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Violence against Women in Latin America

Tamar Diana Wilson
Violence against women is worldwide in scope. It occurs in both developed
and developing countries and regardless of the dominant religion or political
ideology. Among the forms it can take are intimate-partner (or domestic) violence, rape (whether by acquaintances or family members or during war and
civil strife), trafficking for purposes of prostitution or other forced work and
debt bondage, physical and sexual injury of prostitutes, sex-selective abortion
and female infanticide or neglect of girls (Watts and Zimmerman, 2002), and
female genital mutilation. Garca-Moreno et al. (2005: 1282) write, There is a
growing body of evidence from research that suggests that violence against
women is highly prevalent, with an estimated one in three women globally
experiencing some form of victimization in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. UNICEF (2000: 3), while observing that reliable statistics are essentially
unavailable, estimates that from 20 to 50 percent of women and girls experience violence of some kind, including the denial of funds, refusal to contribute financially, denial of food and basic needs, and controlling access to health
care, employment, etc. The incidence of violence against women and girls is
underreported, according to this report, because police and health service personnel have not been trained to keep adequate records and because of womens shame, fear of reprisal, lack of confidence in the legal system, and legal
costs (5).
Growing consciousness of the global problem of violence against women has
led to at least two United Nations resolutions seeking to prevent it. The UN
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women was passed by the
General Assembly in 1993 (United Nations, 1993). Earlier, the Convention on the
Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by the
General Assembly in 1979, had defined gender-based violence as a form of discrimination leading to inequality. Although many nations (the United States not
among them) endorsed these resolutions, there is concern that governments
may be unable or unwilling to implement them. Nonetheless, laws addressing
the problem of domestic violence were passed in Chile and Argentina in 1994,
in Bolivia and Ecuador in 1995, in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and
Mexico in 1996, and in Peru in 1997 (Rioseco Ortega, 2005). In December 1999
UN Resolution 54/134 declared November 25 as the International Day for the
Elimination of Violence against Women. The resolution was passed in honor of
Tamar Diana Wilson is a research affiliate of the Department of Anthropology of the University
of Missouri, St. Louis, and has lived in Mexico since 1994. She is the author of Economic Life of
Mexican Beach Vendors (2012). She is grateful to Sheryl Lutjens, Claire Weber, and Rosalind
Bresnahan for their valuable comments. The collective thanks her for organizing this issue.
LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 194, Vol. 41 No. 1, January 2014 3-18
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X13492143
2013 Latin American Perspectives

