disorders, mental health problems and even limitations to enjoy a healthy and satisfying sexual life.
In the case of sexually abused women, they are at increased risk of HIV infection. In the social sphere, violence against women has a negative impact on a community’s possibilities for development and constitutes an obstacle to escaping poverty, as it reduces capacities, generates expenses due to the health, security and legal protection required, and causes losses in the national GDP due to work absenteeism and low productivity of its victims, who are mostly in the economically active population age group.
In general, violence against women ends up breaking families as a space for protection and decapitalising society as a whole. In the case of indigenous, Afro-descendant and rural women, it is possible to identify greater factors of risk, defencelessness or low access to state coverage of services, which is why there is a need for a double specificity of rights. While it is true that indigenous and Afro-descendant women today claim their right to cultural difference, they also demand the right to change those traditions that oppress or exclude them.
In the report presented to the General Assembly in 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, it was noted that “Violence against women worldwide is a persistent, pervasive and unacceptable phenomenon (…). Whether in times of conflict, post-conflict or presumed peace, the various forms and manifestations of violence against women are simultaneously causes and consequences of discrimination, inequality and oppression” (Manjoo, 2011).
There are different expressions of violence against women. These include the following:
Physical and psychological violence against women in intimate partner relationships.
Physical violence is “action or conduct, which causes harm to bodily integrity or health. It includes mistreatment due to negligence, carelessness or deprivation of basic needs, which have caused physical harm or may cause physical harm, regardless of the time required for recovery” (Article 8, Law 30364, paragraph a). This type of violence is the most reported, precisely because it is the most visible.
Psychological violence, which generally accompanies the other forms of violence and which is also based on gender inequality, is defined in Law 30364 as “the action or conduct tending to control or isolate the person against their will, to humiliate or shame them and which may cause psychological damage. Psychic harm is the affectation or alteration of some of the mental functions or capacities of the person, produced by an event or a set of situations of violence, which determines a temporary or permanent, reversible or irreversible impairment of the previous integral functioning” (article 8 Law 30364, paragraph b).
It includes various forms of affectation such as threats, insults related to the physical appearance of the person, to her intelligence, to her capacities as a worker, to her quality as a mother, wife or housewife; humiliations of all kinds, contempt, devaluation of her work or her opinions.
It also includes the insistent desire to know where women are going, jealousy, as well as accusations of infidelity, prohibiting women from working outside the home, from studying, from putting on make-up and dressing up (Red de Defensorías de Mujeres, 2010), preventing them from visiting or being visited by their friends, the threat of abandonment or of depriving her of her children, indifference or silence and in general all those actions that provoke feelings of fear or guilt in the victim and that increase the level of control and domination exercised over her by the aggressor, reinforcing the existing gender pattern (machismo). This type of violence has a serious impact on women’s self-esteem and life plans, undermining their aspirations and their affirmation as human beings (MIMDES, 2009).
Femicide is defined as the murder of women perpetrated by men for the sole reason that they are women and is based on gender discrimination. In reality, it should be seen as the last chapter in the lives of many women, marked by a “continuum of violence and terror” (Defensoría del Pueblo, 2010). It is a product of the failure of attempts to subdue and control women. It expresses the need to definitively eliminate women’s ability to become autonomous subjects. The media often present the murder of women as “crimes of passion”, which distorts its nature and contributes to reinforcing stereotypes that place women in a position of subordination and devaluation compared to men.
Femicide is the most serious manifestation of gender-based violence and is a widespread phenomenon that is systematically increasing in the country and in the region. Seven countries in Latin America have criminalised it, which has advantages, as it makes it easier to consider factors and variables in the investigation and judicial process that are different from those taken into account when dealing with homicide and that respond to the specificity of this crime. It also makes it possible to make visible the gender background behind these crimes and to identify women as subjects of protection, among other advantages.
Sexual violence continues to be one of the most under-reported forms of violence and one of the most problematic in terms of access to justice. It can occur in both private and public spaces, in times of peace or armed conflict, and can even become a crime against humanity when it is perpetrated systematically against the women of a nation or ethnic group, as a way of humiliating the defeated men and providing proof of hegemony (Ombudsman’s Office, 2011). Due to its characteristics, sexual violence is a true indicator of gender inequalities in all spheres of social life, which limit the exercise of women’s rights.
