domestic violence in NicaraguaDomestic violence is a global issue affecting one in three women worldwide. The United Nations defines domestic violence as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” Abuse can be sexual, emotional, physical, economic or psychological. In order to uphold women’s rights, it is important to combat domestic violence in Nicaragua.

Domestic Violence and Poverty

Data indicates that women living in poverty are at greater risk of abuse. Women who earn less than $10,000 a year experience domestic violence at a rate “five times greater” than women who earn more than $30,000 a year. This is because impoverished women are often financially dependent on their abusers and lack financial prospects, making them more vulnerable to abuse as perpetrators exploit this reliance knowing there are few options of escape.

In contrast, victims with enough resources to secure shelter and basic needs are more independent, and therefore, are significantly more likely to escape domestic violence circumstances. By this logic, a clear link exists between poverty and domestic violence. Although, even in wealthier countries such as the United States, domestic violence is prevalent, with almost a quarter of women in the U.S. experiencing domestic violence.

Since high poverty rates are usually associated with high rates of domestic violence, some would expect a domestic violence crisis in a low-income country such as Nicaragua. Nicaragua is the second-most impoverished country in the Americas, coming right after Haiti, with almost 30% of the Nicaraguan population living under the poverty line in 2014. Nicaragua’s domestic violence rate was 55% in 1995, but the country has made significant progress with domestic violence decreasing to 28% in 2016. Furthermore, “Nicaragua has the lowest rate of femicides in Central America (0.7/100,000) according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC).”

Actions to Reduce Domestic Violence

In 2007, new legislation mandated “equal representation ensuring that at least 50% of public offices be held by women.” As a result, Nicaragua has the highest rate “of women in Ministerial positions in Latin America” at 56.25% and women represent 46% of the legislature.

In addition to this, Nicaragua’s ongoing drives and campaigns aim to address cultures of violence against women in the nation. These campaigns also involve promoting men’s involvement in home and domestic chores, reducing societal masochistic cultures and empowering women to end “economic and social dependence on men” and stop cycles of domestic violence.

The program Zero Usury aims to empower women by granting them financial independence. To do this, the Nicaraguan “government has given low-interest loans to” more than “900,000 women over the last 14 years to enable them to start small businesses in urban areas.”

In 2012, Nicaragua passed the Comprehensive Act against Violence towards Women. The act mandated the creation of “the national inter-institutional commission to combat violence against women, children and adolescents, composed of 17 state institutions, with departmental and municipal branches.”

The Comprehensive Care Model for Women, also created in 2012, ensures every victim of domestic violence will have access to proper care and justice by carrying out proper investigations for every case and compensating victims. The mechanism aims to uphold children and women’s rights “to live with dignity and free from violence.”

Looking to the Future

Nicaragua is also part of the U.N. Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, with the aim of eradicating “violence against women by 2030.” To align with this goal, Nicaragua commits to implementing a “series of political, legislative and administrative actions to eradicate violence against women and girls,” among other efforts.

Nicaragua is a phenomenal example to the world when it comes to domestic violence as it shows that a country can decrease its rates of violence by investing in women’s empowerment programs and legislation that fights for gender equality and the protection of women.

– Noya Stessel
Photo: Flickr

decreasing domestic violence in IndiaThe Indian caste system is a hierarchical structure segmenting the Hindu population into four main categories. These categories are the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Although these caste systems have officially existed for thousands of years, caste discrimination was technically outlawed in 1950, yet it still influences life in India today. The fifth group, the Dalits or “untouchable” caste, is a caste so low that it does not fall within the official caste system. Untouchables are significantly marginalized as this group occupies the least prestigious standing in Indian society. Yet, caste discrimination is not the only discrimination affecting India today. Rates of domestic violence in India, as in many other nations, saw an increase during the COVID-19 pandemic with strict gender roles compounding domestic violence against women.

India by the Numbers

India is home to the world’s second-largest population and more than two-thirds of its 1.2 billion citizens live on less than $2 per day. These strained and taxing living conditions of poverty hurt women and children most because they also suffer from increased domestic violence. In the United States, women earning less than $10,000 in annual income report a five times greater rate of domestic violence than those with income exceeding $30,000. Most Indian women fall in the former category. Accordingly, reports of domestic abuse to three major Indian newspapers from March to July 2020 increased more than 47%.