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the Mirabal sisters, activists against the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo of the
Dominican Republic, who were murdered by the regime (Wikipedia, n.d.).
Women in Latin America have been subjected to various types of gendered
violence, among them torture and rape during civil war or under military dictatorships, femicide, and domestic abuse linked to machismo. Machismo is the
belief that women should be subordinate to the needs and desires of their male
partners, taking care of them, providing them pleasure (either as wives or partners or as approached in predatory fashion by men who would not consider
marrying them), and bearing their children, and it is not limited to Latin
American societies. Trafficking of women and girls may also be common. It is
estimated that 18,000 people are trafficked from Mexico into the United States
each year (Shirk and Webber, 2004: 1): Unlike people smuggling, human trafficking involves the deception and/or coercion of another for the purpose of
labor, sexual or other forms of debasement. In many cases, traffickers obtain
and maintain control of a victim through the guise of debt bondage. Many of
those trafficked from Mexico are women, who may be forced into prostitution
in places of destination. Trafficking of women from Latin America to Europe
and elsewhere is also common (Hodge and Lietz, 2007).
Violence against women also includes the structural violence that keeps
women subordinated to men. This may be workplace violence, in which womens bodies are used up in local factories and then trashed on the principle that
a degree of turnover is needed to ensure flexibility of production. Structural
violence may also take the form of patrimonial violence, informed by patriarchal norms, under which men are favored over women or even their male offspring in inheritance and the distribution of land and other property. In fact,
Wies (2011) argues that all violence against women is related to womens structural political and economic inequality (see also Wies and Hardane, 2011).
Violence against women occurs on many levels, and structural violence can be
seen as the context for femicide, torture, and domestic violence. Merry (2003:
943944), among others, seeks to re-conceptualize violence against women in
intimate relationships as a problem rooted in structural conditions such as
political economy, globalization, the expansion of capitalism, and the growing
inequality between rich and poor nations as well as in the dynamics of interpersonal relations.
In outlining here the types of violence to which women in Latin America
have been subjected, I will not attempt to describe the feminist responses to this
violence or mention more than a few of the many organizations that have
sprung up in order to raise awareness of the issue and to combat it. I will discuss domestic violence, femicide under nonwar conditions, the torture of
women and girls during dictatorships and civil strife, and some of the types of
structural violence to which women have been subjected. It is possible to divide
structural violence into at least two kinds. One of these is cultural and ideological, including ideologies such as (neo)patriarchy, machismo, and religions
that call for the subordination of women and legitimate the violence against
them that occurs if they challenge this subordination. The other is social and
economic, including relations that perpetuate discrimination against women
such as class, ethnic, and racial inequalities and mode(s) of production (primarily capitalist but sometimes articulated with other modes) that underpin violence against women.
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Domestic Violence
Though there are multiple ways in which a (neo)patriarchal order enforces
womens subordination, their domestic subordination is guaranteed by a variety of violent acts. Violence by men against women is both a reflection of a
system of gender inequality under which women are subordinated and a way
of maintaining and/or ratifying that inequality. Latin American women may
be subject to domestic violence, whether verbal, physical or sexual, to rape by
intimates or, as seen above, as a political tool against insurgents or counterinsurgents or their partners, or to waves of femicide such as that which has
occurred in Ciudad Jurez (Mexico) and Guatemala. Furthermore, there are
occurrences of incest forced upon girls in their homes by uncles, cousins, brothers, or fathers and stepfathers (see, e.g., Gonzlez-Lpez, 2007) or prostitution
forced psychologically or through physical threat.
The extent of domestic violence in Latin America is unknown, though various studies support the claim that it is widespread. A 2006 World Health
Organization study based on interviews with 24,000 women in 10 countries
attempted to map the incidence and types of physical and sexual violence
against women. In Latin America women in rural and urban Peru and Brazil
were interviewed. Provincial Peru showed the highest rates of physical violence of any of the 10 countries: 61 percent of women had been subjected to
such violence by their partners. Moderate physical violence (being slapped,
pushed, or shoved) was found among 52 percent of the women interviewed,
and 49 percent had experienced severe physical violence, having been hit with
a fist, kicked, dragged, threatened with a weapon, or having a weapon used
against [them] (WHO, 2006: 6). Injuries occurred in 50 percent of the Peruvian
provincial sample: over 20 percent reported injuries to eyes or ears and over 25
percent reported having lost consciousness as a result of physical aggression by
an intimate partner (15). In anonymous reports 19 percent of the Peruvian
urban sample and 18 percent of the Peruvian provincial sample admitted to
having been sexually abused by male family members before the age of 15; in
Brazil 9 percent of the rural sample and 12 percent of the urban sample had
been so abused (13). The incidence of suicidal thoughts was much higher
among women who had been subject to physical or sexual abuse than among
women who had not: 47 versus 20 percent in the Brazilian city, 40 versus 16
percent in the Peruvian city, 35 versus 14 percent in provincial Brazil, and 34
versus 14 percent in provincial Peru (16).
Research based on interviews with 359 women in metropolitan Lima found
that psychological, physical, and sexual violence against female partners
occurred among both the poor and the middle-class, though the incidence of
this violence was higher among the poor (Gonzles de Olarte and Gavilano
Llosa, 1999: 38). More than 80 percent of the women interviewed reported that
they had been subjected to psychological (emotional) violence; almost 40 percent had suffered physical aggression and slightly over 13 percent had received
injuries because of this violence; and 48.5 percent had been sexually coerced by
their partners (being forced to have sex when or in a way that they did not
want) (Gonzles de Olarte and Gavilano Llosa, 1999: 38). Domestic violence has
often led to migration within Peru in order to escape an abusive spouse or relative (Alcalde, 2006).
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In 2003 the Mexican government conducted an extensive study concerned

