The rising number of women being murdered in Central America is highlighted in a recently released grim report, thanks to the support of a Northumberland charity.
"It shows a strong increase in the number of women being killed," said Bill Fairbairn, Horizons of Friendship's Mesoamerican coordinator. "I was shocked. You want to know why women are being targeted."
Horizons of Friendship, the only Canadian charity working exclusively with grassroots groups in Mexico and Central America, works on promoting women's rights, food security, agricultural diversification and offering agricultural training for rural women's networks.
In December, Horizons' staff joined with the Central American Feminist Network to End Violence Towards Women in Costa Rica to release a new report on femicide - the systematic killing of women based on their gender.
The study, supported by Horizons and the United Nations Development Fund for Women, focuses on six Central American countries - Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The study found that while murder rates are on the rise in many parts of Central America, women are being disproportionately affected.
Between 2000 and 2006, killings of men in El Salvador increased by 40 per cent, while female murders grew by 111 per cent. In Guatemala, the killing of men doubled from 1990 to 2004, while rates for women tripled. The most extreme case is Honduras, where from 2003 to 2007 the killing of women grew four times faster than that of men.
Many of these slayings are accompanied by signs of brutal torture, mutilations and rape.
"There's increasing levels of cruelty. If men are killed, it's a bullet to the head. Women are mutilated, raped. Pregnant women are targeted - one was shot four times in the stomach," said Mr. Fairbairn.
Many of the countries studied have a legacy of civil wars and a culture of impunity for abuses committed, which could contribute to the violence. However, the report found the dramatic increase in femicide is directly related to high levels of poverty and growing inequities between men and women. Increasing poverty has created a "shady" economy of sex trade trafficking and gang violence, the report states.
"Women are being used as pawns in territorial disputes between the gangs. They kill women to send a message to the other gang," said Mr. Fairbairn. "There's also increasing levels of sex trafficking, and women are quite vulnerable."
The report found more younger women are being killed than in the past. One in four of the victims is between 10 and 19.
He drew similarities between the femicide in Central America and the murders of Aboriginal women in Canada, which are not fully investigated, and the Montreal massacre at the Ã?cole Polytechnique 20 years ago. The yearly tradition of naming the victims of the Montreal Massacre on Dec. 6 appealed to the Central American feminists, Mr. Fairbairn said.
"A lot of the women who have been killed in Central America are anonymous," said Mr. Fairbairn. "They're looking at finding symbolic ways to lift up the women."
The study findings and recommendations were presented directly to the Council of Ministers for Women in Central America.
The report recommended gender equality training for law makers and police to sensitize them to violence against women and femicide; new policies to prosecute and investigate the people responsible; new legislation to include violence against women as a hate crime; access to justice and legal representation for families; a regional plan against trafficking; and a regional reporting system to measure violence against women in Central America.
"There's a real lack of access to justice," said Mr. Fairbairn. "The new proposal for the next phase is focusing on access to justice."