Femicide in Latin America

Femicides, distinct from homicides, entail the deliberate killing of women and often stem from systemic gender-based discrimination prevalent in patriarchal societies. However, the reliability of femicide data is often compromised due to underreporting, influenced by factors such as distrust of law enforcement and societal apathy. 


In 2019, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published a report on the Global Study on Homicide, acknowledging the ongoing debate surrounding the definition of femicide. The report noted that many countries employ various definitions when collecting homicide data, contributing to the complexity of understanding and addressing this issue. Consequently, not all instances of homicide involving women can be classified as femicide. For instance, in 2021, Mexico reported 3,740 homicides of women, with approximately one-third meeting the criteria for classification as femicide.

This post delves into Latin America, examining three countries within the region, to highlight the growing concern about femicide. We use data collected by the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin American (ECLA). Beyond statistical analysis, the study explores the societal, legal, and religious factors that contribute to the pervasive issue of femicide in Latin America, emphasizing the need for comprehensive exploration and action.

Argentina:

Latin America’s deep-rooted Catholic heritage, stemming from the Spanish conquest, stands juxtaposed with the alarming prevalence of femicide despite the sanctity of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” in Christianity. Paradoxically, the historical influence of Catholicism has perpetuated the subjugation of women beneath men, exacerbating the issue.

The discourse surrounding abortion is fiercely contested, both politically and within religious circles. Catholic doctrine staunchly opposes abortion, leading to persistent societal and religious pressures discouraging its legalization and safety. Religious customs heavily shape legal frameworks, particularly evident in Latin America, notably in countries like Argentina. Consequently, accessing safe and legal abortion services remains arduous.

An unintended consequence of stringent abortion laws is the escalation of violence against pregnant women, particularly by their partners who seek to terminate pregnancies forcibly. Research indicates a direct correlation between restricted abortion access and heightened rates of partner violence targeting pregnant women. This is one of the reasons women’s groups in Argentina successfully pressured the national legislature to legalize abortion in December 2020.

Using data collected by CEPAL from Figure 2 illustrates the incidence of intentional homicides per 100,000 women in Argentina spanning from 2014 to 2022. 

Although these figures may be higher, it is crucial to acknowledge the pervasive issue of underreporting and inadequate tracking of such crimes. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the femicide rate declined after Argentina liberalized its abortion law. While it is too early to conclusively attribute this reform to the observed decrease, the trend is a positive development.

Brazil:

Drawing on data from CEPAL, the following graph depicts the percentage of female homicides in Brazil per 100,000 female inhabitants annually.

In 2023, the Brazilian Public Security Forum estimated that 1,463 femicides were committed last year, increasing the femicide rate from 1.3% in 2022 to 1.6%. This alarming trend underscores the entrenched structural and patriarchal issues within Brazilian society, perpetuating “machismo,” normalizing gender-based discrimination, and exacerbating gender inequality. 

The prevalence of femicide in Brazil has sparked widespread activism aimed at challenging societal norms and advocating for policy reforms to safeguard women’s rights. While the Brazilian government has introduced legal measures such as the “Lei Maria da Penha” to combat violence against women, enforcement remains inadequate due to shortcomings in the country’s justice system and institutional framework.

Mexico:

Mexico stands out not only in Latin America but globally for its alarming rise in femicide. With between 10 and 11 women falling victim to murder each day in Mexico , the severity of the issue is undeniable. This trend has seen a dramatic escalation, with female murder victims accounting for 1.4% to 4.6% of all homicides between 2007 and 2012. Expressing deep concern, the Attorney General of Mexico has highlighted a staggering 137% increase in femicide rates over the past five years.

The following graph, using data collected from CEPAL, depicts Mexico’s femicide rate between 2015-2022.

Femicide has emerged as a pressing issue across Mexico, fueled by high-profile cases such as the tragic murder of Ingrid Escamilla, who was brutally killed following a heated argument with a man. 

While various factors contribute to the alarming rise in femicide, one prominent argument points to the prevalence of “machismo” culture in Mexico. This deeply ingrained patriarchal system perpetuates male dominance over women, often leading to domestic violence aimed at maintaining this power dynamic. Societal norms and expectations further exacerbate the problem, creating a conducive environment for femicide, with perpetrators often facing minimal consequences. For instance, in Mexico, only 3% of femicides result in prosecution, and a mere 1% of cases lead to convictions.

Conclusion:

The grim truth about femicide is that its persistence largely stems from the inadequate condemnation of these heinous acts by governments and judicial systems. Femicide thrives amidst the absence of robust legal measures, entrenched societal norms, and deeply ingrained religious beliefs. These factors, rooted in history, present formidable challenges to change, resulting in stagnation or even regression in recent years, as reflected in the data. Femicide continues to cast a dark shadow over Latin American nations, demanding urgent attention from the international community.

About the authors:

Nancy Oliveira is a junior at Drew University majoring in International Relations and Media & Communications.

Sofia Palmisano is a junior at Drew University majoring in International Relations.

Grace Williams is a junior at Drew University majoring in Political Science.

Editor's note: This entry was written for Drew University's PSCI 333 International Human Rights course.
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