with domestic violence that included samples from all 31 states and the Federal
District (INEGI, 2004). Types of violence were divided into emotional, economic, sexual, and physical. Emotional violence was defined as psychological
damage due to threats, insults, intimidation, humiliation, or sarcasm (INEGI,
2004: 97). Economic violence consisted of the withholding of economic resources
from the household (this definition assumes that the male head of household
is the breadwinner). Sexual violence included marital rape and incest, although
the study did not look at the incidence of the latter. Physical violence involved
aggression that causes bodily harm, whether temporary or permanent.
Of the sample of 19,471,972 women with partners, almost half (46.6 percent),
or 9,064,458, had suffered at least one incident of domestic violence within the
12-month period prior to the interview (INEGI, 2004: 37). Of the total sample,
38.4 percent had suffered emotional violence, 29.3 percent economic violence,
7.8 percent sexual violence, and 9.3 percent physical aggression (3739).
Physical abuse by a husband was held to include pushing his wife, pulling her
hair, kicking her or tying her up, throwing objects at her, hitting her with his
fists or other object, attempting to choke or smother her, and threatening her
with a knife or firing a gun (50). After having lived in a colonia popular in
Mexicali for six years, I consider the reported incidence of physical violence
very low. Perhaps women, for reasons of family loyalty, did not wish to report
violence in their marriages to interviewers, or perhaps, as is common among
abused women, they blamed themselves for attracting this violence (see Martin,
1981 [1976]: Chap. 5; Walker, 1979: Chap. 1).
Better-educated women suffered a higher percentage of violence than less
well-educated women, with women without any education having the lowest
percentage of violent incidents (38.0 percent) and women who had completed
the 8 years of secondary school having the highest (52.2 percent) (INEGI, 2004:
43). Women who worked outside of the household reported more abuse than
the average (49.6 percent as compared to 46.6 percent). They showed higher
incidences than housewives of emotional abuse (42.1 and 36.7 percent respectively), economic abuse (30.5 versus 28.8 percent), physical abuse (10.5 versus
8.8 percent), and sexual abuse (9.1 versus 7.1 percent) (46).
That economically active women should be subjected to greater violence
than stay-at-home wives is not a surprise given the culture of machismo. This
culture, sometimes glossed as the culture of patriarchy, is not restricted to
Latin America but has been well-documented there. As Melhuus (1996: 245)
points out:
Not only does a working woman show visibly that her husband is not man
enough to provide for her (and their children); a working wife also brings to
the fore a husbands jealousy. In fact los celos (jealousies) was the reason
most often given, especially by young married women, for why they stopped
working once they were married. Thus a married womans work has a double
implication: it detracts from her husbands honour and is associated with her
being public, potentially available to other men.

Domestic violence, including physical, sexual, and verbal aggression, is typical of machismo and a way to strengthen mens power within the household,
especially if they feel economically insecure (Casique, 2010; Garca and Oliveira,
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1994: 162; Gonzlez de la Rocha, 1988; 1994: 3132; Gutmann, 1996: 237; Olivera,
2006; Romanucci-Ross, 1986: 56; Roldn, 1988: 233, 237). Mens self- and otherperceived failure is converted into domestic violence. Although this is changing with changing expectations in marriage (see, e.g., Hirsch, 2003), a working
wife can be seen as marking the normative breadwinners failure. A number of
other factors can lead to spousal abuse, including the womans entry into public space where she might meet men or her questioning her husband about his
income, activities, absences, or infidelities. A highly educated woman or a
woman more highly educated than her husband or partner may also be seen as
threatening his normatively dominant position in the household.
Physical, sexual, or verbal aggressiveness often takes place when husbands
are drunk, leading wives to blame their behavior on their drinking
(Gonzlez de la Rocha, 1994: 144). Drinking can lead to spousal abuse in a
number of countries and a number of ethnic groups, both dominant and subordinate, in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America and around the world.
Among a Quechua-speaking people of the Peruvian Andes drunkenness frequently leads to wife beating and is associated with mens attempt to reassert
their dominance in a society in which they are politically subordinate (Harvey,
1994: 226). A study of a Highland Chiapas Maya community has shown that
drinking and wife beating are related; Eber (1995: 205) argues that this kind
of problem drinking follows a mestizo model (that of the dominant ethnic
group) and co-occurs with greater fragmentation of the community and
womens growing participation in the cash economy. The argument is
essentially that men who feel stressed will drink and become violent. This
view is endorsed by men as well as by women. Women often forgive violence against them when their menfolk are drinking on the grounds that they
were drunk.
Research in a village in Ecuador shows the association between gender subordination, masculine privilege, and domestic abuse that relies on peer pressure (McKee, 1999: 170):
Village men have a collective interest in the perpetuation of gender hierarchy,
. . . and individual behavior, particularly of young men, is monitored by the
male community. If a man feels his domestic authority is compromised, his
marital situation soon becomes a subject of village talk. If the problem persists, ridicule or insults from a coterie of male villagers who consider themselves hypermasculine, as well as a mans own reading of his gender role, may
prod him into beating his wife.

