Although many laws have been enacted to address violence against women, it continues to be a rampant problem in every country. The mere existence of legislation cannot alter a society’s perception of gender-based violence that is deeply ingrained in their “culture”. The birthplace of “machismo”, Latin America, has made some small gains towards empowering women but, overall, it remains a repressive area to be a woman. In fact, Peru has one of the world’s highest rates of domestic violence, from 41% up to 70% of women report abuse in their intimate relationships. Rates are much higher for poor, indigenous women where opportunities and resources are scarcer. A machismo, victim-blaming culture exists throughout Latin America.
Merriam-Webster defines machismo as “an exaggerated or exhilarating sense of power or strength”. In Latin America, this ideology perpetuates rigid gender roles that keep women in subservient positions and men in control. Access to reproductive health care is limited with abortion being illegal in several countries. Rape victims are often treated with scorn and disbelief. Violence against women in Latin America is promoted through its machismo culture and cannot be eradicated by simply passing a law. The existence of legislation has not had much effect on improving women’s lives or reducing violence. It is a problem that will continue to persist throughout Latin America unless the views and attitudes of the entire society and all of its communities are altered, while simultaneously creating opportunities to improve the lives and well-being of all citizens.
The solution to this problem is not simple. It does not lie in government intervention alone and it will not result from removing women out of abusive homes because it is so widespread and accepted. A few domestic violence shelters exist in Latin American countries, but are rarely outside urban areas. Most women are afraid to leave or are not aware of their options. The empowerment of women is crucial to improving their lives and to reducing family violence.
Our project will be a networking organization that would coordinate the existing resources and programs in the area, while implementing various programs to promote gender equity and non-violence. Our organization will encompass all aspects of the roots of family violence as a societal problem: cultural, economic, religious, and societal. Instead of trying to impose a Western model on the region, we will incorporate the work of existing women’s organizations and community groups in the area to reinforce their strategies and expand their scope. Community participation is key to the program’s success.
Once a network has been established in an area, we aim to create a community center to provide many services and to educate and empower citizens about family violence and gender-based violence. The family center will offer programs for men, women and children. We recognize the need to introduce the concept of gender equity to children and will devise a “Free to be You and Me” style program incorporating this ideology into youth educational programs and activities.