By Danilo Valladares
GUATEMALA CITY, Jan 31, 2012 (IPS)
The relentless wave of femicides in Guatemala, which has one of the highest female murder rates in the world, has prompted actions by the government, civil society groups, and two Nobel Peace laureates to try to put a stop to this brutal violence against women, which has reached horrific proportions.
According to information from the Presidential Commission against Racism, 705 Guatemalan women lost their lives to gender-related violence in 2011, most of them by gunfire, up from 675 deaths the year before.
This alarming situation has spurred a range of reactions from both civil society and the government.
On Jan. 24, only days after his inauguration as president, right-wing retired general Otto Pérez Molina formed a “task force to combat femicide”, which is the term used in Guatemala to denote gender- motivated killings. Women’s organisations define femicide more precisely as the phenomenon whereby women are murdered because they are women.
This task force, created under the Interior Ministry, the body in charge of domestic security, will be headed by former Prosecutor Mirna Carrera and will focus on intelligence and investigative efforts with the aim of preventing more women from being murdered.
“Femicide is being addressed as a matter of state policy, and a message is being sent out to aggressors that their actions will not be tolerated and that they will be punished,” Mayra Sandoval, a representative of the non-governmental Observatory against Femicide, told IPS.
The activist acknowledged that the Pérez Molina administration – which began its four-year term on Jan. 14 after winning the election on the promise of taking a “firm hand” against crime – “is concerned about violence in general.”
But in the case of the femicide task force, “we need to examine whether its members are qualified to handle a crime scene where the victim is a woman,” she said.
While Sandoval valued the government’s reaction to these crimes, she said “preventive efforts are also needed, otherwise, we’ll just be treating the symptoms without ever getting to the root of the problem.”