SEMlac reports

SEMlac reports (325)

Montevideo, January 28, 2013 (SEMlac Special). - The Supreme Court of Justice has decided to support gender justice at home, a long-standing demand by 104 local feminist and women’s organizations.

Before the Court ruling came in late 2012, these organizations had reviewed the national and international legislation, as well as the judgments delivered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights along these lines.

A Commission report had addressed the serious problem of domestic violence in Uruguay and the obstacles that women were facing to accede to judicial remedies and seek protection.

The Commission had also urged the Uruguayan State to adopt further measures to guarantee women’s rights and effectively fight discrimination and violence.


A new mechanism

The Supreme Court ruling establishes a mechanism to prevent women from having to face their assailants in court. This is particularly relevant in the countryside.

"Juvenile victims will never have to confront their abusers,” said Marina Morelli, a lawyer who represented the women’s organizations.


Comprehensive resolution

“The Court has supported us: judges will need to resolve cases in a comprehensive manner, under single procedures,” she added.

“Domestic violence cases should be taken to criminal courts,” she stressed.


Justice administration

The ruling also establishes the adoption of effective precautionary measures and ways to redress any judicial practice that violates and/or fails to comply with the standards in force.

Buenos Aires, October 15, 2012 (SEMlac Special). – There has always been opposition to women’s right to abortion.

This became evident when a 32-year-old woman asked to have the procedure performed on her shortly after she was raped, and did not succeed. What is really paradoxical is that abortion is authorized under Resolution No. 1252.

This piece of legislation sets the limit on the 12th week of gestation and requires parental consent for girls aged 14 to 18.

On October 5, the Pro Familia organization tried to prevent her from resorting to abortion, but the judge ruled that she was an adult entitled to such a practice under the law.

A week later, Pro Familia made the same request to another judge (Myriam Rustán) and had a precautionary measure taken against the government of Buenos Aires , shortly after Governor Mauricio Macri had announced that the first legal abortion would soon be conducted in the city.

It is not punishable when pregnant women face serious health risks or have been raped.

There were demonstrations by conservative groups defending “the right to life” on the one hand and by civil society organizations and lawmakers favoring legal, safe, free abortion on the other.

The case was taken to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled that the abortion should be performed, despite the precautionary measure that had been adopted.

A representative of the Ministry of Health told the woman in question that she could go to any of five local hospitals for the procedure and that judge Rustán would probably be dismissed.

“We strongly believe that this incident would not have occurred if there was a law on free, legal, safe abortion,” said Manuela Castañeira, a member of Las Rojas NGO.

“This case has clearly shown that both the national and local governments are against women’s right to make free, responsible health-related decisions,” she added.

“In this particular case, neither the Governor of Buenos Aires nor the hospital director should have announced the woman’s abortion date and place,” she concluded.

Montevideo, October 22, 2012 (SEMlac Special).– “Last October 17, a bill authorizing abortion at all local healthcare facilities was passed by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by the President soon, said Senator Constanza Moreira.

Out of the 17 votes for 16 came from Broad Front Party members and one from Senator Jorge Saravia, who has just broken away from this political organization.

The bill, however, does not de-criminalize abortion, but turns into a non-punishable practice under the healthcare system.

Social organization representatives have seen it as a step forward because it provides for safe procedures.

Opposition Senator Jorge Larrañaga indicated that his organization (National Party) will repeal the law if it wins the forthcoming elections.

He highlighted the need for a referendum, but this would require 25 percent of the signatures of all those registered with the right to vote.

If the bill is finally passed into law, Uruguay will become the second country in Latin America (after Cuba ) to legally authorize abortion within the first 12 weeks of gestation.

Sexual and reproductive health services by private and public providers have been available all over the country since 2010.

These services include advising and protection measures, with women having the obligation to inform medical doctors of conception conditions.

“The law will not be smoothly enforced,” Moreira anticipated.

Leticia Rieppi, head of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Services Department at the Ministry of Health, told SEMlac that the legislation will be gradually strengthened.

“Our teams are made up of medical professionals and social scientists to be able to apply a really comprehensive approach,” she recalled.

“The idea is not to develop new structures within the Ministry, but to put into practice the standard-setting framework already in place,” she added.

The bill urges to apply the best abortion-related practices recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), including the use of pharmaceutical drugs like Misoprostol and Mifepristona, and safe surgical procedures.