The Pandemic’s Effect on Domestic Violence

Like pandemics in years past, COVID-19 produced an increase in domestic violence because it gave greater freedom to abusers. During the pandemic, already high numbers of domestic violence cases in India increased “at an alarming rate.” According to a piece published in the Indian Express, most Mumbai citizens lack running water in their homes. As COVID-19 lockdowns caused people to spend more time at home, more women resorted to underground or early morning markets for water. There, women were subject to more verbal and sexual harassment while waiting in line.

While domestic violence increased both in India and globally during the pandemic, Delhi-based NGO Jagori actually saw a 50% decline in helpline calls. This seems counterintuitive at first glance, but many are likely hesitant to report abusers who are constantly under the same roof and who can also restrict their victims’ access to phones and online resources. The popular phrase “locked down with the abuser” expresses this unfortunate reality.

Solutions

Numerous NGOs in India are working to improve women’s quality of life. Sayodhya Home For Women In Need is a nonprofit created in 2010 with offices in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. The organization provides assistance on issues “related to education, employment, domestic violence, harassment, abuse, mental health and other legal matters.” The organization runs a shelter for vulnerable girls and women and also provides “legal and psychological counseling” to victims of abuse. Since its creation, Sayodhya has given shelter to more than 1,000 vulnerable women. Furthermore, the organization addressed 1,500 “cases of domestic violence, harassment, child marriages, physical and mental abuses.”

Often the problem lies in a lack of accountability in regard to the abuser. Organizations like Sayodhya Home For Women In Need look to create that accountability and empower women with a viable source of help.

– Paolo Emilio Giannandrea
Photo: Flickr

Central American Women and Children Protection ActOn June 10, 2021, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2021 in the Senate. On June 17, Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA) introduced the act in the House of Representatives. Although the bill was originally introduced in 2019, it was later integrated into another bill, the US-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. The act passed the House of Representatives but was not able to move past the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Representative Torres stated in a press release that the reintroduced Act would “help […] prevent the domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect that plague the region.”

The Context Behind the Act

The act focuses on Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; as it explains, the three countries have some of the “highest rates of femicide” within “the Latin America and Caribbean region.” El Salvador and Honduras also have some of the highest child murder rates in the world. In April 2021, a Deutsche Welle article reported that there had been 161 femicides in Guatemala since the year began. In March 2021, women gathered to protest in Guatemala City, carrying signs with messages ranging from “I’m marching because I’m alive and I don’t know until when” to “This isn’t a country, it’s a cemetery.” 

Lubia Sasvin Pérez, who spoke with the New York Times in 2019 about her experiences in Guatemala, left her abusive boyfriend to stay with her parents. The boyfriend, Gehovany Ramirez, tracked her down and murdered her mother in front of her. His brother said that Ramirez was “right to go back and try to claim [Pérez].” Ramirez was sentenced to an unusually short term of “only four years in prison,” the New York Times explained, and was entitled to visitation with his and Pérez’s son “upon release.” Meanwhile, Pérez has faced “blame” and “stigma” from the people around her. “There’s no justice here,” she stated.

The Act’s Goals

If passed, the Central American Women and Children Protection Act would allow the U.S. to form “compacts,” or agreements, with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to fight violence against women and children. More specifically, the compacts’ goals would include expanding supportive resources for survivors, establishing safe environments in schools and communities and improving the justice system’s responses to these crimes. Each compact would set out a “3- to 6-year […] strategy” to accomplish the goals and would list actions the government of the country concerned would take, along with methods for “[measuring] progress.” 

In addition, the House version of the Central American Women and Children Protection Act allocates $25 million each year for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The Senate version allocates $15 million each year for those two years and the money would be given to support the prevention of violence against women and children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. However, the U.S. would retain the right to stop the funding if the countries failed to make “sufficient progress” or went against U.S. “national security interests.” 

Supporting Women for Many Reasons

Correcting injustices and promoting equality for women has economic benefits as well. According to an Atlantic Council article, Latin America has been hit hard by the pandemic economically, but “reducing gender inequalities will ignite productivity, boost economic growth, and reduce poverty” in the region. According to a World Bank report, women’s increasing presence in the labor force helped reduce poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2000 and 2010. The report also found that women’s earnings were “crucial to reducing the pressures on the poorest of the poor” by helping families stay afloat in the “2009 crisis.” 

