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If you’d like to post your views on exploitation of women, the use of media to advance women’s rights or any other women’s rights issues please email us to campaigns@cawn.org. We are looking forward to hearing from you! 

By Ninha Silva; translated to Spanish by Alma Carballo

Ninha Silva es graduada en Periodismo y tiene un Master en Relaciones Internacionales y políticas democráticas. Nació en Guinea–Bissau, se trasladó a Portugal cuando era muy joven y ahora vive en Londres, donde colabora con CAWN. Este artículo se publicó en la edición de Invierno 2015 de la boletín trimestral de CAWN (página 7).

Hay una impaciente crecimiento a medida que se acerca el juicio de Rios Montt. Inicialmente se planeo para Abril 2014, luego se pospuse para Enero de 2015, se adujo que era debido a un atraso en los casos que eran una prioridad para las autoridades judiciales Guatemaltecas.

Fueron acusados de ser responsables del periodo mas sangriento del conflicto interno guatemalteco (1969-1996). El 10 de Mayo de 2013, el General Ríos Montt, entonces 87 anos, fue encontrado culpable de genocidio y crímenes contra la humanidad perpetrados durante los 17 meses del gobierno, fue sentenciado a 80 anos in la cárcel. Se cree que asesino mas de 200,000 personas, y muchos cientos de miles mas desplazados, violadas, torturadas y por hambruna bajo el régimen de Rios Montt. De acuerdo a Comisión de la clarificación historica de las naciones Unidas, el 83% de las victimas eran indígenas mayas.

José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, el entonces jefe Militar de inteligencia de el General Ríos Montt también fue enjuiciado, pero fue sobreseído el mismo día, la razón es que el no estaba en una posición de comandancia en ese periodo (1082-1983).

La reacción nacional e internacional a la convicción histórica de un ex jefe de Estado en un tribunal interno fue algo que asombro. Sin embargo, no fue una sorpresa que, dada la historia violenta y la frágil democracia de Guatemala, la euforia duró poco. Diez días después se pronunció el veredicto de la Corte, la condena de Ríos Montt fue anulada por la Corte Constitucional de Guatemala, con el argumento de que había sido dejado sin defensa legal desde el 19 de abril, por ende, el debido proceso. El Tribunal dictaminó que sólo las declaraciones previstas antes de esa fecha serían válidas y el juicio tendría que ser reanudado a partir de ese día y tendría que repetirse todos los argumentos de cierre.

Lo que se vio inicialmente como una victoria para las mujeres guatemaltecas , víctimas ixiles y de los derechos humanos , fue descrito rápidamente por Amnistía Internacional como “un aplazamiento decepcionante de la justicia para las víctimas del genocidio y sus familiares” . Más de 90 sobrevivientes dieron sus testimonios en el juicio histórico. De estos, aproximadamente 12 eran mujeres que describieron sus experiencias de violación y abuso sexual contra ello/as mismos y / o sus familiares .. Varios testimonios revelaron los ataques sistemáticos de mujeres y niños vulnerables por el ejército. Según algunos análisis , estos ataques inhumanos en mujeres y niños fueron utilizados para recopilar información y como una forma de exterminar a la comunidad maya y la eliminación de las futuras amenazas de ataques de la guerrilla .

Hacia el final del juicio, el tribunal declaró que el ejército de Ríos Montt no distinguia entre civiles desarmados y personas armadas y que la violencia contra la mujer fue adoptada como un “objetivo militar” y parte de un plan para destruir la etnia Ixil .

El tribunal también señaló que los actos originales de violencia física y sexual han dejado cicatrices psicológicos permanentes en las mujeres.

La decisión del Tribunal Constitucional de anular sentencia de Ríos Montt y de no tomar en cuenta una gran parte de la prueba testimonial proporcionada durante el juicio plantea preocupaciones serias política sobre el sistema judicial y político de Guatemala.

Justicia en la reconstrucción

Una petición para investigar y enjuiciar a los generales responsables de los abusos cometidos durante los 36 años de conflicto interno de Guatemala fue presentada en 2001 por representantes de las víctimas ante el Ministerio Público de Guatemala . Sin embargo fue hasta Ríos Montt perdió la inmunidad parlamentaria en 2012 , que fue acusado .
Detrás del juicio y condena de Ríos Montt esta la Fiscal General Claudia Paz y Paz , quien asumió su puesto en el Ministerio Público en 2010. Paz y Paz fue quien dio aperture a los cargos contra Ríos Montt por genocidio , desapariciones forzadas , torturas, crímenes de lesa humanidad y terrorismo de Estado. En enero de 2013, Ríos Montt y José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez fueron ordenados a ser a comparecer a los juzgados por sus crímenes in el 19 de Marzo, iniciaron los procedimientos criminales.