In Amatenango del Valle, Chiapas, the head of an artisan cooperative was

assassinated because her economic independence and power challenged the
patriarchal structures in the village (Nash, 1993: 11-12).
Olivera (2006: 105) holds that male aggression toward women begins in
small ways, with insinuations and insults, then objectification and exploitation,
and moves on to greater violence, from intimate partners to others. Types of
violence ranging from emotional to sexual and physical can be seen as a continuum, with perpetrators of relatively minor aggressions becoming capable of
more serious ones, resulting, at the extreme, in the mutilation and/or murder
of partners and others. These essentially misogynous actions are writ large in
the case of non-family-based femicide.
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Femicide or feminicide (Fregoso and Bejarano, 2010) has been defined as
the assassination of women for reasons associated with their gender. Femicide
is the most extreme form of violence based on gender inequality (Carcedo and
Sagot, 2000: 1, my translation). It has also been described as the misogynist
killing of women by men and as a continuation of sexual assault; in identifying femicide one must take into account the violent acts, the motives, and the
imbalance of power between the sexes in the political, social, and economic
spheres (Monrrez Fragoso, 2003: 155). The femicides in Ciudad Jurez,
Chihuahua, Mexico, have received the most media attention and have been the
subject of a number of academic articles relating its occurrence to womens
subordination (e.g., Fregoso, 2000; Gaspar de Alba, 2003; Monrrez Fragoso,
2003; Olivera, 2006; Swanger, 2007; Vila, 2003). Concerning the more than 300
young girls and women, some as young as five years old who had been killed
in Ciudad Jurez between 1993 and 2003, Gaspar de Alba (2003: 1) reports that
their bodies were found strangled, mutilated, dismembered, raped, stabbed,
and torched; some were so badly beaten, disfigured, or decomposed that their
remains could not be identified. Femicide is occurring throughout Mexico,
and while it sometimes involves acquaintances or intimate partners (Olivera,
2006: 105) about 90 percent of the cases are serial murders, with their perpetrators remaining unknown (Gaspar de Alba, 2003: 14).
Many monographs and edited collections have been dedicated to describing and attempting to come to grips with the causes of the rape, murder, and
mutilation of young women in Ciudad Jurez (see, e.g., Domnguez-Ruvalcaba
and Corona, 2010; Fregoso and Bejarano, 2010; Gaspar de Alba and Guzmn,
2010; Rodrguez, 2007; Staudt, 2008; Staudt, Payan, and Kruszewski, 2009;
Washington Valdez, 2006). Numerous films have been made in Mexico using
femicide in Ciudad Jurez as the central theme (Tabuenca Crdoba, 2010), and
at least three, including The Virgin of Jurez (2005), Bordertown (2007), and Jurez
(2008), have been produced in Hollywood (Lpez-Lozano, 2010: 130). Novels
have been written in Spanish, French, and English using the border femicides
as an important theme while exploring other types of male violence against
women. In English these include Alicia Gaspar de Albas (2005) Desert Blood:
The Jurez Murders and Stella Pope Duartes (2008) If I Die in Jurez. Binational
and international protests have attempted to pressure the government of
Chihuahua and the federal government of Mexico to stop the killings. The
journalist Diana Washington Valdez (2006: 61) tells us that the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., Amnesty International of
London, the United Nations and Mexicos National Commission on Human
Rights are some of the organizations that came to the border city at the insistent requests of activists and victims families. Yet the femicides continue,
and those responsible remain at large. The lack of viable suspects is often
related to police corruption.
Although it has not been explored to the same extent in other countries in
Latin America, femicide is known to have occurred in Argentina, Guatemala,
El Salvador, and Peru (Fregoso and Bejarano, 2010: 38). In Costa Rica the most
frequent cause of homicides directed against women is related to domestic violence and rape (Carcedo and Sagot, 2001). In Guatemala, between 2001 and
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August 2004, 1,188 women were murdered, and a number of the victims presented evidence of rape, mutilation and dismemberment (Amnesty