Over the past several years, the U.S. has been criticized for deserting Central American women and children in violent situations. The U.S. has slashed aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador while excluding survivors of domestic violence from asylum. The Central American Women and Children Protection Act, if passed, would mark a turn toward aiding rather than abandoning survivors of violence.

– Victoria Albert

Photo: Flickr

Women in SingaporeIn 1961, young girls and women in Singapore received the promise of change when the country passed the Women’s Charter legislative act. The Women’s Charter establishes the regulation of romantic and family relationships. The act keeps the door open for Singaporean women to make decisions in their lives, such as who they marry and divorce. It also protects against family violence and holds criminals accountable for offenses toward women of all ages. Though this is the intention of the Women’s Charter, the statistics for prosecution, rape, domestic violence and citizens’ views of women in Singapore do not align with it.

Equality and Domestic Violence

Singapore struggles with gender equality, with 57% of Singaporeans believing men are the head of the household and should have the upper hand in decision making. However, 52% of Singaporeans expect women to take on household roles such as chores and caregiving. Domestic violence is another issue women in Singapore frequently face. One in 10 women experiences a lifetime of physical violence by men. In addition, 83% of Singaporeans encourage women to stay in violent relationships under some circumstances, including for a child’s sake.

Unfortunately, 71% of women in Singapore who experience abuse from a partner are not likely to make a police report. This leads to six out of 10 Singaporean women suffering repeated victimization. The safety of these women is at risk due to the lack of respect fellow citizens have for women. Regarding sexual assault, 40% of Singaporeans between the ages of 18-39 and 50% of Singaporeans aged 40 and older believe that women who wear revealing clothing are asking to experience assault and should be responsible for their harassment.

The Lack of Sexual Assault Justice

The majority of women in Singapore have not received the justice that the Women’s Charter promises. On January 5, 2021, Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam announced that there were 6,988 reported cases of sexual assault in Singapore. Out of these 6,988 cases, 1,368 led to prosecution, resulting in only 931 criminal convictions. Out of the 1,368 who authorities charged, 1,364 had prior sexual assault convictions.

Minister Shanmugam, a former lawyer and Singaporean politician, discussed flaws within the nation’s system. He admits that “The government does not track the use of alcohol, drugs or prevalence and diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in relation to sexual assault offenders.”

Governmental Changes

In September 2020, Minister Shanmugam announced an evaluation of women’s issues in Singapore, led by three female political officeholders. The convention subsequently occurred in October 2020. Officials discussed handling sexual offenses, potential increases of penalties, criminalization of conduct and factors authorities should consider when assigning sentences.

Shanmugam opens up about the country’s societal views. He states, “I think a whole society mindset change is necessary. The government has got to lead it with the right pieces of legislation.” He adds, “We need men to be part of the mindset shift — to embrace the changing aspirations of younger women as equal economic partners and facilitate their success in the workplace by sharing in household and caregiving responsibilities.”

With the ongoing issue of victimization, Shanmugam reflects, “We need to try and deal with that —  how we encourage, so people report. And, once the report is done, taking action thereafter is easier.”

AWARE Improving Lives

AWARE is one of the many NGOs working on improving the lives of women in Singapore. Its vision is to create a society where there is true gender equality. In this community, people would see both men and women as individuals with the right to make responsible and informed decisions for their lives. AWARE’s mission is to remove all gender-based barriers through its research, advocacy, education, training and support services.

AWARE launched the Sexual Assault Care Centre in 2014 to support survivors of sexual assault. Throughout 2017, the Sexual Assault Centre saw a 57% increase in cases. The NGO also created a Women’s Care Centre, a helpline that provides information and support for Singaporean women in distress. In 2018, the Women’s Care Centre saw 32% more helpline calls and 48% more counseling clients. Furthermore, AWARE has collaborated with police in developing a new training video to help supplement police officers’ understanding of the behavior and feelings of victims and how police and responders impact these victims.

Bringing awareness to the hardships women in Singapore face is crucial. However, with the help of AWARE and Minister Shanmugam, steps are being taken to safeguard the well-being of women.

– Alexis Jones
Photo: Flickr

Womens Rights in Ecuador
Through the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maria Amor Foundation, a nonprofit domestic violence shelter, has housed more than 80 women and 120 children as protection from the threat of domestic and sexual violence. The Borgen Project spoke with the director of the Maria Amor Foundation, Blanca Pacheco Lupercio, to learn more about the fight for women’s rights in Ecuador.