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By Shiromi Pinto ; translated  by CAWN

Interview of Morena Herrera, the ex guerrillera, the feminist, and the defender of women’s rights in El Salvador

Recently, the Salvadoran authorities have denied a pardon to Guadalupe, a young incarcerated woman that has been sentenced to 30 years of prison for having an abortion. Morena Herrera is one of her greatest defenders. The ex-combatant for freedom, an ardent feminist, activist and defender of sexual and reproductive rights, tells us here why the ban on abortion in El Salvador needs to end.

‘’I was a guerrillera. I have been an activist for social change since I was young’’, says Morena Herrera. When the civil war ended in 1992 and the Peace Agreements were signed, she knew that her fight was far from over.

‘’Those agreements left a huge empty space when it comes to women’s rights’’, she explains. ‘’I realized that I had to fight differently. Women’s rights are human rights and have to be a priority’’.

Since 2009, Morena has been fighting in a different manner through the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico, a group she is currently the leader of.

Among the women she has defended, the case of Beatriz is sadly famous. Beatriz almost died because she was denied an abortion to a life threatening pregnancy with an anencephalic foetus. Also well known is the case of the 17 women, including Guadalupe, who are currently launching appeals against convictions for ‘’crimes’’ related to a pregnancy and to obstetric complications.

All those women have seen their lives destroyed by the brutal ban on abortion in El Salvador.

 

Photo: Amnesty International

Acids and Hooks

 It was not always this way. Before 1997, abortion was permitted in three exceptional cases: if a woman’s life was at risk, in case of rape, and in the case of a fatal abnormality.

‘’In those days,’’ recalls Morena, ‘’women had secret abortions but nobody would prosecute or persecute them. Some women would use acids and hooks to abort because abortion was still illegal outside exceptional cases. But, when things went wrong, they could go to the hospital and receive treatment without the fear of being arrested’’.

However, after 1997, when El Salvador’s penal code was amended, abortion was totally prohibited, and a culture incriminating women grew steadily.

‘’Today, women who go to the hospital bleeding are directly accused’’, explains Morena. ‘’Even without any investigation or fact checking, they are accused and prosecuted. And the sentences are draconian. They go from 30 to 50 years in jail’’.

Impossible decisions

In this context, Morena admits that the work that she does with the Agrupación Ciudadana is difficult.

‘’One day I received a phone call. A student had been losing blood in her school bathroom ‘’, she recalls. ‘’I asked a colleague to bring her to a private hospital. She had been raped outside the university (and impregnated), but had not said anything to anyone. She then got pills made of caustic soda. The pills destroyed the walls of her arteries – but she still was pregnant. For us, the dilemma is: Do we prefer seeing this person dead or in jail? This is our every day reality. It is heartbreaking’’.

Unwanted pregnancy is a distressing reality for too many women and girls in El Salvador. As Morena points out, girls aged 9 to 18 represent 36% of the total of people giving birth in a hospital. With an insufficient sexual education, a limited access to contraceptives and a total ban on abortion, these young girls find themselves with no way out –apart from the clandestine abortion (35.000 each year) or suicide (which amounts for 57% of pregnant teenagers’ deaths).

‘’I am the mother of four daughters, three of whom have different fathers,’’ Morena explains. ‘’I know personally the anguish that someone feels when she has an unwanted pregnancy. Only with my fourth daughter was it a conscious choice of mine. All children should be born this way’’.

Challenges

Morena and her colleagues not only face legal challenges, but also social ones.

‘’People say that we are committing a crime (by raising awareness, supporting women and advocating on their behalf) and we answer them that we are fighting to change an unjust law. This cannot be legal. We do not accept it’’, she states.

‘’We have received threats and there have been comments in the press and on TV that were very stigmatizing’’.

It is here that Amnesty International can play a positive role. ‘’When Amnesty came in El Salvador and launched its report, this gave us some peace of mind. We are not crazy! We have support. The most important thing is that Amnesty talks to other governments and asks them to put pressure on El Salvador because our voices are often not heard – this would help us a lot.’’

Successes

Among the many setbacks, there are also successes. Morena remembers the first woman that the Agrupación Ciudadana helped free.