“We will need to abide by the law even if there is some opposition, especially from religious organizations,” she commented.

She finally highlighted the importance of ensuring the right to abortion and confidentiality.

Lima, September 24, 2012 (SEMlac Special). – “I usually hire women rather than men if they have similar training and experience,” said Vicente Ayulo, manager of an export company.

“Women are more dedicated and responsible,” he added. What he did not mention, however, was that women’s wages are one-third lower than men’s in managerial and other senior positions.

While women currently make up 60 percent of the local labor market, such a (wage) gap remains.

A report by the Ministry of Labor indicated that this gap is closely related to educational level, age and experience.

It also revealed that private companies tend to recruit more men than women. “They try to avoid additional costs like maternity leaves,” it added.

Unfortunately, this situation is seen not only in Peru and other Latin American countries, but also in developed nations, where women’s wages are five times lower than men’s, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

A research work by Claudia Goldwin and Lawrence Katzs ( Harvard University ) showed that men with MBAs make more money than women with the same degree.

“Women do not usually ask for wage raises because they are afraid of indecent proposals and/or sexual harassment,” said psychologist Irene Pazos. “And this is mainly due to conservative education,” she added.

”When men ask for something, they are said to be proactive; when we women do so, we are simply annoying,” stressed American psychiatrist Anna Fels.


Glass ceiling

Working women also find it difficult to get promotions. A study by the Harvard University Business School revealed that women make up only 1.5 percent of CEOs at 2,000 leading companies in the world.

“In Peru , they are estimated to account for around two percent,” said Flor Cáceres, a former bank manager.

Álvaro Aguirre, a representative of an association of pension funds, told SEMLAC that the number of local women resorting to early retirement is higher than that of men.

This trend is mostly due to the fact that 70 percent of women (4.7 million) have no fixed income and are underemployed, and five percent are unemployed.

Over 28 percent are selling products, 21.6 percent are either professionals or technicians, and the rest are office clerks, servants, machine operators, or artisans.

A report by the National Institute of Statistics and Information indicated that 30 percent of local households are being headed by women. “Out of this total, 80 percent are poor,” it added.

“There is a long way to go in labor equity,” said analyst Beatriz Tello. “Most new jobs have been created in agriculture and trade, and just a few in industry, where wages are actually higher,” she noted.

Finally, local women are moving to micro-enterprises where there are poor working conditions, low wages, and virtually no labor rights. They are mainly involved in food processing.

Mexico, September 24, 2012 (SEMlac). – President Felipe Calderón’s initiative to amend the Federal labor Law has sparked social controversy.

The idea is to change over 1,000 provisions in the next few days. If finally passed by Congress, they will negatively affect working women’s social rights and household responsibilities.

Women currently account for 42 percent of the country’s workforce and for 11 percent of those involved in the informal sector.

”Women are merely seen as breeding stock,” said a participant in a meeting at the House of Representatives last September 17.

“The reform has nothing to do with the gender approach, as the President has suggested,” stressed Teresa Inchaústegui, a political scientist and former member of the House.

Inés González, representative of the Network of Labor Union Women, urged to discuss the bill as widely as possible before it is passed.

Former House member Rosario Ortiz is seeking to amend the legislation in force because it is not in line with labor market developments, including the massive incorporation of women and the need to establish independent unions.

“Meeting participants decided to set up a National Coordinating Authority,” legislator Malú Micher announced.

Carlos Reynoso, representative of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants, said that maternity leaves will be left to the discretion of employers under the new bill.

Inchaústegui emphasized that it will also demand the presentation of certificates to practice any trade. “We should not forget that most women have no access to formal education,” she added.

“It will also establish probationary periods for up to six months before a worker is finally given a job,” she noted. “And around 25 percent of working women are poorly trained,” she recalled.

“The new initiative will legalize third-party contracts, thereby giving employers the opportunity to save money on wages, promotions and the like,” she remarked.

It will further empower union leaders hoping that they will continue supporting “the establishment.”



Labor relations have not been conducted under the Federal Law since the 1980s. The so-called tolling operations have prevailed along the northern border ever since, resulting in extremely low wages and no health rights.

Collective agreements have also been changed, and organized workers have lost their bargaining power.

Around 18 million working women are being poorly paid and are not entitled to social security benefits.

Over seven million women and young people are currently unemployed, according to a report of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

“Official” trade unions, however, are allowed to regulate the workforce at companies and conglomerates.

