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Healing the Wounds of Violence

December 1, 2005

By Suzanne Rumsey

Latin America: staff travel report

Since 1981, November 25th has been 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 by agents of the dictatorship.
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) will be marked.  Begun in Latin America, the “16 Days” involves women’s and other civil society organizations in 130 countries.
For two weeks in November, PWRDF’s Latin America/Caribbean co-ordinator, Suzanne Rumsey, travelled to Peru and Mexico to meet with partners and organizations, many of whom are seeking to heal the wounds of violence against women.  In Peru, she met with organizations that are working together to reweave the social fabric of Quechua-speaking indigenous communities in Huancavelica province devastated by 20 years of internal armed conflict that ended in 2000.  An initiative coordinated by Project Counselling Services (PCS) together with national, regional and grass-roots organizations helped to ensure that the stories and testimonies of these communities that suffered torture, assassinations and disappearances, were made known through the 2003 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR).
But a unique contribution to the CVR that this coordination made was to ensure 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, was a crucially important step in the healing process.  Together with Canadian NGO Inter Pares, PWRDF is supporting the work of the same organizations to ensure that reparations are made and ongoing community reweaving continues.
In Mexico, Suzanne spent time with organizations working in Ciudad Juárez on the Mexico/U.S. border, organizations like Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters).  Through legal work, local, national and international advocacy, public campaigns and media work, Justica is seeking to address the phenomenon known as ‘feminicidio’, the murder of women, simply because they are women. In the past 10 years approximately 400 women have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez.  137 of these deaths involved disappearance, torture, sexual assault and, in some instances mutilation and dismemberment.
In a city where the free trade economic model of the maquila (sweatshop) industry, combines with the violence of drug trafficking, a border militarized by the U.S. border patrol, and Mexican authorities who simply turn a blind eye to violence against women, Justicia and other organizations are calling not only for justice, but for a re-valuing of the lives of those women who were so brutally killed and a healing of this wounded community.
A visit was also made to the community of San Luis Acatlã¡n in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero state.  Home to the Mixteco indigenous people, and a three-hour drive from the first-world opulence of Acapulco, San Luis is the poorest municipality in Mexico.  In San Luis, feminicidio does not have the same characteristics as in Huancavelica or Ciudad Juárez,  but its victims, poor, often indigenous women with little power in their families or communities, is not so different.
It is here that PWRDF partner, K’inal Antzetik working with local communities, mid-wives, health promoters and local authorities to defend and promote the rights of indigenous women, particularly with respect to their maternal health; in concrete terms, their goal is to reduce the maternal mortality rate which together with the poverty rate, is the highest in the country.   In a unique pilot project, they have formed a partnership with the municipal government to increase health care coverage through a collaborative program between traditional and occidental health care providers, to increase the number of officially certified mid-wives, to educate local women (and some men!) about maternal health care concerns, and to lobby state and federal levels of government to support this project.
November 25th has come and gone once again this year.  And the 16 Days will also pass.  But PWRDF partners will continue to heal the wounds of violence.  May we continue to walk with them and the women they accompany towards healing and wholeness.

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