‘’She was the mother of three children and had been sentenced to 30 years of jail’’, recalls Morena. ‘’We found out about the case in a New York Times article and began investigating. We have the same surname so I could enter the jail as if I were part of her family. She told me everything that had happened. We then examined the case files and, with the help of forensic doctors from Argentine, Guatemala and Spain, we were able to prove that there had been a judicial error. We spent four years campaigning for her liberation’’.

When she was finally released, Morena felt ecstatic. ‘’I spent three whole days just smiling’’, she says. ‘’It was very satisfying. And after some time, she started defending other women’s rights’’.

By Quimy De Leon; translated and adapted by Virginia López Calvo

Miguel Ángel Gálvez Judge presides over the court of First Instance located on the 14th floor of the Tower of Courts in the center of Guatemala City.

On Tuesday October 14, 2014, after three hearings with the Public Affairs Ministry, the prosecutor, the plaintiffs and the defense of two accused military officers, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez decided, following an analysis of the law in light of the evidence, testimony and arguments, that army colonel Esteelmer Giron Reyes and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij will have to attend an oral and public trial.

Esteelmer Reyes Francisco Girón is accused of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery, murder and humiliating treatment. Heriberto Valdes Asij is accused of forced disappearances and sexual violence.

The historical truth will be heard at a trial in October 29. Until then, both accused remain in preventative prison.

Justice for victims of rape and sexual slavery

Sepur Zarco is a community in the municipality of El Curtain in Izabal. There, a military detachment was built during the hardest years of war and genocide, in 1982 [1]. There, crimes against humanity were committed, rape and sexual slavery of about 20 women amongst them. Some of these women had their husbands and relatives killed or disappeared too.

Women who dared not to allow these crimes to go unpunished, who dared to speak and go through a series of difficult moments and cumbersome procedures, encourage us to reflect and defend truth and memory.

From the first hearing, the women covered themselves in colourful fabrics to face their perpetrators. They did not come alone, but accompanied by several people, by community women, by women’s organizations that make up the Alliance Breaking the Silence and Impunity. In the last three hearings only their representative arrived to court.

While justice arrives

To get into the Tower of Courts is not a nice experience. Whenever I’ve done it, it has always been to accompany a high-impact case, related to human rights violations.

Knowing and understanding how power operates is creepy. Not less than understanding how the justice system and its laws work. Most times I could see beyond the discourse that works to the benefit of the powerful, and through the patriarchal structures in politics, the military, society, religion and the economy. These hearings are landmarks in Guatemalan collective memory and feminist struggles.

[1] The detachment was closed in 1988.

Read previous articles about the Sepur Zarco case here and here.

By Helen Porter

Helen completed her PhD in Latin American Studies at the University of Liverpool. She has spent extended periods researching young peoples’ lives in Nicaragua and Bolivia and currently works researching projects working with young people involved in gangs in London.

‘Dale con todo Helen!’ or ‘Give it everything’, they shouted as I took my run up to the ball and struck with all the power I could muster. More often than not it dribbled harmlessly wide, but the cries of encouragement from my team mates and compañeras del equipo never failed to motivate, and once in a long while I was even rewarded with a ‘Golaazoo’. I had joined a women’s football team whilst researching my PhD in Leon, Nicaragua. To put it more accurately, researching the lives of the young women on the team had become my PhD, while training four times a week with matches on a Sunday followed by sun burn and sore muscles had become my daily routine as I played out the season with UNAN Leon during 2008.

Organised women’s football has existed in Nicaragua since 1960, but it is only more recently that the game has become the number one sport for women and girls, and the total number of registered players has grown from 800 in 2000 to over 7000 in 2006. Since 1998 the national championship has averaged around eight to ten teams from around the country. Popularity is growing but development is slow and limited largely by economic and cultural barriers.

There are strong motivations for girls and women to participate. Overwhelmingly football is an opportunity to escape the hassles and stress of everyday life, as well as a chance to socialise and relax with friends. A match day, for instance, is more than just the 90 minutes of football; it often involves travelling to towns and cities across Nicaragua that the players may have never visited, and it offers a unique opportunity to get to know their country. The main problem for women’s football teams
competing in the national league is a lack of funding, and they generally have to rely on the support of the players’ families and the institutions that they represent.

newsletter pic

Perhaps more difficult to surmount though is the opposition girls and women face from wider society and deeply entrenched norms relating to appropriate behaviour for females. Ye Mehrdesto Besser started playing at age 12 and experienced playing in both the Nicaraguan Women’s First Division and representing her country at national level: ‘For me, it’s a way to relax and get away from stresses’.