Sexual violence encompasses a great diversity of situations against the sexual integrity of the person, which are based on gender inequality, and in which other determinants also intervene. Law 30364 states that sexual violence refers to “actions of a sexual nature committed against a person without their consent or under coercion. They include acts that do not involve penetration or physical contact.
It also includes exposure to pornographic material and acts that violate the right of persons to decide voluntarily about their sexual or reproductive life, through threats, coercion, use of force or intimidation (Article 8, paragraph c).
As stated in the approved law, and in accordance with international jurisprudence and in accordance with the rules of procedure of the International Criminal Court, penetration is not necessary for a case of sexual violence to be established. It is sufficient that there is abuse of a sexual nature affecting the moral and physical integrity and dignity of a person, exercised through coercion, threat or intimidation.
Violence in the workplace
The underlying problem of violence at work refers to the persistence of a traditional gendered sexual division of labour that places greater value and recognition on the work performed by men in the social world and does not adequately recognise and value the unpaid work that women of all ages have performed in the home throughout history. This women’s work has been and continues to be work dedicated to caring for their own, work without which no person could be in a position to participate in social life.
When women enter the labour market, they do so with the mark of this sexual division of labour. For this reason, although their participation continues to increase, it is a disadvantaged participation, as most of them occupy the most precarious jobs with the least social recognition and the lowest salaries in the market, without access to the benefits of the existing social security and protection system, which also responds to this division of labour and maintains the responsibility of care work in the home.
This gender inequality also manifests itself through more violent forms of violence in the work environment, which are a vivid reflection of the asymmetrical power relations between men and women: “Gender-based violence at work is an everyday occurrence that is expressed in labour relations and in relations between the sexes in the work environment, but is not sufficiently recognised as a transgression, with a strong tendency to trivialise or normalise the facts; and, its consequences on the physical and psychological integrity of the victim, are not attributed to the generating cause” (Acevedo et al. , 2009, p.165).
One of the most visible forms of gender-based violence at work is sexual harassment, which reflects this pattern of gender domination that is particularly directed against women.
The Regulation of Law No. 27942, Law on the Prevention and Condemnation of Sexual Harassment, defines harassment as conduct of a sexual nature or other behaviour of a sexual connotation, which is unwanted or rejected by the person against whom it is directed and which affects their dignity. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of victims are women and the perpetrators are men, as it is yet another expression of the domination and subjugation that comes from the prevailing gender system.
Sexual harassment in public spaces
This form of violence “occurs when one or more male strangers harass one or more women… in a public place that is not the woman’s workplace. Through looks, words or gestures, the man asserts his right to intrude on the woman’s attention, defining her as a sexual object and forcing her to interact with him” (Di Leonardo, 1981).
According to Article No. 4 of Law No. 30314, Law to prevent and condemn sexual harassment in public spaces, “Sexual harassment in public spaces is physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature or connotation carried out by one or more persons against another or others, who do not want or reject such conduct because they consider that it affects their dignity, their fundamental rights such as freedom, integrity and free movement, creating intimidation, hostility, degradation, humiliation or an offensive environment in public spaces”.
It encompasses a wide range of practices such as acts of a sexual, verbal or gestural nature; comments and innuendoes of a sexual nature; obscene gestures that are unbearable, hostile, humiliating or offensive; inappropriate touching, body rubbing, body rubbing or masturbation in public transport or public places and indecent exposure or showing of genitals in public transport or public places.
It is a problem that is not visible or even “naturalised”, so there are no figures to show the scale of the problem today. The PUCP Polling Institute in conjunction with the “Virtual Observatory of Stop Street Harassment” explored this phenomenon through the application of a survey in which it was found that 38.3% of women reported having received whistles in the street in the last six months, 23% vulgar gestures and 15% uncomfortable rubbing in public transport and/or congested spaces, among other manifestations.
This is a pernicious practice that has not received due attention and that seeks to ratify masculinity and men’s domination of public space, within which women’s bodies are considered, and which damages women’s self-esteem, restricts their geographic mobility and sabotages their attempt to control their own public lives.
Trafficking in persons
Trafficking in women, children and adolescents should be recognised as the slavery of the 21st century, given that it implies the loss of freedom, dignity and identity of the person affected, who, being in this situation, finds it impossible to exercise their most fundamental rights and is subjected to forced labour or to the service of others in subhuman conditions and under threat to their integrity and their lives.
The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Condemn Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, known as the Palermo Protocol, defines trafficking in persons as follows:
“Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Such exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.