Murdering women simply because of their gender has a name – femicide, and it isn’t uncommon in Latin America. The violent, horrific acts range from women being set on fire, raped, and attacked with acid.
Fourteen of the 25 countries with the worst femicide rates are in the Americas, according to data from 2004 to 2009.
A few specific cases include when Maria Eugenia Lanzetti’s estranged husband slit her throat in front of her kindergarten class this past April in Argentina. Just one month later, in the same country, pregnant 14-year-old Chiara Paez was buried alive by her boyfriend. Rosa Elvira Cely was raped and murdered by a man in a park three years ago in Colombia.
Many times, instances of femicide go ignored in Latin American countries. For instance, in Bolivia, from 2007 to 2011, there were 442-thousand complaints of gender-based violence. Only 96 have been prosecuted, according to the Center of Information and Development of Women in La Paz.
It’s history like this that inspired Chilean author Pía Barros to start a book series called ¡Basta!: 100 mujeres contra la violencia de género, which translates to “Enough!: 100 women against gender violence”. The book contains 100 mini-fiction stories about violence against women.
Emma Sepúlveda, director of the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, wrote one of the entries and is spearheading the next U.S. edition of ¡Basta!. This latest version calls for 100 Latinas to write and submit 150-word short stories.
“I wanted the project to be connected to the initial project in Latin America,” Sepúlveda said.
But more importantly, she wants to analyze if the submissions from Latinas in the U.S. would differ from those in Latin America.
“When women come in pursuit of the American dream, do they free themselves from many terrible things, one of them being domestic violence?” Sepúlveda said. “If you come to the land of the free, where a woman supposedly has more rights in this country, where you can announce the abuses easier than in the third world, I thought it’d be different.”
Instead, Sepúlveda said she found that some women “find a nightmare.” Of the 85 submissions she has received over the last two years, Sepúlveda said about 70 percent of the writers disclosed they had experienced or witnessed abuse against women in real life.
She too experienced domestic abuse while growing up in Chile, a memory she has only shared in this interview.
A Double Life
Outside of her family’s home in Chile, Sepúlveda’s father was well liked and loved. He was a politician and a successful businessman, wealthy and highly educated. But inside the home, the reality was grim.
“My father will lose his temper, and he will hit my mother,” Sepúlveda said of his violent behavior she witnessed as a young girl.
And part of living with a violent father also meant that instead of him screaming at Sepúlveda when he lost his temper, he would slap her.
“Children view that violence and often are victims of that violence too, because it’s somebody out of control, somebody that doesn’t have a limit of what it needs to have,” she said.
When she grew older and saw that her father had changed, she tried to ask him why he was abusive in the past, but his answer was always contradicting. He tried to blame it on the way he was raised.
“And when I asked him if his father was violent, he says, ‘no, my mother would have never allowed that to happen.’ So, it was like telling me, ‘well your mother was too nice,’” Sepúlveda said.
Sepúlveda added that her father also believed men had more power, and women were to be obedient and submissive. So, when things don’t go his way, he’d become violent.
A Story Inspired by Reality
Alicia Kozameh, once a political prisoner in Argentina, a U.S. refugee, and today, a professor at Chapman University, experienced abuse in her home, the latter of which inspired her submission to the U.S. version of ¡Basta! For the short story, she drew on one specific incident when her father slapped her mother.
Kozameh’s older sister died at the age of 21. Growing up, her sister received most of the attention because she was ill her whole life, and her father was especially close to her.
After she passed, her father became violent towards her mother.
“My mother was the target, because my mother was the mother of that child,” said
Kozameh, who was 17 at the time of her sister’s passing.
She explained that her father blamed her mother for giving birth to a sick child.
“He could’ve done it to me as usual, but he didn’t,” Kozameh said.
Below is an excerpt from Kozameh’s short story for the U.S. version of ¡Basta!:
He gets close to his wife’s desperation, keeps walking, turns back: Whore.
Your masterpiece. And his hand flies –these poor men- and flattens that cheekbone against the rough wall: She’s all yours. Take charge. You go bury her. Whore.
It’s important to remember her piece is fiction first, though inspired by actual events. Kozameh doesn’t actually remember the words he said in that particular incident, but she does recall her father’s hand whipping across her mother’s face. In response, her mother would simply cry. She never left him and was never allowed to work, because to Kozameh’s father, that meant giving her freedom.
Only when Kozameh’s father died in 1988 of emphysema, did her mother say she felt free.
A Macho Culture
“Our culture, it’s a little bit more of a macho culture, where maybe the men feels more entitled,” said Andrea Linardi de Minten, outreach coordinator at the Latino Research Center.
She described it as a culture where women are expected to stay at home and take care of the children. Linardi de Minten also submitted a short story to Sepúlveda for ¡Basta!
However, her piece, titled Un Café Por Favor, is among the minority of submissions that are entirely fictional.
It’s about a husband who physically and verbally abuses his wife.
“He thinks that because she doesn’t have to work outside the house, she has a good life, and she should be able to be thankful for what he provides to the house,” Linardi said.
“The way he asked her to make the coffee, he just treats her with very little respect, insults her, and he thinks he’s entitled to that.”
The plot escalates to the husband calling his wife names, including idiot and stupid.
“I treat you as a queen and that’s how you pay me when I asked you to make me a coffee,” Linardi translates from Spanish to English, as she reads it aloud off of the computer screen in her office.
¡Basta! accepts stories in English and Spanish. Linardi, who is from Argentina like Sepúlveda and Kozameh, is more comfortable writing in her native tongue.
Linardi didn’t want to give away too much about the story, but she did say there’s a point where the husband throws the cup at his wife. Here is an excerpt from Lindari de Minten’s piece:
De repente, Héctor tira la taza de café hacia la dirección de Susana, la taza cae al piso y hiere una de las piernas de Susana mientras Héctor le grita: “Ahora hazme un café y más te vale que esté caliente sino ya vas a ver lo que te va a pasar”.
Suddenly, Hector throws the coffee cup towards Susana, the cup falling to the floor and hurting one of Susana’s legs, while he yells, “Now make me a coffee and it better be hot or else you’ll find out what will happen to you.”
Thirty-six percent of women in the Americas reported either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in 2010 – with the highest percentage happening in Africa at 46 percent. Precise worldwide statistics can be hard to trace because there are 30 countries that have not passed legislation to prohibit domestic violence. Twenty-eight haven’t even passed laws to prohibit sexual harassment (UN Women, 37, source OECD Stats).