Violence against women; a matter of justice

Miriam Iquique and Olga Tumax-Ecumenical Women's Network (REM). Photo: Suzanne Rumsey

Violence against women and violations of women’s rights isn’t just about rape and murder; it’s also about the lack of access to adequate health care or the lack of respect within their communities and countries. Defending and promoting women’s rights involves equipping and empowering women to speak for themselves and that is what The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund has been doing for 50 years.
It is not a coincidence that November 25 is marked by women’s organizations around the world as the International Day to End Violence Against Women.  The date was chosen to commemorate the assassination on November 25, 1960 of three sisters and political activists in the Dominican Republic.
The date is also the beginning of “16 Days of Activism for an End to Violence Against Women” during which time International AIDS Day (December 1), the Montreal Massacre (December 6) and International Human Rights Day (December 10) are marked.  Begun in Latin America, the “16 Days” involves women’s and other civil society organizations in 130 countries.

As one enters this season of mourning over injustice and violence, consider these few examples from Central and Latin America:
Project Counseling Services in Peru is helping to reweave the social fabric of Indigenous women who have been victims of sexual violence, especially during the 20-year civil war.   The organization worked in partnership with numerous groups to ensure that the testimonies of these communities that suffered torture, assassinations and disappearances, appeared in the 2003 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those stories ensured that the use of rape as a weapon of war was also included in the report.  In a country where to be a poor, Indigenous woman is to be three times invisible, and in a language (Quechua) where there is no word for rape, this naming, documenting and finally calling for compensation for rape victims has been a crucial step in the healing process.  
In Ciudad Juárez on the Mexico/U.S. border, organizations such as Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters) addresses feminicidio, the murder of women simply because they are women.  They work through advocacy groups and public campaigns. In a city where drug wars pre-occupy Mexican police and politicians, violence against women is blatantly ignored. Justicia and other organizations are calling not only for justice, but for a re-valuing of the lives of those hundreds of women who have been and continue to be so brutally killed and a healing of this wounded community.
Miriam Iquique is the coordinator of the Ecumenical Women’s Network (REM) in Guatemala. On May 16, 2009, Miriam’s 19-year-old son, Axel Coroy Iquique, was kidnapped just north of Guatemala City. The kidnappers demanded 20,000Q (about $2,800 CDN) in ransom to be paid within 24 hours or Axel would be killed.  Miriam’s family was able to gather 13,000Q and Axel was released the following day with signs of having been tied up and beaten. 
Two days earlier, Miriam’s cousin and the cousin’s daughter were assassinated.  The tortured bodies of Maria Margarita Iquique Car, 42, and Lesbia Equit Iquique, 24, were found along with two young children ages 2 and 5 who were still alive but suffering from hypothermia. Miriam has since suffered two assaults and received death threats.  It is difficult to determine conclusively whether she was being targeted for her organizing work among rural, Mayan Indigenous women. 
PWRDF, who works in partnership with REM, subsequently contacted the Canadian embassy in Guatemala City, requesting that embassy officials visit Miriam. Miriam asked that the visit focus on the case of her murdered relatives and, ever politically astute, ensured that a large group of women representing the local women’s movement was present for the visit, including the head of the Chimaltenango office of the Presidential Secretariat for Women (SEPREM).  Miriam has noted a significant change in tone and an apparent willingness by the authorities to take them seriously.  She credits the visit and the diplomatic follow-up that ensued with inquiries and a letter to Guatemalan government officials, requesting information in the case from the Canadian representatives.
PWRDF works on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada to support organizations, programs and initiatives around the world to help restore dignity and human rights to women.
Your donations to PWRDF do make a significant difference in the lives of thousands of women and their families.

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