The players often face opposition from the family, who see football as a waste of time and distraction from domestic responsibilities, while members of the public shout abuse such as ‘marimacha’ or ‘masculine Mary’ – a term used to describe lesbians in parts of Latin America. Indeed, social norms around appropriate behaviour for males and females features strongly in the opposition young women experience playing football and emanates from both the household and the street. But the players have been able to surmount this opposition to their participation: ‘The most difficult thing was to be accepted by other people, especially men’. Quickly they began to change wider opinion, ‘We won respect from others as we started to win games and showed we were committed to playing; then people realised that women can also do things that men do.’

Contemporary history in Nicaragua tells a story of a contradictory place for women; participation by women fighting for the FSLN during the revolution led to an image of militant motherhood and women had an unprecedented profile in politics and society. However, years of poverty, austerity and neoliberal economic scarcity followed.

Daniel Ortega’s return to leadership brought hope of a serious challengeto poverty and inequality, and his government has introduced some impressive gender policies such as gender quotas for political parties.However, teenage pregnancy rates, maternal mortality, domestic abuse and femicide, and a ban on therapeutic abortion continue to be serious problems. In addition, the government’s oppressive approach to organisations associated with the women’s movement has met with condemnation and withdrawal of funding from international donors. It is in this climate that female participation in football is able to establish a new arena for participation in public life and challenge traditional ideas of gendered roles and responsibilities.

While motherhood is an important part of their identity, these young women footballers prioritise education and independent financial security as essential to their futures. Unlike their male counterparts, women footballers have to study to survive, as Ye explains: ‘Most men play for money but we don’t have this luxury. For most of us we have to study to earn our money’. Playing for a university team in Nicaragua gives these female footballers the opportunity of a scholarship to study, and in some cases they are given accommodation and spending money.

Whilst playing football may be a means to an ends for many young women, it is clear, given the opposition they have encountered from wider society, they are challenging norms of behaviour. Moreover, they are taking advantage of a unique opportunity to achieve higher education qualifications, the possibility of accessing better paid work, and they are thoroughly enjoying the physical and social benefits of playing, along the way.

By Ninha Silva 

Wartime sexual violence is a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of victims across the world. Patterns of this occurrence led scholars to believe that women represent the highest risk of sexual violence as they are “targeted more often in ways that are directly linked to their gender and sexual identity and to their identity as the bearers and protectors of a community’s culture and future generations” (L.Leiby, 2009). In Guatemala, where indigenous people form 51% of the Guatemalan population, during the thirty six years of civil war that wiped the country, from over 200,000 assassinations and disappearances that were accounted, 83% were committed against the indigenous Maya Ixil population (Freedom House). For these figures, might contribute the fact that, the first years of the armed conflict were intense in the Maya’s territory, but also the fact that, compared to the national population, these communities were out casted and disadvantaged in many ways, specifically in political and economic areas.

State officials’ claim unawareness on the numbers and cases of sexual violence, which are extremely common and forces one to question how widespread violence and violation of human rights can occur without being noticed. As in Guatemala, countries such as Peru, Aghanistan and Central African Republic, allow a culture of anonymity and permissiveness that benefits the perpetrator, giving them confidence to carry on with their crimes without fear of being caught and brought to justice.

From the 10th to the 13th of June, London was stage for the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict. A very well intentioned agenda emphasized the active participation of women in maintaining peace and security; as well as the involvement of civil society in engaging their communities in the prevention and response to sexual violence; and the commitment of faith groups providing care, treatment and support for survivors.

Nevertheless, in a time when Guatemala waits to resume the trial of General Rios Montt, who it is believed to have been responsible for half of all human rights violations (Amnesty International) carried out during the thirty six years of conflict, critics would expect that the summit would focus in outlining mechanisms to reinforce state agents’ accountability and methods, and in analysing thoroughly the cooperation between international institutions and governments in order to change the legislation and bring justice to all victims of sexual violence during the internal armed conflict.

Chaired by the Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie, the summit brought together 1,700 delegates and 129 country delegations, international organizations, over 1000 experts, members of civil society, faith leaders and youth organizations. As result of the summit, it was signed a Statement of Action, which main purpose is to turn political commitment into practical actions and bring up a range of reforms in the legal, humanitarian and security sectors.