International, 2005: 5). By May 2006, 2,200 Guatemalan women had been brutally assassinated (Amnesty International, 2006). The mother of a murdered
15-year-old girl testified that her daughter had been raped, her hands and feet
tied with barbed wire, she had been stabbed and strangled and put in a bag.
Her face was disfigured from being punched, her body was punctured with
small holes, there was a rope around her neck and her nails were bent back
(Amnesty International, 2005: 1). In 2010, 685 women were murdered in
Guatemala (Amnesty International, 2011). In Guatemala as in Mexico, authorities are apathetic about looking into the murders, and the police are often distrusted because of their corruption and/or lack of interest; furthermore, the
police tend to blame the victim, claiming that these murdered women probably
did not follow traditional gender roles and/or were immoral (Amnesty
International, 2005: 2122; Gaspar de Alba, 2003: 6; 2010: 67; Monrrez Fragoso,
2003: 157; Swanger, 2007; Vila, 2003: 8586). In some cases the femicides have
led to the organization of women to attempt to combat them, such as Justicia
para Nuestras Hijas, Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, and Centro de Derechos
de Mujeres in Mexico (Fregoso and Bejarano, 2010).
Torture During Civil Strife and Dictatorship
Under dictatorships in the Southern Cone, including Argentina, Chile,
Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia, women activists or partners of activists or
suspected activists have been subjected to torture (Bunster, 1993: 9899). Torture
may be physical or mental, the former usually including rape and gang rape,
often carried out in front of a male relative in order to extract a confession from
him (Bunster, 1993: 114). Children may also be tortured in order to extract information from parents, relatives, or friends. According to Nightengale and Wurf
(1993: 144), Amnesty International has documented the use of torture against
children in Peru, Guatemala, Argentina, . . . Chile, and Ecuador . . . among other
countries. Under the Southern Cone dictatorships mental torture of women
was common and included the threat of having a loved one disappeared or
being forced to witness the torture of other detainees (Bunster, 1993: 108, 119).
In Argentina women formed organizations such as Mothers of the Plaza de
Mayo and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in an attempt to find their disappeared relatives during the dirty war of 19761983 (Sutton, 2010) and were
often met by violence.
Rape is a common tool of the military and has been used in Guatemala and
elsewhere, including in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca in Mexico.
According to Hernndez Castillo (2008: 153), From the perspective of a patriarchal ideology that considers women as sexual objects and bearers of family
honor, rape, sexual torture, and mutilation are mechanisms for attacking enemy
men. Whereas women are attacked directly, their menfolk suffer humiliation
through undermining their masculine prerogatives as well as through the demonstration that they cannot fill their roles as protectors of their women. Thus
raping women can be a weapon of war, carried out by invading troops (as during the Conquest) or by soldiers acting in the name of the state or guerrillas
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acting against the state. Rapes and disappearances of women occurred during
the civil wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala (Amnesty International,
2005: 56). Rape by soldiers of women of all ages and marital statuses: unmarried girls as young as 9 years old, older married women, women who were
pregnant, and elderly widows was common during Guatemalas 36-year-long
civil war in Guatemala (Hastings, 2002: 1164). Sexual slavery was practiced
during that war and targeted indigenous women in particular. Only recently,
30 years after the war ended, has a group of victimized women come forward
to denounce this aggression in front of a judge (Mendez, 2012).
The use of rape and torture has been common elsewhere in Latin America
(Fregoso and Bejarano, 2010: 13):
Gang rape, sexual slavery, mutilation, torture, and forced pregnancy were part
of the ongoing and insidious forms of terrorizing imprisoned women during
the military dictatorships of the southern Cone countries such as Chile,
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay and in countries such as El Salvador,
Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, where the states waged counterinsurgency wars against mostly unarmed civilians.