Violence Against Women in Ecuador

More than 40% of Ecuadorian women are victims of domestic and sexual violence and 70%  have experienced interpersonal violence in their lifetimes. Women’s rights in Ecuador were making steady progress until the COVID-19 pandemic when unemployment peaked in July 2020 at 16.8%. Despite the subsequent trend toward pre-pandemic rates and a new conservative president focused on economic prosperity, many women still lack the resources to leave violent situations in a nation where machismo, or traditional gender roles, are the status quo. “Violence is structural and systemic,” says Pacheco Lupercio. “We can’t say that all violence ends for women once they enter the shelter.”

The Maria Amor Foundation’s Services

The Maria Amor Foundation offers three major services to abuse victims: a 24-hour emergency hotline, two domestic violence shelters for women and children and a support program to help survivors create a new and independent life according to their dreams and aspirations.

The Foundation created its first domestic violence shelter in 2004 to provide women with a safe and resourceful space to stay. In 2005, the Foundation created a crisis hotline for victims and reprioritized community outreach to rural areas where victims may lack access to technology. By 2014, the Foundation had also opened an alternative shelter in the outskirts of the city to better serve rural women.

When someone calls the hotline, the Foundation interviews the caller and collects facts to identify a victim. After a risk assessment, the Foundation invites the individual to stay at the Casa Maria Amor, where the individual and their children receive psychological, emotional and medical assistance. The Foundation then provides victims with technical training to sustain an independent lifestyle once they leave the shelter. It offers entrepreneurial skills, legal advice and holistic skills like sewing.

Children exposed to violent situations can also be a casualty in the cycle of domestic and sexual violence. Pacheco says the Foundation’s aid programs for children are vital to those who may carry trauma. Child care services and Zoom learning classes for children help survivors build a new life.

How Victims of Violence Regain Independence

When victims leave the shelter, they receive social and legal support to help them form a plan to live independently and without fear of their abusers. The Foundation then connects them with other organizations and support groups like Mujeres Con Exito to assist them as they rediscover independence. “Our job is to… support these women so that one day they can leave independently,” says Pacheco.

More than 80 women stay in one of the Foundation’s shelters over the course of a year. Pacheco says approximately 15 women and their children live at the Casa Maria Amor for about five to six months at a time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, women are staying in shelters for longer. Pacheco says the pandemic worsened conditions on the ground. As healthcare facilities were overwhelmed and quarantine was underway, mothers struggled to care for and educate children during the workday.

Women’s rights in Ecuador experience violation at all social strata, so the Casa Maria Amor accepts survivors from every walk of life. Pachecho says that although survivors of greater means may have the ability to more easily create a new and independent life, the Casa Maria Amor will not turn away a person in need. In order to keep women out of violent situations, the nation needs to create concrete economic opportunities, Pacheco explains.

Poverty and Women’s Rights in Ecuador

Instilled gender roles and a meager education, particularly in rural regions, typically yield low employment prospects for women. Dr. Bernardo Vega, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of Cuenca, said in an interview with The Borgen Project that women in Ecuador tend to conform to the expectations of the rigid patriarchal system.

Rigid gender roles affect women in tangible ways such as increasing women’s likelihood of discontinuing their education. Vega says the average education for an Ecuadorian woman is approximately nine years. He says patriarchal gender roles expect women to forgo schooling and instead get married, have children and work in the home.

Vega says poverty, especially in rural areas, drives the inequality and marginalization of Ecuadorian women. He explains that poorly educated and poverty-stricken women tend to be economically dependent on their husbands. Therefore, they are more likely to suffer domestic and sexual violence. Vega says the social stigma women face for leaving their husbands also motivates them to stay silent in their suffering.

Early Pregnancy in Ecuador

Access to reproductive health and information is not equal across Ecuador. Only recently have educational institutions like high schools begun to provide sexual education. Vega says only 40% of adolescents have a general understanding of sexual and reproductive health and 80% of adolescents do not know where to access a sexual healthcare facility. Furthermore, only 5% of adolescents have ever visited healthcare facilities for information or treatment.

