International Women's Day: A long way to go

Lilia Ramírez Varela, Instituto de Defensa Legal | UPDATE 156. 03 July 2013

Two days before International Women’s Day, Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, the main leader of the recall referendum against mayor Susana Villarán, made this statement: “Women always say no and end up saying yes” (La República, 07/03/2013). A phrase that may seem amusing to some, but that is certainly offensive and humiliating to women. Offensive not only because it expresses a macho ideology in which it seems that only women change their minds, but above all because this is one of the most frequently repeated ‘arguments’ that men use to defend themselves in rape trials. The worst of it is that, up to now, these arguments are at times listened to by those administering justice.

While we believe that there have been significant advances in recent years and it is visible that public policies with a gender focus are gradually being implemented, statements like these, low salaries, punitive sentences and laws bring us back to the harsh reality: there remains much to be done in order to achieve real equality between men and women.

According to the latest figures from national statistics body INEI, the percentage of women working increased 4 per cent, from 61.2 per cent in 2005 to 65.2 per cent in 2012, and today, more than 122,000 women are in decision-making positions. However, they also show that on average women are paid a third less than men (1536 soles to 1016.9 soles).

Violence against women


However, the issue of most concern is the level of violence against women. The situation was made searingly evident five months ago with the case of Ruth Thalía Sayas, who discussed her private life on television and was later murdered by her boyfriend. The television channel indicated it would start a campaign to prevent femicide, but that has already been forgotten by the channel and its leader, which generated ratings and money from the victim.

According to the Ministerio Público, between 2009 and 2011, 131,371 allegations of domestic violence were made, and only 440 convictions. Another study by the ministry found that in 2012, 97 women were victims of femicide, 93.8 per cent of them killed by their partner, ex-partner or a family member, while 6.2 per cent were killed by an acquaintance or stranger. These figures have increased dramatically compared to 2009 (7 cases), 2010 (30) and 2011 (79). Moreover, the Ministry for Women has pointed out that 88.71 per cent of domestic or sexual violence victims were women, between January and October 2012.

The most alarming information has come from the 1 Billón de mujeres de pie (One billion women rising) campaign: in Peru more than 9 million women have been assaulted by their husband, partner or ex-partner. That is, 65 per cent of women report having been abused. To this, we can add UN figures: one in three women experiences assault or rape, meaning that, globally, a billion women have been abused. The statistics are overwhelming and show the need for a better justice system so that cases like this do not go unpunished.

Reproductive rights

Another sensitive point is the level of discriminatory laws that still affect us. Key among these is the obligation on women to carry to term unwanted pregnancies, even those resulting from rape. This is a terrible decision by government that violates women in the most intimate way: their decision to become mothers. Abortion is deemed by the 1991 Penal Code a crime against life, the body and health, except in the supposedly decriminalised case of ‘therapeutic abortion’. Meanwhile, the punishment for abortion following rape (wrongly called ‘emotional abortion’) is only reduced if the rape occurs outside marriage. Many countries have ruled such laws unconstitutional [… for example, Colombia].

But we women also have to be saints. When rape or sexual assault is reported, the double victimisation of women is clear when their way of living, dressing and thinking are given as much weight as the crime. And needless to say, the majority of these cases are not reported by victims, whether because they cannot face the arduous process or because of the fear that situations like these produce.

And the laws, sentences and trials are also an expression of what is happening at the cultural level in Peru. The male bias has shown itself in public situations, as in the case of the student Rosario Ponce, who is facing an interminable investigation (apparently without basis) due to the irresponsible media campaign against her, which reinforces the female stereotypes established in our social imaginary.

There is no shortage of examples. This International Women’s Day calls for state and society to recognise rights rather than offering speeches, tributes or flowers.

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