Leaders of central organizations, federations and confederations are represented in Congress and local/state governments, and sign special agreements with public and private corporations.

Employers and government officials have for 30 years sought to change the legislation in force. There are today 164 bills sitting in Congress.

“The so-called industrial tribunals (made up of government, employer and worker representatives) should be eliminated,” said Arturo Alcalde, a member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers.

“Any labor disputes should be submitted to ordinary courts rather than to these tribunals because they are subordinated to employers and official union leaders,” he added.

“The new bill seeks to transfer State responsibilities to the private sector,” Inchaústegui indicated.

Thomas Wissing, representative of the International Labor Organization to Mexico and Cuba , told SEMlac that the bill would legalize poor working conditions and inflict a severe blow to union organizations.

Guatemala, August 13, 2012 (SEMlac). – Spiritual leaders will discuss ways to deal with violence against women at a meeting on the forthcoming Baktun (the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, according to the Mayan calendar).

“As of next December 21, we will seek new paradigms for renewal. And women will play a key role in this process,” said leader Cirilo Pérez.

A report by the Village Elders anticipated that the human race will be better equipped to solve all types of conflict in the next 20 years.

Central government representative Clarisa Castellanos highlighted the need to take this opportunity to fight violence against women.

Anthropologist Irma A. Nimatuj recalled that some Mayan women had ruled in the past.

Commissioner Trinidad Gutiérrez told SEMlac that male-chauvinistic traditions have made people forget about equality between men and women.

Mayans account for 60 percent of the country’s population. Indigenous women are particularly vulnerable to poverty and family violence. And those who decide to get out of this vicious circle are punished in public.

“Acculturation has negatively affected moral values and spiritual guide teachings,” Gutiérrez noted.

A report by a local prosecuting agency indicated that many indigenous women have been shot to death or strangled in Quiché, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, and San Marcos .

Castellanos hopes that the three-day meeting to be held next month will devise ways to help violence victims and make women visible in society.

Carolina Neshtiel, manager of a community-based program in Colombia (Women Listen), will participate in the event.

Gutiérrez highlighted the fact that the Mayan view of the world promotes respect for women.

Castellanos told SEMlac that meeting participants will also deal with traditional medicines, health and nutrition. “Current problems can be solved using knowledge of the past,” she added.

“Time has come for women to take control and rule,” Pérez concluded.

Santiago de Chile, August (SEMlac Special). - Daniel Zamudio was 24 when he was brutally beaten by several neo-Nazi young men in the street. After 25 days in the throes of death, he passed away.

This crime led to the passing of a piece of legislation that had been sitting in parliament for seven years. It was finally approved on May 9 and enacted last July 12.


The law

The new legislation establishes the concept of “arbitrary discrimination,” which involves any act of distinction, exclusion or restriction lacking reasonable justification against any individual on grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, religion, ideology, physical appearance, disease and/or disability.

It also establishes fines ranging from 370 to 3,700 dollars, prison sentences, and aggravating circumstances. It asks the State to develop public policies along these lines.

Speaking at the ceremony to enact the law, President Sebastián Piñera indicated that it was only after Zamudio’s murder that Chile decided to take a major step to build a fairer, more inclusive society.

Reporter Víctor H. Robles said that there were people who were not physically present, but were very much recalled at the ceremony, including Sandy Iturra, a transgender who was beaten almost to death by a neo-Nazi group, and Karen Atala, a judge who lost custody over her daughters shortly after she came out of the closet.

“Will Education Minister Harold Beyer boost the inclusion of sexual diversity into school curricula?,” Robles wondered.

The legislation took so long to get passed because some MPs feared that it would pave the way for similar laws on same-sex marriage and child adoption by homosexuals.

Jaime Parada, a spokesman for the Homosexual Liberation Movement, highlighted the need to establish some public institution under the law, similar to the Argentinean National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism.


Karen Atala

Karen Atala, a lesbian judge, lost custody over her three daughters in 2004, when the Supreme Court decided that she was setting no good example for her children.

“The same judges will in the future decide whether or not arbitrary discrimination applies under the new law. Will they be prepared?,” Robles also wondered.

Eight years after the ruling on Atala’s case, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that she had been discriminated against and forced the Chilean State to make amends for the wrong done.


Gabriela Blas

Gabriela Blas, an Aymara pastoralist, was put in prison for five years after her son went missing. She was thought to have committed murder and only the President’s pardon could set her free.