“Early pregnancy is like a door into poverty,” says Vega. “Violence and insecurity lead to poverty, like a circle.” According to Vega, Ecuador has the second-highest teenage pregnancy rate of all Latin American countries, trailing behind only Venezuela. He says that approximately 52,000 adolescents become pregnant each year in Ecuador, meaning that two out of 10 mothers are adolescents, a number that has risen in recent decades.

Political Involvement and Education Impacts Women’s Rights

While the push for women’s rights in Ecuador is a long way from guaranteeing egalitarianism, the feminist movement has galvanized women to empower themselves by entering the political sphere. Vega believes a new wave of women politicians can have tangible results in curbing inequity.

Furthermore, a push for educational programs in high schools, like the Plan Nacional de Salud Sexual y Salud Reproductiva, seeks to teach gender roles and sexual reproductive health in order to deconstruct conservative machismo and create a more egalitarian, educated population. This program received a renewal in 2017 and is continuing into 2021.

Andre Silva
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Gender-Based Violence
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee defines gender-based violence as any harmful act that a person perpetrates against another’s will and that occurs due to socially ascribed differences between females and males. This includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty inflicted both in private and publicly. More than 700 million underage marriages occurred in 2020. Furthermore, approximately 137 women die at the hands of a partner or member of their family each day. Moreover, poverty and gender-based violence intertwine.

Poverty and Gender-Based Violence

Poverty exacerbates gender-based violence in many ways. This violence interrupts opportunities for education and employment. In addition, women and girls are more prone to experiencing poverty and exploitation. Children who are a product of child marriages are less likely to receive an education. Also, these children have a higher chance of living in extreme poverty. Moreover, women and girls living in poverty are more vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behavior, including the use of violence. Norms can protect against violence, but they can also support and encourage the use of it. Research that the World Bank Group and Sexual Violence Research Initiative conducted suggests that interventions targeting gender norms are some of the most effective in addressing gender-based violence.

Social and Gender Norms

Many social norms exist that perpetuate gender-based violence. These norms often vary by region, religion and other factors. Thus, the norms are very difficult to influence.

Families emphasize the sexual purity of women. As a result, female genital mutilation is prevalent. The value of family honor is above the safety of women. This can lead to honor killings. Domestic violence can stem from the disproportionate authority of men in disciplining women and children.

Gender-Based Violence Scale

A collaborative team from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, UNICEF and other organizations developed a scale for analyzing changes in beliefs and social norms. Researchers wanted to provide a way to measure the impacts of primary prevention programs in humanitarian settings. About 30 items exist across three categories. Researchers administer this scale to communities to help them understand attitudes towards acts of sexual violence, the importance of family honor and the authority men employ.

Addressing Child Marriage

A collaborative team from Queen’s University and the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality found benefits in enforcing interventions focused on precipitators to child marriage, such as poverty and a lack of legal protections. The researchers proposed the tailoring of interventions to the varying attitudes and beliefs within a community. This team learned that men attributed an increase in rates of child marriage to poverty. However, women attributed it to an increase in a lack of security through laws and social services. This research contradicts a one-size-fits-all program design that suggests adaptive interventions to be the most impactful.

Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Peru

Community engagement and gender-based violence interventions are an invaluable aspect of humanitarian development. Peruvian community health workers employed participatory methods to gather community insights and found seven key aspects of engagement: community leaders’ support, conversations with community members, bystander intervention data for gender-based violence, shared ownership among health workers and leaders, connections with broader stakeholders such as government officials, understanding of what encourages and causes gender-based violence and support from trusted and influential people outside the community.

Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Bill in Iran

The Iranian government passed the Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence bill to provide support for survivors of gender-based violence. This bill includes provisions for educational programs on vulnerability detection, expanding mental health support for victims of gender-based violence, an evidence-based plan for advancing gender equity and offers an important acknowledgment of this step on behalf of Iranian women.

Poverty undeniably intertwines with gender-based violence. Its connection can be complex and difficult to influence, but research and programs such as these demonstrate successful approaches and the invaluable nature of their effects.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Pakistan
A lot of progress has occurred to achieve women’s rights in Pakistan. However, gender inequality still remains a prominent issue. According to the World Economic Forum, the Global Gender Index Report ranks Pakistan second to last in domestic violence.

