By Tanja Bastia
Last Tuesday Mo Hume came to Manchester to speak at the development@manchester seminar series. The seminar series has been running for five years and each year invites around ten internationally renown speakers on international development (see link for this year’s programme http://www.seed.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/idpm/whatson/dev@manchester/ ). Mo is a political scientist at the University of Glasgow (http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/socialpolitical/staff/mohume/) with a longstanding research experience in Central America. Her paper drew on her longitudinal research on gender and violence in El Salvador, which she began in 2000 as part of her PhD research.
Latin America is known as one of the most violent regions in the world and Mo’s presentation highlighted the ways in which violence is gendered. Over the last decade, there have been some advances and improvements in relation to understanding violence as gendered. For example, we now have some gender-disaggregated data on violence. Legislation has also been approved to recognize the murder of women as women, under the (contested) term femicide. Yet most of the violence that women experience continues to be silenced. This is because violence continues to be framed from masculinist points of view, with an emphasis on the presentation of spectacle and stereotype. The emphasis is on the marginalized male gang member, while the everyday low-level violence that women continue to experience is largely overlooked. One statistic stood out: levels of violence are usually counted in terms of murder rates. In terms of murder rates in Central America, women are ‘only’ 14-20 percent of the victims – a fact that leads some to contest the anti-femicide advocacy that has been active in Central America since the early 2000s (Staud and Mendez 2015). Yet if we take a broader approach to violence and include interpersonal or ‘low’ intensity violence in our measures, the gendered dynamics of violence become more complex. For example, research in the UK shows that when domestic violence data are aggregated to crime survey data, then women become the majority of the victims of violence (Walby et al., 2014). Mo’s talk highlighted the brutal forms that violence against women often takes, which often includes torture and mutilations. What counts as ‘violence’ is therefore important as it has significant consequences for who is included and who is excluded as victims of violence.
As femicides are on the increase in other parts of Latin America, it is imperative that we pay attention to the ways in which violence is changing. The discussion ended on a worrying note, as Mo highlighted a second silencing that is taking place, that of the people who advocate against violence against women (and against militarization more broadly). Drawing on her longitudinal engagement with women’s and feminist groups in Central America, Mo shared her worrying observations that many of the advocacy groups are now under increased threat of violence, because of their advocacy work but also because of an increased fragmentation of the territory. People that were able to share information and visit each other’s houses, people who live in adjacent villages and neighbourhood, are now unable to cross territory lines that are being guarded by violent groups. The state is implicated in allowing that everyday violence continues to grow but also in promoting a discourse of claiming that victims of violence have fallen victims by their own choosing. For example, evidence from Guatemala indicates that some investigating officers have dismissed murder victims: if they are men, they must be a gang member; if they are women, they must be prostitutes. The assumption is that ‘good people’ do not fall victims of violence. Class prejudices play a huge factor in delineating these stereotypes (Hume and Wilding, 2015). In such a context, just attending a meeting or speaking to the police can get you killed. Advocacy groups are therefore weakened as speaking out becomes a dangerous act.
As speaking out from the very same places where this violence is unfolding becomes tantamount to raising a shooting target, it is imperative that these facts are shared by transnational women’s movements and by those of us who will not face danger if we speak out. Please share this post so that we help breaking the silence.
Mo has been working with this campaign: http://www.entrevosyyo.edu.sv/
Hume, Mo (2009) The politics of violence: gender, conflict and community in El Salvador, Bulletin of Latin American research book series. Wiley-Blackwell: Chichester, http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1405192267.html
Hume, Mo and Polly Wilding (2015) “Non-judicial justice? Women’s strategies for challenging domestic violence in contexts of chronic urban insecurity”, in Javier Auyero, Philippe Bourgois, and Nancy Scheper-Hughes (eds.) Violence at the Urban Margins, Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/violence-at-the-urban-margins-9780190221447?cc=gb&lang=en&
Staud, Kathleen and Zulma Y. Méndez (2015) Courage, resistance and women in Ciudad Juárez: challenges to militarization, Texas University Press, http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/stacou
Walby, Sylvia, Towers, Jude and Brian Francis (2014) Mainstreaming domestic and gender-based violence into sociology and the criminology of violence, The Sociological Review 62(S2): 187-214 (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-954X.12198/abstract)
Washington Valdez, Diana (2006) The killing fields: harvest of women, Cosmic enterprises, winner of the Samuel Chavkin Prize for Integrity in Latin American Journalism, available for download here https://nacla.org/download-killing-fields-harvest-women
Amnesty International, Violence against women http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/women-s-rights/violence-against-women
Central American women’s network, http://www.cawn.org/