In the more than 40 years of civil strife in Colombia women have been raped,
gang raped, tortured, and killed by security forces, army-backed paramilitary
groups, and guerrillas, with the paramilitaries committing the most and the
most atrocious acts (Amnesty International, 2004: 1819). According to Amnesty
International (2004: 1),
With their bodies viewed and treated as territory to be fought over by the warring parties, women are targeted for a number of reasonsto sow terror within
communities making it easier for military control to be imposed, to force people
to flee their homes to assist acquisition of territory, to wreak revenge on adversaries, to accumulate trophies of war, and to exploit them as sexual slaves.

Women in Colombia have been cut up by chain saws, had their breasts or
arms sawed off, been impaled, been disfigured by acid or instruments, and had
their bellies ripped open to cut out the fetus, these brutalities occurring usually
after rape or gang rape (Amnesty International, 2004: 11, 18, and throughout).
These types of torturesexual and physicalare directed against women
believed to be sympathetic to the enemy or women whose friends, relatives,
or menfolk might be. Enslaving women and girls to perform sexual and/or
domestic services such as cooking or laundering has been found to be common,
especially among the guerrillas. HIV/AIDS and pregnancy are often the result
of rape and sexual slavery. Lesbians, gay men, and sex workers are often killed
as part of social cleansing operations carried out by all sides in the conflict.
Whereas domestic violence occurs in domestic space and femicide in public
space, these women (and men) are casualties of war whether attacked within
or outside of their homes and communities.
Structural Violence
Structural violence may rest upon (neo)patriarchal practices incorporated
into state legislation or result from economic processes such as neoliberalism
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and globalization that are inherent in the workplace and have gendered effects.
Among the types of structural violence against women are rural womens
skewed access to or control of property and governmental inattention to them
as agricultural producers (see, e.g., Zapata Martelo, 1996; see also Olivera,
2006: 110).
The neoliberal structural adjustment programs implemented in Latin
America in the 1980s have had an especially damaging impact on women and
can also be considered structural violence (see, e.g., Sutton, 2010). As privatization and openness to international completion dried up formal economic
opportunities for men and as the wages of those employed fell and public services were eliminated or downsized, women were forced to take up waged
work or to embark upon self-provisioning and informal income-generating
activities that lengthened their work days and induced a pattern of selfexploitation (Fernndez Poncela, 1996; see also, e.g., Alarcn-Gonzlez and
McKinley, 1999; Babb, 1996; Gonzlez de la Rocha, 1995; Safa, 1995a; 1995b).
That women wage workers tend to earn less than men is also a form of structural violence, incorporating (neo)patriarchal myths about mens being the
household breadwinners that are no longer sustainable since the 1980s economic crises that impacted Latin America (see, e.g., Safa, 1995b).
A number of works have considered, though without using the term, the
structural violence against women employed in the maquiladoras (e.g.,
Fernndez-Kelly, 1983; Pea, 1997; Salzinger, 2003; Tiano, 1994; Wilson, 2003;
Wright, 2006). Though they differ in their stress on whether womens subordination in those plants is primarily due to what has come to be called public
patriarchy or to the workings of capitalism, they agree that the interaction of
the two treats women as disposable and exploited workers. Nonetheless, some
of these works stress womens agency in the face of this oppression.
Salzinger (2003: 176) argues that the sexual objectification of the female
maquiladora labor forcein the plants where this occursis part of the productive process:
Productivity . . . is born of the routinized sexual objectification of women workers by their male superiors. . . . Supervisors become voyeurs, and women
workers become the productive objects of the male gaze. Labor control is established within this relationship, as young women workers are under constant
watch and evaluation, both as sexual and productive subjects.