She will get no reparation from the State, however, and she will not have her daughter back because she was adopted by a foreign family.

Marjorie Cortéz, a feminist who has supported her throughout the process, told SEMlac that Blas has endured all forms of violence, including sexual abuse by her uncle and brother.



Women are often harassed, raped and even murdered in Chile.

Soledad Rojas, a representative of the Chilean Network to Fight Violence against Women, indicated that women’s murders are usually given a low media profile.

Valeska Salazar (16) was beaten up by her ex’s family after they learnt she was lesbian.

Network coordinator Sandra Palestro told SEMlac that Salazar’s case should be critically reviewed by the media and society at large.

“Our society needs to address pressing problems that have to do with freedom of choice and violence against women,” she concluded.


Mexico City, July 23, 2013 (SEMlac Special).– Violence against women has grown under the current administration, and over 18 million local women have endured family and/or sexual violence in the 2006-2011 period alone.

The most serious situation, however, is affecting women prisoners, because laws are not being enforced as they should, including the so-called Gender Violence Warning, and millions of dollars are being allocated but not spent.

The 2011 Survey on Violence against Women (ENDIREH) showed that 42 percent of household violence victims are aged 15 to 49, around 4,000 women are going missing, and only three percent of cases are actually taken to court.

Conducted by X Justice for Women (NGO), the survey also revealed that the situation has remained unchanged despite new laws and heavy financial investment.

Irma Saucedo, an experienced trainer of government officials and police officers, indicated that such a picture is negatively affecting both democracy and social stability.

“It is a public health issue. A World Bank report recently said that violence has a direct impact on labor productivity, family stability and women’s rights,” she added.

MP Enoé Uranga feels that there is no accountability on the part of local authorities. “They keep on talking about women’s advancement,” she stressed.


Indigenous women in prison

The survey helped confirm that the situation of women prisoners is not being properly addressed in country reports to international organizations.

A representative of the Public Security Secretariat announced that women account for five percent of all local prisoners. Out of 455 penitentiaries in the country, only 13 (2.8 percent) are used for women only.

Out of 91 facilities under inspection, 22 percent have the same dormitories for men and women, and they are often overcrowded.

The Human Rights Commission in the Federal District has recognized that detention pending trial is being over-used.

The survey also showed that there are 10,623 women at 266 penitentiaries under review.

Another study over 21 out of 32 facilities in the country concluded that 67 percent of the 7,301 women prisoners are aged 18 to 37, including mothers and heads of households.

Around 27 percent have developed addictions and are not being psychologically supported. Over 16 percent are peasants or indigenous women involved in drug trafficking.

A report by the International Center for Prison Studies indicated that 22 percent of local penitentiary centers have no gynecology and obstetrics service available.

Lack of visibility is also an expression of injustice because there are no data about women subject to prosecution or detention pending trials.

The National Children’s Rights Committee has since 2006 recommended that the Mexican government should devise and implement feasible alternatives to detention pending trial.

Dr. Elena Azaola has conducted research works showing that justice administration is being hindered by the fact that many peasants and indigenous women cannot speak Spanish.


Laws with no teeth

The general law on women’s access to a violence-free society was enacted in 2007 and was further supplemented with amendments to the Criminal Code, but justice administration has not got any better.

Most laws are wide-ranging, while legal standards are very limited, a recent X Justice for Women report indicated.

Out of 240 sentences passed by 15 high courts, only four (1.6 percent) make mention of the so-called Access Laws.

The local legislation has been developed in a way very similar to Spanish law and has therefore failed to take local realities into account.

The so-called Gender Violence Warning is a new procedure to fight women’s murders, but it has not been appropriately applied because it is not well understood.

In 2008, for example, over one million dollars went to a national fund seeking to support this procedure, but only 100,000 dollars have actually been implemented to date.

Bogotá, July 9, 2012 (SEMlac Special).– In December 2004, Johana and Lena Acosta were not allowed in a disco in Cartagena because they were Afro-descendants.

Almost seven years later, they have won their racial discrimination case and have made the State devise new mechanisms to prevent racism and punish those involved in such crimes.

In 2007, a group of young Afro-descendants were not permitted in another disco in Bogotá.

After having considered these two cases, the relevant authorities passed a law to fight racial discrimination in November 2011 and have just set up an observatory against racism.

