By Firuzeh Shokooh Valle
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Puerto Rico's pioneering 1989 law against domestic violence is clouded by the U.S. territory's leadership in intimate-partner killings found in a recent survey. Critics say government budget cutbacks are making matters worse.
The Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres de Puerto Rico-MAMPR (General Organization of Women of Puerto Rico), a rights coalition, has denounced the government for not doing more to confront this issue.
On International Women's Day this year, March 8, coalition members visited the offices of female legislators and heads of agencies. They gave them gift boxes containing women's clothes that symbolized the absence of gender perspective in legislation and public policies.
One of the "honored" public officials was Feliciano, the head of the Office of the Women's Advocate.
"In this historic moment, the absence of women is even more evident at the Office of the Women's Advocate," the group said in a statement. "Silence and inaction of the Women's Advocate and the office's lack of firmness regarding women's issues creates a sense of terrible emptiness, lack of political will and makes the absence of women evident."
The group has organized artistic performances and demonstrations to raise awareness. In one case they protested in scanty costumes in front of the Office of the Women's Advocate as part of the performance "Deprived Muses" to denounce the government's neglect of women's and gender issues. The group recently convened a male performance, "Men Sweeping Sexism," in front of the Capitol, in which men carried brooms that symbolically swept sexism away.
The Caribbean island is in the midst of a severe economic, social and political crisis marked by rising unemployment, public sector cutbacks, declining property values, bank closures, rising murder rates and massive strikes and social unrest.
Amárilis Pagán, executive director of the Caguas-based Proyecto Matria, an advocacy group for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, says those problems--along with inaction on the part of pro-statehood Republican Luis Fortuño's government--have worsened the situation.
"The climate is so tense that it foments violence at all levels of our society, but especially domestic violence," said Pagán. "This is not a priority for the government either, contrary to previous years when we had specific campaigns that condemned domestic violence and made it clear that perpetrators would be punished. But right now, not even the Office of the Women's Advocate has had a prominent or proactive role. There is a general sense of impunity."
She also criticized the government's support for fundamentalist views through groups such as "Promise Keepers," an international Christian organization that describes itself as "dedicated to introducing men to Jesus Christ as their savior and lord, and then helping them to grow as Christians."
The U.S. National Organization for Women has described the group as focused on the control of women and imposing conservative social values.
In 1989, Puerto Rico approved one of the first and most progressive laws against domestic violence in Latin America and the Caribbean. It provides civil protective orders for victims and criminalizes physical and emotional violence perpetrated by partners or ex-partners legally married or not. It also eliminates the right of a married man to non-consensual sexual intercourse with his wife or partner.
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Firuzeh Shokooh Valle is a journalist from Puerto Rico.
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