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Violence against women in Latin America: Is it getting worse?

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In some countries violence against women is far worse today, from a spike in femicides – the gender-based killing of women – in places like El Salvador and Honduras, where the drug war has become deadlier, to the disturbing trend of acid attacks against women in Colombia. In light of the Nov. 25 United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, this uptick leaves many questioning what can be done.

Why target women?

Last April Nadine Gasman, the head of UNiTE to End Violence against Women for Latin America and the Caribbean, a UN initiative that fights impunity and works to change cultural attitudes, attended a meeting with police, prosecutors, and justice ministries across the region to talk about violence against women.

"What was clear is that there is an increased number of [acts of] exacerbated cruelty," Ms. Gasman says. "We don't understand why."

Violence against women is linked to a number of factors, including hard economic times and communities where violent crime is endemic. But Gasman, like many observers, says that part of the spike in several countries could be attributed to different paces of change in society: Women are reporting crime more, but justice systems are not responding, making them even more vulnerable.

"Women are asking for rights, and men get very violent; and because the system is so cumbersome and does not provide responses quickly enough, violence gets worse and worse," Gasman says.

Femicides in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have all shot up in recent years, registering some of the highest rates in the world. The latter has seen the biggest spike in femicide in Latin America, with 637 women murdered in 2011, almost quadruple the rate from a decade ago, says Silvia Juarez, who heads the violence against women program for the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace.

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