Fortunately, the government has taken significant action. In December 2020, Pakistan instilled a new anti-rape law to speed up convictions and toughen sentences. According to White Ribbon Pakistan, an estimated 4,734 women faced sexual violence between 2004 and 2016. Furthermore, there were over 15,000 cases of registered honor crimes and more than 1,800 cases of domestic violence. However, conviction rates remain low. Only 2.5% of all cases result in convictions. The new law requires sex offenders to be nationally registered. Additionally, the courts will protect the identity of victims.

Domestic Abuse

Pakistan ranks as the sixth most dangerous country for women in regards to domestic violence. Patriarchal and cultural norms greatly impact women’s rights in Pakistan.

Honor killings and violence within the home are prevalent. Recently, social media model and activist Qandeel Baloch’s brother strangled her to death. According to her brother, she had ruined the family’s image and honor. Fortunately, Pakistan has made progress to prevent violence within the household. For instance, the court denied Baloch’s parents’ wishes and convicted Baloch’s brother of murder. Additionally, more than 1,000 domestic violence cases appeared in court in June 2019.

Furthermore, Ms. Quandeel wrote, “I wonder how long it will take us to recognize that we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook, that our social structure is rotten and works against people like #Qandeel who wish to make something of themselves on their own terms.” The death of Qandeel Baloch generated a movement for gender equality in Pakistan.

The Good News

The good news is that Pakistani women are fighting back. Since 2018, women have demanded economic and environmental justice, reproductive rights and better access to public spaces. On International Women’s Day, thousands took to the streets to demonstrate their commitment to bettering women’s rights in Pakistan. However, conservative groups criticized the movement and labeled it as a “western campaign.”

One of the main slogans of the march was “mera jism, meri marzi” (my body, my choice). Many said it was a promiscuous demand that did not empower women. Yet, women continue to defend their objectives, raise awareness against sexual harassment and gender-based violence and promote bodily autonomy.

Additionally, women began riding bikes in order to accentuate their presence in public spaces. Girls at Dhabas organized a bike ride to promote certification in all public events and fight against restrictions that prohibit women. One cyclist said, “We have an advantage with this lockdown and corona and all. The cycling has become really common among the girls in Islamabad.”

Various organizations are spreading awareness of domestic violence. Additionally, the government continues to implement new laws to protect women. Although women’s rights in Pakistan are lacking in many ways, the government and organizations continue to strive for gender equality.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Empower Indigenous WomenAt the dawn of the 21st century, women entered the world of Bolivian professional wrestling for the first time. Known as the Flying Cholitas, this group is made up entirely of indigenous women from the city of El Alto. Encapsulating the revolutionary spirit of El Alto, the Flying Cholitas act as positive role models who empower indigenous women.

The City of El Alto

El Alto is the largest city in Latin America with an indigenous majority population. Throughout Bolivia’s history, El Alto and its cholitas have been known for their revolutionary spirit. The term “cholita” is derived from “chola,” a phrase used to refer to indigenous or mixed-race women in a derogatory manner. The word “cholita” is now used in a positive light when referring to indigenous women throughout Bolivia.

El Alto, situated on a mountain overlooking Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, laid siege to it in the 1700s. It did so again in 2003, during the Bolivian Gas War, which led to the ousting of then-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Afterward, the support of El Alto’s indigenous population saw the first indigenous president, Evo Morales, elected in 2005.

The indigenous population of Bolivia has fallen victim to various forms of institutionalized racism throughout history. They have been denied various civic services, such as the right to vote and the chance at higher education. However, during his time in office, Evo Morales opened government positions to cholitas. As a result, the indigenous women were enabled to play a role in drafting the new constitution. The Flying Cholitas empower indigenous women by embodying this revolutionary spirit of the everyday cholita, making them quite popular.

What is Cholita Wrestling?

When The Flying Cholitas first formed, they served as a novelty act to increase ticket sales for the male-dominated “Titans of the Ring.” Both the male and female acts draw heavily from Mexico’s professional wrestling, known as “lucha libre.” The use of signature moves, entrance music and the hero versus villain dynamic — known as “técnicas” and “rudas,” in this case — display the influence of this format. Fans often join in the fun by jeering and splashing water on “rudas” and cheering for the “técnicas.”

The uniqueness of the cholitas helps attract sizable crowds. The wrestlers’ clothing noticeably deviates from that of “lucha libre” and other professional wrestling formats. Instead of bikinis and spandex, The Flying Cholitas wear clothes similar to ones they wear in the streets and at home. In the ring, the wrestlers will commonly wear bowler hats, long braids, shawls and pleated skirts. Cholitas display these garments to show pride in their heritage and distinguish themselves from the pants-wearing, non-indigenous women.