But female labor is not only often subordinated via sexual objectification but
also severely undervalued. Unskilled women are not trained to become skilled
workers, as they are expected (and encouraged) to leave too soon for training
to be cost-effective. They are considered disposable workers, easily replaced
and not worthy of traininga myth that enables capital accumulation through
flexible production (Wright, 2006: 5052). Wright (2006) relates this discourse
of women workers disposability in the maquiladora plants to the femicides in
Ciudad Jurez, arguing that it is a myth that becomes generalized into the
wider society and becomes conflated with other discourses such as that decrying the public woman. In other words, women come to be undervalued and
viewed as somehow inferior throughout the city just as they are at work (see
also Arriola, 2010).

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Structural violence can thus be seen as a confluence of (neo)patriarchal and

machista ideologies and practices in the public arena and the drive for capitalist accumulation. Nonetheless, capitalism, by providing opportunities for
women to earn a wage, may undermine private patriarchy within the family by
eroding the forces that kept women at home and economically dependent on
males. At the same time, wives who show their independence though their
economic activities and control of personal income may face a violent backlash.
It is therefore necessary for them to organize, as many have done throughout
Latin America, to assure themselves of a support group in their fight against
the violence to which they are subjected.
The Articles in this Issue
The articles in this issue are concerned with violence against women in
Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico, and Ecuador. They examine the structural violence of race/ethnicity and class in legitimating violence, violence in
the form of patrimonial practices, and the ideologies legitimizing discrimination against and subordination of women and brutality against them.
Friederic explores the high rates of domestic violence in a rural region in
northwestern Ecuador. She points out that women who have learned of their
right to be free of violence from their husbandsa right established through
cooperation between womens organizations and the Ecuadorian government
in the 1990sare now rebelling against it. Formerly it had sometimes been
accepted as part of a culture of gendered violence, and women engaged in a
discourse of deserved as opposed to undeserved violence. Human rights discourses, however, have at least partially empowered women to combat their
victimization. Nonetheless, men often react to this discourse with further violence, and in most cases women lack the institutional, legal, political, and economic resources to combat the violence perpetrated against them and are thus
faced by violence on a structural as well as a personal level.
Tovar and Irazbal look at the violence against indigenous women in
Colombia and their organizing efforts against it. They hold that the impacts of
and responses to armed conflict are ethno-gendered, affecting men and women
in dissimilar ways. Focusing on Arhauca and Pasta women, they show how
their livelihoods are affected by armed conflict. Women are restricted in their
movements and prevented from working in their fields or carrying out other
forms of securing a living by threats of rape and are forced to cook and wash
for armed men. Many have become widowed, and some have migrated to cities. Yet, Tovar and Irazbal argue, women are organizing to challenge oppressive norms that originate both within their community and in the larger society.
They hold optimistically that there are not only threats but also opportunities
for indigenous women in conflict zones. Their work shows that violence against
women can lead to greater consciousness of gender issues and result in organizational efforts.
Popular culture as revealed in performance art in Guatemala is fomenting a
reaction to violence against women. Barbosa explores Regina Jos Galindos
279 Golpes, in which, invisible within a cubicle, the artist subjects herself to 279
blows with a whip, one for each woman murdered in Guatemala between
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January 1 and June 9 of 2005. Barbosa supplies a historical summary of violence

