By Sonja Rijnen-
Trigger warning- Please note that this article contains references to violent crimes and sexual abuse.
In December 2005, Javiera Neira Oportus, a six-year-old Chilean girl, was murdered by her own father, after he threw her from their seventh-floor apartment in the midst of an argument with Javiera’s mother, Claudia Neira. Neira had gone to the apartment of her ex-partner and abuser when he failed to return their daughter on time. The man held a knife to Neira and when six-year-old Javiera tried to help her mother, she became the victim in one of the most notorious cases of gender-based violence in the country. The 19th of December 2020, the anniversary of Javiera’s death, was designated as the Chilean national day against violence against women.
Unfortunately, Javiera’s story is one of many. Today, Latin America has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. It is estimated that every day 12 women are killed in the region, most of these crimes being carried out with complete impunity. Due to the very high rates of such forms of violence, most Latin American countries have even started to recognise the term ‘femicide’, meaning the murder of a woman or girl because she is a woman.
Of course, femicide and violence against women is not a new problem and does not only happen in Latin America. Indeed, the UN launched the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’ in 1991. This annual campaign runs from the 25th of November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until the 10th of December, during which the ‘Center for Women’s Global Leadership’ coordinates efforts to raise awareness and embolden work being done around the world to protect women.
In this context, on the 25th of November 2021, Latin America Bureau (LAB) in collaboration with King's College London, will release the first episode of their three-part podcast ‘Women Resisting Violence'. Each episode will share the stories of Latin American women who are transforming their communities through their fight against gender-based violence.
In the first episode, LAB speaks to members from Ocho Tijax, an organisation set up in 2017 by a small group of women in Guatemala in the aftermath of horrific events in which 56 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 were burnt alive in a locked classroom at the shelter they were living in. Many of the girls were staying at the shelter in attempts to run away from abuse or human trafficking and were officially under the protection of the state. Sadly, 41 of the girls passed away and those that survived have been left with severe injuries. 4 years after the crime, no one has been held accountable. Women from Ocho Tijax have supported the families of the victims since the fire, from the identification of bodies and now in the fight for justice, compensating for the lack of support from authorities. To learn more about this event and hear directly from some of these women, including the mother of one of the girls, listen to the first episode of the ‘Women Resisting Violence’ podcast that will be released on November 25th.
The second episode of the podcast will take its listeners to one of the largest favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where the organisation Redes da Maré set up the Casa Das Mulheres (The Women’s House), that provides support to women living through abusive relationships, especially in areas where the police are inactive. Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the world and marginalised groups, especially black, indigenous and trans women face the harshest consequences of this. With this in mind, the women from the organisation understand that improving conditions in the favelas means helping women, especially survivors of gender-based violence. In the episode, LAB speaks to members of Redes da Maré, including their leader Eliana Sousa Silva who opens the episode with: “when I talk about the struggles we have faced in Maré, I am talking about a place where, behind any victory we have here, there has not been a single fight that does not have women behind it, making it happen”. To hear more, listen to this second episode of ‘Women Resisting Violence’, which will be released on the 2nd of December.
The final episode is called ‘Step Up Migrant Women’ and tells the story of Gil who migrated to the UK from Brazil a few years ago with her partner and children. Shortly after arriving, whilst still being undocumented, she made the brave decision to leave her abusive relationship. Instead of her bravery being rewarded, she was met with hostility from the British police force and became homeless with her child to look after. Gil was lucky enough to find the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and she now works for their campaign to help migrant women and raise awareness of their specific vulnerabilities. Aside from Gil, this episode, which will be released on December 9th, also features Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez the coordinator of the Step-Up Migrant Women campaign who is more than aware of how public services can often let down migrant women who have faced abuse.
To listen to the trailer for the ‘Women Resisting Violence’ podcast please follow this link, where you will also be able to listen to the full podcast episodes when they are released.
Gender-based violence often happens behind closed doors, and in most cases, it is the most vulnerable in society that are the victims. During these ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, and every other day, we have a collective responsibility to remember the many women and girls, such as Javiera and her mother, who have been victims of gender-based violence and femicide. We must realise that this is the reality for too many women, not just in Latin America but around the world. Women who are brave enough to come forward and seek help should be able to find it. It is therefore so important we highlight the tremendous work being done by organisations such as those featured in the ‘Women Resisting Violence’ podcast, who often make up for the lack of support from the state and authorities. These organisations continue to support and embolden women and girls who have had to suffer violence just for being female and deserve recognition.