To become a female wrestler, candidates must undergo a year of training before receiving their certificate. In addition to allowing them to fight, the certificate is a symbol of pride: proof that they can earn money through skill and hard work.

Gender in Bolivia

Bolivia has the highest rate of domestic and sexual abuse in Latin America. In 2015, 70% of women reported having faced some form of physical or psychological abuse. The lack of financial opportunities for women often causes them to stay in these harmful relationships.

The original Flying Cholitas were abuse victims who joined the sport as an outlet for their anger. Now, these wrestlers empower indigenous women in similar situations. The wrestling matches provide a public space to witness the strength of women, especially in mixed matches where women battle men. However, the cholitas had to fight outside of the ring as well to gain more equality in the sport.

When the Flying Cholitas first started wrestling, they were unpaid and barred from using the locker room. As their popularity grew, the female wrestlers gained greater autonomy. They formed the Association for Fighting Cholitas. This allows them to organize their fights and use the facilities. Furthermore, the Flying Cholitas are now paid for their work, around $20-$25 per match. This extra income helps the wrestlers put their children through school and grants them greater freedom from their husbands.

After 20 years, the popularity of the Flying Cholitas has spread, with hotels in the area offering packages that include tickets and transit to their shows. The Flying Cholitas even travel throughout Bolivia to bring their rowdy fights to the masses and empower indigenous women across the nation.

Overall, the Flying Cholitas are a powerful influence in changing the perception of indigenous women in Bolivia. Hopefully, this group will continue to have a significant impact in the coming years.

– Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

women’s rights in UzbekistanA former Soviet Union territory, Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million. In recent years, there have been governmental and societal changes along with a new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Women, who play a pivotal role in the Uzbek family structure, have experienced different issues related to their rights in the country. There are several key facts to know about women’s rights in Uzbekistan.

Societal Views Oppress Women

Women faced new setbacks after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets, who colonized the region in the latter half of the 19th century, promised women that they would be emancipated from the patriarchal customs of society, viewing them as oppressive against women. This movement encouraged female education, and in the 1980s, an estimated 41% of university students were women. However, after the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, in a push to reestablish the Uzbek tradition, the progress of women’s rights in Uzbekistan took a hit when conservative social customs were reintroduced. Only six years later, in 1997, the number of women in higher education institutions dropped to 37% and it is estimated to have fallen even more drastically in recent years.

The Prevalence of Child Marriage

Child marriage is still prevalent. Most Uzbek families believe that the role of women is to marry and run the household. This social concept encourages child marriage throughout the country, particularly in rural regions. With girls marrying at younger ages than boys, female education is directly impacted by child marriage, as women are generally confined to the home after marriage. Furthermore, it is expected that women are to give birth within their first year of marriage, despite a lack of education about reproduction and childbearing. With young brides, female bodies are often not prepared or mature enough to give birth healthily. This has led to health complications such as infertility and chronic conditions. Women’s rights in Uzbekistan are hindered by child marriage, as it limits female educational opportunities and leaves women with little chance to escape a life of housework and childrearing.

Domestic Violence is Not a Crime

Domestic violence is deemed a family issue and not an actual crime. Since independence from the Soviet Union, the push to reaffirm traditional values has meant that women have a subservient role within the household, and to a further extent, within society. Outside of their homes, women face restrictions on how to live their lives, with limits on educational and work opportunities in favor of marriages and children. With women in rural areas at particular risk for domestic violence, Uzbekistan has largely ignored women’s rights within the home. Violence against women has reportedly increased in recent years.

Women’s Rights Reform at Governmental Level

President Mirziyoyev has taken promising action to address the lack of women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Elected in 2016, Mirziyoyev spoke about the importance of women within Uzbek society, noting their problem-solving skills and administrative capabilities. He urged for their involvement in government and industrial factions and even appointed Uzbekistan’s first female Head of Senate, Tanyila Narbaeva. With men dominating government positions for years, a female in an authoritative government position was a progressive shift and a promising result of political changes.