against women in Guatemala that puts the continued violence against them in
context, and her contribution supports the idea that political violence during
times of civil war leads to other forms of violence against women, including
femicide. It shows that art can foment a response to violence against women.
Barbosa underscores that consciousness of the effects of neoliberalism on subaltern people, particularly women and the indigenous, has led to greater awareness of the problem. She holds, however, that the state is complicit in this
violence by doing nothing to prevent it.
Talcotts contribution examines the position of rural, primarily indigenous
women in southern Mexicos state of Oaxaca who have organized in reaction
to the structural violence caused by neoliberal policies, including the Plan
Puebla-Panam initiated by President Vicente Fox (a revival of Zedillos
Isthmus Megaproject). These women work through the Alianza Mexicana por
la Autodeterminacin de los Pueblos, established in 2002, and have taken an
anti-neoliberal and pro-human-rights stance. Their involvement in combating
neoliberal structural violence, Talcott argues, has led them to challenge violence against women in its numerous forms, including those related to poverty
and class exploitation, racism, and patriarchal practices. She presents case studies of women activists describing how they became involved in the struggle to
prevent violence against women. One of these women was assassinated by
paramilitaries while engaging in human rights work. Talcotts article is valuable in showing how organization to combat one form of violence (neoliberalism) can be generalized to combat other forms of violence (desecration of
human and womens rights) as womens consciousness of their oppression
develops. She stresses the agency of women in the face of the multiple forms of
violence they experience in their daily lives.
Violence can also be perpetrated against transgendered individuals, as
Cerullo and Valios contribution underscores. They argue that a woman who
lived as a man in a Mexican village was ultimately murdered for her gender
transgressions by a murderer or murderers never pursued by the complicit
homophobic Mexican state. The article adds to the literature by showing that
gender oppression is part and parcel of (neo)patriarchal practice; a woman
stepping out of the bounds of her normative gender role is to be punished with
impunity. Furthermore, it contributes to the relatively sparse literature about
violence against lesbians and trangendered individuals.
Smith discusses the structural violence that is embedded in the racism/
gender discrimination directed against black women in Brazil. She examines
the case of a domestic servant who was brutally beaten by five young men who
pleaded in their defense that they thought she was a prostitute (and thus outside of the moral order). Smith argues that in Brazil black women are dehumanized and imagined as prostitutes against whom violence can legitimately be
directed. Her article supports the argument that the intersection of racism,
class, and gender (that is, structural violence) must be understood in analyses
of violence against women. The mere fact of being black and thus considered
lower-class legitimated the violence against her by nonblack, nonlower-class
men. Smiths contribution is of value in showing that justifications for gender
violence are closely related to race/class/ethnicity.

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England looks at changes in legislation in Guatemala aimed at combating

femicide and pervasive sexual violence against women. These types of violence
are widespread and not only historically rooted but normalized since the time
of the conquest. England makes the point that, whereas men are usually found
murdered by gunshots, women are often found with signs of sexual violence,
torture, and dismemberment. She finds these femicides to rest on a continuum
of violence against women that ranges from atrocities committed during civil
strife to everyday practices that are intrinsic to the society. Laws aimed at
reducing violence against women have, however, been enacted. In the 1990s,
after the signing of the peace accords and under pressure from womens organizations, the Guatemalan government endorsed internationally recognized
statutes with regard to the equality of women. Legislation was passed protecting women from femicide, rape, and sexual exploitation of any kind. Yet women
who denounce instances of sexual violence often face violent retribution or find
their claims to have been victims simply dismissed.
Deere, Contreras, and Twyman explore what they call patrimonial violence against women in Ecuador. They argue that it should be added to physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence as a type of violence
perpetrated against women. Women in Ecuador have fewer rights than in other
parts of Latin America, especially as concerns widows and divorced womens
control over property. Laws tend to favor children and (according to women)
especially male children over widows, and women have little recourse if
estranged husbands refuse to recognize communal property laws. Economic
arrangements are legitimated at the political level through enacting and/or
enforcing extant laws with their incorporated (neo)patriarchal practices and
with the deep gender bias intrinsic to them. Deere and colleagues conducted
interviews with 40 focus groups in three areas of Ecuador and found that
women were often not conscious of their rights.
All of the articles in this issue contribute to our knowledge about structural
and/or ideological violence against women and, in many cases, about the organizational efforts that have resulted from these types of violence. Several mention the effects of neoliberalism on women and how organizing against its
depredations has led women to organize against the violence that has affected
their daily lives through the actions of males who are sometimes intimate partners. The array of country studies shows that violence against women is widespread in Latin America and often has deep historical roots. It could be argued
that societywide violence in the form of rape and torture during wars and civil
strife presents a legitimating environment for other types of violence against
women, including femicide and domestic violence. The articles also show that
violence against women is often justified by reference to racial, ethnic, or class
factors and is usually perpetrated against members of subordinate groups by
members of dominant onesthe state and its legal system, males in the household or in the local community, or dominant ethnic groups.
We need continuing documentation of violence against women in all its
aspects, the raising of consciousness against a culture of gender violence, and
an examination of successful organizing against it and the means for pressuring the state (and the community) to take it into account and combat it. The
papers in this issue contribute to these goals.

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