“The fact that the national government has established an observatory clearly shows that there is racial discrimination in the country, something it has denied for long,” said Eliana Antonio, a researcher at the University of the Andes .

"The observatory provides an effective mechanism to promote and disseminate the rights of black people and offer legal counseling,” stressed Boris Zapata, head of the Afro-Colombian Affairs Division at the Ministry of the Interior.

Law No. 1482 of 2011 basically amends the Criminal Code, establishing one to three years in prison and fines ranging from $3.148.00 to $ 4,722.00 dollars on those discriminating against other people on sexual and/or racial grounds.

The sentences can be tougher if discriminatory behaviors are shown at public places or in the mass media, or involve children or older people.

“This law cannot provide a final solution to the problem because the Colombian State is structurally racist,” said Eva L. Grueso, a member of the Network of Afro-Colombian Organizations.

“It was only in 1991 that the Constitution recognized that there is more than one race or ethnic group in Colombia ,” she recalled.

In fact, there are 102 indigenous peoples that account for 3.3 percent of the national population. And according to the 2005 census, 10.6 percent of the Colombian population said they were Afro-descendants.


Discriminatory practices

A research work financed by the United Nations and the Spanish Government has concluded that social exclusion and poverty continue to affect Afro-Colombians and that ethnic and cultural diversity has not been fully recognized to date.

Most of these people live in areas marked by high poverty indexes and unmet basic needs.

Only 14 percent of them have access to water supply and 19 percent, to sewer systems. Around 35 percent have not completed primary education, and merely 11.8 percent have access to higher education.

A household survey showed the unemployment rate among Afro-descendants had stood at 16.4 percent in 2006.

“They account for 22.5 percent of all displaced people in the country,” said a representative of Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (NGO).


Afro-Colombian women

“As the Colombian society has been designed for white, rich, heterosexual men, we black, poor women endure so much discrimination,” Grueso emphasized.

“While white women live 77 years on average, black women live only 66 years,” she added.

“The number of black women heads of households is four percent higher than that of white women,” she stressed.

“The unemployment rate among us stands at 24 percent, as compared to 17 percent among white women,” she also said.

“We are often seen as sexual objects and thought to be good only as maids,” she noted.

“Racial discrimination is closely associated with the way people are raised and educated,” Zapata indicated.

“My four- and six-year-old daughters are often called frizzy hair and they do not really like that,” said Jorge Iriarte, an Afro-descendant.

“There is a need to formulate inclusive public policies with special emphasis on education so that we can become visible in society,” Grueso concluded.


Buenos Aires, June 11, 2012 (SEMlac Special). – Memories grow stronger over time, especially those of events like the 1982 war between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Mentioning the Islands brings back to mind the military dictatorship, including martial laws, sunken ships and young fighters.

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister at a time when there were very few women in power and did what would never be expected of a woman: declaring war on a foreign country.

This chapter of history has not been written in full, however.

One of the missing elements has to do with the role played by women in the conflict, including nurses.

Some news portrayed women at the time as very nervous, but convinced that the bloodshed would never be negotiated.

Alicia Reynoso was one of them. Born in Entre Ríos, a province 500 kilometers away from the capital city, she wore the battledress when she was only 23.

She had been trained as a nurse for the Air Force and was deployed in Chubut (the southernmost province in Argentina ) during the war.

“We are nurses, but will do anything to defend our country,” she told a reporter back then.

And she has just told SEMlac that women’s involvement in the war had been given a low profile for many years.

She worked together with another five women; they all faced a situation as difficult as the one seen in the battlefield.

She recalled that they were shelled before the shelter was completed. “We had to spend the night in a sewer, surrounded by rats,” she added.

Photo 1: “This was how the shelter started to be built.”

Photo 2: “The shelter was finally completed; no need to get back to sewers.”

Photo 3: The five women walking. “We never lost our smile,” Alicia recalled.

The capitulation: “After we gave everything for the country, the war ended,” she indicated.

“Our presence in the war seems to have been forgotten or hidden due to male-chauvinistic prejudices,” she stressed.

“The Veterans Day has been observed on April 2 ever since,” she noted.

“It was only three decades later that we were invited to attend an official ceremony, along with other veterans,” she commented.

The war began on April 2 and ended on June 14, 1982. A total of 649 Argentinean troops, 255 British and three civilian islanders were killed.

Argentina has demanded sovereignty over the Islands , but they have remained under British control ever since.

“We simply did out duty,” she concluded.

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