“The war on drugs has become a war on women”

Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu. Pic via CNN.

Violence against women in Latin America is on the rise–and it’s partly thanks to the US’s ineffective drug policies. A delegation of women, led by Nobel Laureates Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu, released a report yesterday on the horrifying levels of gender-based violence in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Over the past decade, there’s been a 257 percent increase in femicide in Honduras, a 40 percent increase in Mexico, and a more than 30 percent increase in Guatemala. And in the last couple years, 24 women human rights defenders have been assassinated in those countries. (Recall Agnes Torres Sulca’s murder just a couple months ago.)

The violence is being perpetrated by both organized crime and the government security forces fighting it. And increased militarization–supported by US military and police aid to the region to fight drug cartels–is making matters worse. The report summary states:

One of the most disturbing findings was that the governments, while formally recognizing the problem, are doing little in practice to abate the violence, particularly in cases that involve government forces. In some cases, governments are directly implicated in the violence. The mounting crimes of extreme violence and targeted repression against women remain largely uninvestigated, unsolved and unpunished, due to fragile state institutions, deep flaws in the political and justice systems of these countries and a lack of political will to reform policies and institutions that implicitly condone them.

Increasing militarization and police repression under the guise of the war on drugs has led to more violence overall and more frequent attacks on women, who lead efforts to protect their communities against threats to their lands and natural resources, and protest military and police abuses.

The report goes on to note that women in the region are calling on the U.S. to stop funding abusive security forces, and instead give more aid to “social programs that strengthen basic human rights and democracy.” Hopefully their voices will be heard. But even after four unarmed people, including two pregnant women, were killed in an American-led drug raid in Honduras recently, the US doesn’t seem very willing to shift its priorities.

You can read the full report here.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 6, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I don’t think this is a very accurate summary. Perhaps one that better fits the data would be “the war on drugs is killing a lot of people, and some of them are women”.

    Honduras
    “And there were close to 7,000 homicides there, a 250% increase in half a dozen years.”
    Honduras
    “On average, one woman is murdered every day in Honduras.”
    Honduras
    “Honduras has the highest rate of intentional homicide in the world, with 6,239 intentional homicides.”

    Guatemala:
    “According to the National Civilian Police, 5,681 people were murdered in Guatemalan in 2011. Of that total, 5,050 victims were male and 631 were female. Women comprised 11% of all murder victims in 2011.”

    The war on drugs is a huge travesty and all of these deaths are tragedies. We should turn this around and it’s a immense black mark on the United States that we are morally complicit in this huge and pointless waste of human life. It’s incumbent on us, at the very least, to stop enabling these breakdowns, and where possible to step in and stop horrors like the breakdown of safety in general, and femicide in particular.

    That said – we should not buy into the patriarchal, sexist story that women’s lives are important because they are valuable treasures, and men’s lives are unimportant because they are disposable. In a week when the New York Times revealed that the President of the United States has declared that all men in foreign countries are automatically considered “militants”, I think it is irresponsible to portray the big story of deaths caused by the war on drugs as though only the deaths of women matter and should be mourned. I think it plays right into the patriarchal views of women as objects and men as legitimate tools and targets of violence. As feminists I think we can and should do better.

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