All the efforts put in this summit to determine practical steps to tackle rape in wartime conflict, should be recognised, however, it is crucial to understand the real impact of this meeting, in the life of hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual violence. It is equally imperative to define what will change in Guatemala’s government accountability, and which changes will be undertaken in its legislation. It is decisive that the government commits to be actively involved reinforcing accountability in different levels, as seems to be the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, which launched a National Strategy to Fight Sexual Violence and National Action Plan on ending sexual violence in conflict respectively, with the support of their ministers.

Throughout the summit, it was pledged a stronger involvement from the civil society and women in the public sphere. However, the fact that first certain preconditions need to be created to allow women to participate freely in the society and effectively in conflict prevention, resolution and recovery seem to be overlooked. In a patriarchal society such as Guatemala, it is important to create infrastructures and means to protect women that risk their life when stepping forward to denounce perpetrators of sexual violence, being high profile or not. Likewise, women’s movements should be encouraged to demonstrate and protect their rights, without fear of condemnation or attack.

Data suggests that in Guatemala, during the civil war, rape was the most frequent form of abuse, constituting 84 percent of all sexual violations (L. Leiby,2009) and most of the cases were undertaken by agents of the state[1]. It is stated in the summit’s document that “Ministers of Defence should take responsibility for preventing sexual violence by their armed forces”. The first problem that arises here, is that it seems unlikely to hold anyone accountable without a mechanism of control and denunciation inside the armed forces; second, in large amount of rape cases that became public in Guatemala, it was proved that commanders used intimidation and punishment against officers that refused to sexually abuse women (L.Leiby, 2009:459). Therefore, it is necessary to create a system of control extended to officials in the highest levels of command, in which they are taken to trial in a federal court or in a court-martial, whether they order or undertake any kind of sexual crime.

The summit’s deliverables seem to centre in setting up a book of rules and not so much in defining and applying mechanisms of reinforcement of state actions. So, the question that poses now is, how  international law and institutions are going to be applied to Guatemala’s state and judicial system in order to condemn all individuals accused of sexual violence, and bring justice to the victims.

[1] According to UN’s Truth Commission, state forces were responsible for 93 percent of violations documented

By  · Red Light Rio 

The Observatory of Prostitution is pleased to announce the publication of our preliminary report of findings on the World Cup’s effect on sex commerce and sex tourism in Rio de Janeiro.

The vast majority of sex workers we spoke with in Rio de Janeiro considered the World Cup to be bad for business. Despite the presence of significant numbers of Brazilian and foreign tourists in Rio, there was a general decline in sexual commerce during the 32 days of the event. Of the 83 points of prostitution we visited, only six maintained a normal flow of customers during the games. Another 17 experienced an increase in business. Sixty points, including Vila Mimosa, where some 1,000 women work, experienced an estimated decline of 30-50%, in terms of the number of clients frequenting these points, during the 32 days of the games from June 12 to July 13.

We attribute this decline to six factors:

1.     The closure of commerce in downtown Rio due to a series of government-declared holidays during the World Cup.

2.     The dependence of prostitution in downtown Rio (home to the largest concentration of prostitutes and sex work venues in the city) and Vila Mimosa (the city’s only concentrated red light district) on local clients who work in city center and who did not circulate through downtown Rio during these holidays.

3.     The absence of foreign clients, who did not replace local clients at these venues. Foreign tourists largely restricted their movements in Rio to the South Zone neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, to Lapa and to the Maracanã Stadium, avoiding downtown and Vila Mimosa all together.

4.     The fact that many foreign tourists who visited Rio were from Latin American countries that are as poor or poorer than Brazil. These tourists had little money to spend in Rio.

5.     The high prices throughout Rio and particularly in the South Zone, which prohibited many tourists from spending their money on non-essentials.

6.     Many of the single men who visited Rio during the World Cup were much more interested in spending their time and money conversing and drinking with male friends than in purchasing sexual services.

Please read on in our full report, which you can download in English and Portuguese:

http://bit.ly/ObservatoriodaProstituicao_RelatorioCopadoMundo (Portuguese)

For any inquiries about our work over World Cup, please send an email observatoriodaprostituicao@gmail.com.

(photo courtesy of  Matias Maxx)

By Louise Morris 

This series of articles aims to highlight how alternative media can be used to provide a space for women’s voices, rights and empowerment in Central America while recognising the limits to accessing media and participating in producing media content that many women still face.

The rapid increase and spread of Information Communication Technologies and Internet access globally has made it easy to slip into digital determinism – the optimistic attitude that every problem finds its solution through technology. Advances in technology have revolutionised journalism, leading to 24 hour reporting and a plethora of alternative news sources – world events now reach Twitter faster than the mainstream press.

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