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Puerto Rico: Voices Against Violence

They are more than numbers. They are faces, lives, dreams, and hopes. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, friends, workers, politicians, lawyers, academics, activists, students, straight, gay. Violence crosses class, race, ethnicity, national boundaries, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

In Puerto Rico, according to official statistics collected by the Office of the Women's Advocate, 178 women have been murdered by their partners or ex partners between 2001-2008. This year, already 16 women have been murdered in cases of domestic violence in an Island with a population of roughly 4 million people. There is an average of 20,000 domestic violence incidents reported to the police every year. Those are only the ones that are reported. In their latest study (2007), the government's Center for Victims of Rape calculated that 18,000 people, mostly women and girls, are victims of sexual violence every year.

There are many other forms of violence embodied in unequal wages, lack of access to health care and education, homophobia, and racism.

Poster of march against violence at the University of Puerto Rico. Republished with permission of the organizers.

Poster of march against violence at the University of Puerto Rico. Republished with permission of the organizers.

There are also many women, and men, resisting violence in creative and innovative ways. Today, November 25, on occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, that marks the first day of the world-wide annual campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, feminist bloggers in Puerto Rico have written posts on how violence affects their lives, their families, and their communities.

They have written poetry, in-depth analyses, and intimate reflections. They have written about structural, discursive, domestic, and sexual violence. They have written about unequal power relationships, public policies, laws, poverty, democracy, the economy, and even about violence against women in film. Let's see their faces, read their texts, and listen to their voices.

In her blog Mujeres en Puerto Rico [ES], feminist lawyer Verónica remembers how violence against women she knew, or was separated from by degrees, has touched her life since she was a child:

En mi temprana adolescencia, convencí a mi madre para que me permitiera hacerme mi primera manicura. En cuanto obtuve la ansiada autorización, corrí a un salón de belleza y allí conocí a Ada, la dueña del lugar. Simpática, agradable, sonriente, siempre trabajadora, Ada. Su socio era también su esposo, así que lo recuerdo a él también, entrando y saliendo del salón, mientras Ada trabajaba con mis manos. Un día, de repente, el salón de belleza amaneció cerrado. Ada había sido asesinada por su esposo. Se abrió la caja de pandora. Por primera vez, en mi vida escuché de primera mano sobre cómo la distorsión de lo que es una relación amorosa puede terminar en muerte. Perdí la inocencia.

In my early adolescence, I convinced my mother to let me have my first manicure. As soon as she gave me permission, I ran to the beauty parlor where I met Ada, the owner. She was nice and kind. She was always smiling and working. Her business associate was also her husband, so I also remember him entering and leaving the parlor while Ada worked on my hands. One day, suddenly, the beauty parlor closed. Ada had been murdered by her husband. For me, Pandora’s box was opened. For the first time in my life, I learned how a twisted sense of love can end in death. I lost my innocence.

Feminist activist Amárilis Pagán denounced in Brujas y Rebeldes [ES] the multi-dimensional aspects of violence perpetrated by the State.

Estamos de pie ante un sistema de gobierno que se ha convertido en el principal agresor de las mujeres en Puerto Rico. De pie y resistiendo por nosotras y por otras poblaciones que son igualmente vulnerables. De la misma manera en que la violencia doméstica se trata de una cuestión de poder y control, la violencia actual del Estado en contra de las mujeres de la Isla es un asunto de poder y control matizado por una perspectiva acartonada de lo que son- y deben ser- las mujeres a la luz de una concepción judeo-cristiana de corte fundamentalista que se ha entronizado en la esfera gubernamental. Este 25 de noviembre, Día Internacional de No Más Violencia Hacia las Mujeres, es obligatorio hablar de la violencia hacia las nosotras en sus expresiones más amplias y profundas. Esa violencia no se limita a la violencia en relaciones de pareja (violencia doméstica) y es, en realidad, una violencia que se ha filtrado a través de muchas otras facetas de la vida de las mujeres. Pensar que la violencia doméstica es el único tipo de violencia que se inflige a las mujeres de la Isla es simplificar un asunto mucho más complejo.

We are resisting a governmental system that has become the primary aggressor against women in Puerto Rico. We are resisting in order to defend ourselves and other vulnerable sectors of society. The same way in which domestic violence is an issue of power and control, state violence against women is also about power and control. In this case, it is framed by a limited vision of who women are, and are supposed to be, according to the Judeo-Christian fundamentalism that has invaded the government. This November 25, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it is necessary to talk about the varied and profound ways in which violence is committed against us. This violence is not limited to violence perpetrated in intimate relationships (domestic violence). Other forms of violence have seeped through other facets of women’s lives. To believe that domestic violence is the only kind of violence inflicted on women in this Island is to simplify an issue that is much more complex.

Performance denouncing violence against women in Puerto Rico. Video by Insula TV.

Feminist activist Nahomi Galindo-Malavé analyzes the multiple manifestations of gender violence in Poder, Cuerpo y Género [ES]:

En el mes de No más violencia hacia las mujeres, es importante recordar que todo acto de violencia encarna una red de relaciones de poder: en este caso, relaciones de género. Es por ello, que el objeto o “víctima” de la violencia de género no necesariamente es siempre una “mujer”.  Un ejemplo reciente de ello es violento asesinato del hombre gay de 19 años, Jorge Steven López. Para comprender este suceso como crimen de odio y como violencia de género, es importante entender cómo se despliegan a través de él las relaciones de poder y la construcción de las masculinidades… La violencia contra las mujeres es producto de las relaciones de poder que existen en nuestra sociedad. Se trata por tanto de una de las manifestaciones de la violencia de género, que se dirige contra todo aquello que no es inteligible, que rompe, que no se subordina, a las normas de lo masculino y lo femenino. Diferentes formas de violencia de género son las violencias domésticas, la violencia económica, los feminicidios y los crímenes de odio.