Legislation to Protect Women

The fight for women’s rights in Uzbekistan is becoming more of a priority. In 2019, two new laws were introduced to protect women’s rights. The first is to ensure equal opportunities and freedoms for men and women and the second is to safeguard women from domestic violence and assault. Also, almost 200 shelters have been set up across the country to provide for women escaping violence. Unfortunately, there is very little funding for the subsistence of these shelters. While this is undoubtedly progress from the country’s more traditional views on the role of women in society, more significant action needs to be taken to defend these newfound rights and sustain protective services.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Uzbekistan

The push for women’s rights in Uzbekistan has been made more difficult by the country’s history as a Soviet Union colony and their subsequent counterreaction to reestablish their traditional cultural values. In recent years, women have been restricted by societal pressures to marry young and spend their lives taking care of the household. With limited opportunity to decide their own futures, women in Uzbekistan have not truly attained their human rights. Fortunately, however, President Mirziyoyev has expressed his desire to transform women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Hopefully, with a new female government official and progressive laws, women’s rights in Uzbekistan will continue to improve.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Violence in TongaDomestic violence in Tonga, specifically against women, has become the leading type of law infringement. The most prevalent instance occurs in the home, which is especially alarming during a pandemic forcing everyone inside. However, Tonga is taking measures to fight this issue. One way is through the Women and Children Crisis Center (WCCC).

Domestic Violence in Tonga

The amount of reported cases of domestic violence in Tonga has risen over the past five years. Between January and June of 2020, there were about 537 domestic violence reports and 117 issued police safety orders. Out of those, only 99 assaulters faced prosecution.

Tongan women report experiencing physical coercion and control, sexual assault, emotional abuse and physical assault. Police officials state that the chief problem is related to a cultural belief. Tongan men believe they are in a position of power at home and can act however they please because of this entitlement. As a result, women are often scared to report their abuse cases. This is particularly true when husbands, brothers or sons are the perpetrators, as is typical.

Pacific Women reports that three out of four women in Tonga have experienced physical and sexual violence. Relationships can involve abuse as early as day one and continue on for decades, which women often endure. Furthermore, about 85% of women who have suffered from domestic violence are likely to return to the same environments as their attacks. To combat this, the WCCC in Tonga offers an escape for the abused to ensure women are given the protection they need from abusers.

The Women and Children Crisis Center in Tonga

The WCCC was established in 2009 by Director Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki with a group of women and male supporters. The aim was to help those who have suffered from violence. In turn, they gave free counseling and support to victims of domestic violence in Tonga. Further, the WCCC provides 24 hours of free housing to both women and children in the Mo’ui Fiefia Safe House.

When a woman reports her case to WCCC, the volunteers at the organization help guide the victim through the legal process. They explain the amount of time it will take for the victim’s case to reach court and provide information about how and when the police will contact the victim for testimonies. They also educate the victim on the importance of having a medical record when reporting cases like rape. If the woman is willing, the WCCC offers her a platform to voice her experience. The organization focuses on sharing the stories of victims who have used WCCC’s services and how they have benefitted from those services.

Male Advocacy Training

Violence prevention was another main reason for WCCC’s founding. In 2017, the WCCC launched male advocacy training to end violence against women and children and encourage gender equality. The purpose of the training is to educate men on three key ideas: men have control over how they behave in a sexual manner, all sexual activity can only be performed after there is consent on both sides and men are equally responsible for the transmission of sexually active diseases.

The men receive many lessons from knowledgeable speakers to help end the domestic violence in Tonga. Director Guttenbeil-Likiliki said, “In a situation where a woman does not want to have sex but you continue to persist and persuade her to have sex, this is a high-risk situation, as it is considered to be sexual assault or rape.” Melkie Anton, a lead trainer, explains proper relationship roles to male participants. Anton states, “Women are often used as sexual objects,” and when a woman is in a relationship, she must follow all of her partner’s orders. As a result, the man ends up controlling the relationship and may treat the woman’s feelings with disregard. Another learning directive is toxic masculinity. WCCC members detail how issues, such as proving masculinity and competing with other men encourage domestic violence.

Looking to the Future

WCCC members are working toward expanding their organization’s influence throughout Tonga,  particularly through collaboration. The WCCC has partnered with other organizations, such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Vanuatu Women’s Crisis Centre. The organization even reaches out to Tongan government agencies, including the Ministry of Education. The work of the WCCC, from aiding victims to education to advocacy, is a step in the right direction. With continued efforts, there can be an end to domestic violence in Tonga.

Sudiksha Kochi
Photo: Flickr