Date: Mon, 7 Dec 1998 16:42:31 -0600 (CST)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS-LATAM: Domestic Violence Grows With Social Inequality
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Domestic Violence Grows With Social Inequality
By Daniel Gatti, IPS, 3 December 1998
MONTEVIDEO, Dec 3 (IPS) - Increasingly unequal income distribution is one of the chief factors fuelling the rise in domestic violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a regional seminar held this week in Uruguay.
"Latin America and the Caribbean, the part of the world with the least equitable distribution of wealth, is also one of the areas with the highest rates of violence in the home," said Chilean researcher Soledad Larrain, a consultant to the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB).
But "when we talk about inequality of income distribution, we're not talking about low income," Larrain told the seminar organised in Montevideo by the Uruguayan Ministry of the Interior's Programme of Citizen Security on Wednesday.
"In Chile, for example, which has seen explosive growth of its Gross Domestic Product in recent years, there has also been a regressive tendency in the distribution of that wealth," Larrain told IPS. "In other words, a growing social segmentation."
That phenomenon has led to an increase in violence - particularly domestic violence - in Chilean society, she added.
Larrain, a psychologist who has written several studies on domestic violence, also stressed the case of Central American countries which have recently emerged from long years of bloody civil warfare.
She especially cited the situation in El Salvador and Guatemala, where "a significant rise in citizen violence in post- war situations has been seen, partly due to the widening of social divisions."
Larrain warned that the "high level of physical and pyschological violence" seen in domestic partnerships in Latin America and the Caribbean means "children are being taught violence."
Studies in the region show that one out of every four Latin American and Caribbean women have been the victims of physical abuse at home, while 60 to 85 percent had been subjected to some degree of pyschological violence over the past year.
Overcrowded living conditions, unstable jobs and strict standards of family discipline are all factors attributing to domestic violence, which cuts across social strata, Larrain explained.
Physical abuse like beatings and rape predominate in the lowest- income sectors, while pyschological aggression - which can be equally damaging for the victim - is more common among middle and upper socioeconomic strata, she pointed out.
Research carried out by the IDB in several Latin American nations has shown that women who work outside of their homes and earn their own incomes are not only less likely to be beaten, but have greater possibilities of escaping the situation by separating from their partners.
In Santiago, Chile, women who have not been the targets of aggression by their partners tend to have incomes at least twice as high as those who have suffered domestic violence.
In Managua, on the contrary, no statistically significant differences were found between women working outside of the home and homemakers or women who generate income at home.
In Uruguay, stability of employment is one of the main factors marking the difference between women who are the object of domestic violence and those who are not. Among those with unstable jobs, domestic violence is three times more common than those who have stable work situations.
The educational level of the male partner is also a significant factor in whether or not he is violent with his mate - a correlation that particularly stands out in the case of Uruguay.
In Latin America as a whole, women who are the victims of chronic mistreatment show high levels of absenteeism and unstable work conditions, said Larrain.
Latin America and the Caribbean are no exception to the global rule that few women report cases of domestic abuse, partly due to the fear of being kicked out of their homes and left without an income or separated from their children, or of physical reprisals by their partners.
According to the IDB studies, only five to 15 percent - depending on the country - of the victims of domestic violence in the region report their abusers.
Argentine-Uruguayan sociologist Teresa Herrera and Argentine lawyer Silvio Lamberti as well as Larrain pointed to a variety of responses to domestic violence that had cropped up in the past few years in a number of Latin American legislatures.
The approaches differ. In Argentina, cases of domestic violence have fallen under the sphere of civilian courts since 1996, while in Uruguay they are dealt with by the criminal justice system. Peru and Puerto Rico have mixed systems.
Chile's system grants civilian judges the power to hand down sanctions for those found guilty of domestic abuse, Lamberti states in a paper presented at the Montevideo seminar.
But according to Larrain, the legal responses in the region have been patchy at best. "It has not been easy to reach a consensus on the concept of gender-based violence in general, or intra-family violence in particular, given...the clash between the rights of the individual and the institution of the family, defined by most legislation as the basic cell of society."
Another initiative seen in several countries in the region are women's sections of police precincts - which have provided particularly positive results in Brazil in pulling the problem of domestic violence out into the open.
In Peru and Ecuador, women's sections of police precincts work closely with non-governmental organisations with a long tradition of working with women.
Hot-lines and shelters are other instruments that have been implemented to address the problem.
In some countries, treatment groups for abusive men have emerged. Larrain stressed the case of Mexico - "a 'machista' country if there ever was one"- where the Collective of Men for Egalitarian Relationships reflects on masculinity from a gender perspective.
"It must not be forgotten that 60 percent of women who report violence stay with their partners, preferring that they change, that they take responsibility for their violence, rather than separating from them," Larrain underlined.
"The important thing is for legislation to provide for a follow-up, from an institutional standpoint, of women who denounce (their abusers), so that they are not left unprotected." In the absence of such provisions, she warned, those who dare report cases of abuse are commonly the victims of reprisals - which often end in death.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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