During the month of No More Violence Against Women it is important to remember that every act of violence embodies a network of power relationships. In this case, gender relations. This is why the object or “victim” of gender violence is not necessarily always a woman. A recent example is the violent murder of the gay 19 year-old Jorge Steven López. To be able to understand this murder as a hate crime and as gender violence, its important to understand how power relationships and the construction of masculinities work… Violence against women is the product of power relationships in our societies.  Therefore, it is one of the manifestations of gender violence directed to everything intelligible, that breaks with and does not bend to masculine and feminine norms. Domestic, economic, femicides and hate crimes are different forms of gender violence.

In El rincón de la cinefilia [ES], RDLC, who describes himself as a feminist man, does a critique of the films “What's Love Got to Do with It?” and “North Country”. He concludes that:

La violencia en contra de la mujer, ya sea en el ámbito íntimo del hogar o en donde trabaja, está mal. Podríamos pensar que luego de años y años de concienciación a la sociedad esta enfermedad hubiera culminado. Sin embargo, aquí estamos: año 2009 y las estadísticas sobre actos violentos en contra de féminas siguen más altas de lo que quisiéramos. Por ello, les recomiendo ambas películas basadas en hechos reales donde féminas (famosas y no famosas) luego de ser confrontadas con la violencia, supieron sobrepasar dignamente el epíteto “víctima”, convertirse en heroínas y llevar un mensaje claro: no más violencia contra las mujeres. PUNTO.

Violence against women is wrong, be it in the intimacy of the home or in the workplace. We would like to think that after so many years of consciousness raising, this disease should have been eliminated. But, here we are, in the year 2009, and the statistics of violence against women are still much higher than expected. This is why I recommend both of these movies based on true events in which women, famous and not famous, transcended from being “victims” to become heroes. They deliver a clear message: no more violence against women. PERIOD.

Feminist law student Mariana Iriarte discusses discursive and symbolic violence in Con otro y otras en el mundo [ES]:

Importante es entonces ser conscientes y concientizar a otras mujeres que la violencia física siempre es antecedida por la violencia simbólica, que antes de agredirte física o sexualmente, preparará el terreno discursivamente para que te sientas acorralada y sin salida, que anterior al golpe te hará sentir que no eres humana, que no vales nada, que eres un apéndice de él y más que su compañera eres su pertenencia. Reconocer que los roles que se te han asignado como mujer fueron construidos por los hombres para garantizar su dominio sobre las mujeres y que, sobre todo, nada de eso es normal. Por eso, hoy y siempre di no a la violencia contra las mujeres y sábete libre para hacer de tu identidad lo que te dé la gana.

It is important, therefore, to be aware and make other women aware that physical violence is always preceded by symbolic violence. That before you are beaten physically or sexually, the ground has been discursively prepared in order for you to feel surrounded, and without an exit. That before the blow he will make you feel inhuman, worthless, and that your are his appendage and his property. It is important to recognize that this is not normal, and that these roles assigned to you were constructed by men to guarantee women’s submission. This is why, today, always say no to violence against women and feel free to reinvent your identity as you please.

Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres de Puerto Rico.

In Poder, espacio y ambiente [ES] environmentalist and feminist law professor Erika Fontánez analyzes different forms of institutional violence against women:

Exigimos que se atienda la violencia, las violencias todas, las violencias de esta sociedad directas e indirectas, las obvias y las estructurales, contra las mujeres. Exigimos el cese de políticas excluyentes que tienen el impacto de fomentar nuestra exclusión y perpetuar la violencia, las violencias. No bastan las ‘palabras de hombre', no las queremos, queremos el reconocimiento en igualdad de condiciones y en igualdad de poder. Exijamos nuevas relaciones de poder en todas las cotidianidades que rompan con los ciclos de las violencias. No más violencia institucional ni de ningún tipo contra las mujeres.

We demand that violence be addressed: all forms of violence against women, direct and indirect, the obvious and the structural. We demand the elimination of policies that promote exclusion and perpetuate violence: all forms of violence. ‘Men’s promises and pledges’ (an imported campaign promoted by the government of Puerto Rico) are not enough. We do not want them. We want equality in power relationships and living conditions. Let's demand different power relationships that break with the cycles of violence. No more institutional violence against women.

In El diario de El Curio [ES], Yolanda Velázquez has posted poetry. The blog of the coalition Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres [ES] has information on the feminist movement in Puerto Rico.

  • http://monicaramela.wordpress.com Monica

    La violencia tiene muchas formas, no sólo las mujeres negras o indígenas, pobres o sin educación son víctimas, también lo hemos sido las otras. La violencia en el trato, en el uso de las palabras, en la discriminación, en el machismo. Cuando no puedes caminar por la calle sin escuchar groserías, cuando los hombres buscan aprovecharse de ti y muchas cosas más. Mi corazón y solidaridad a todas esas mujeres que sobreviven y luchan después de tanta adversidad.
    Mónica Delgado – Ecuador

  • Pingback: Feminist Peace Network » Blog Archive » Take Back the Tech: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

  • http://www.takebackthetech.net Erika Smith

    Gracias por este blog, una ventana a tantas acciones y perspectivas del movimiento feminista en puerto rico en contra de la violencia hacia las mujeres. increible el peformance de las 9 musas… e increible como sigue en aumento los feminicidios en tu isla pequeña. Es tan importante tener presente los números que a la vez no son números sino nuestras hermanas, madres, amigas como bien dices.

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