An assessment of health sector guidelines and services for treatment of sexual violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
In Central America, approximately 12% of women report ever having been forced to have sex by an intimate male partner, and sexual violence by others is also a frequent experience. All Central American countries are signatories to human rights agreements that oblige States to ensure access to comprehensive health services for victims of sexual violence, but there is limited information as to whether these agreements have been translated into policy and practice. This article critically examines health sector guidelines for the treatment of sexual violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and reports on an assessment of services in 34 private- and public-sector facilities in the four countries.
Overall, policies were consistent with international agreements and included guidance on detection and documentation of violence, forensic examination, treatment, referral and follow-up care. However, only a small proportion of women who experience sexual violence actually seek care. The challenge facing all four countries is to turn policy into practice. Screening practices were inconsistent, and policies needed to indicate more clearly the roles and responsibilities of health care providers and forensic specialists. Finally, women’s right to privacy and confidentiality in reports of cases to legal authorities needed further consideration, as well as the importance of providing all services at a single location.
HIV-positive women in Central America are being pressured to undergo sterilisation
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that HIV-positive women in Central America are being pressured to undergo sterilisation by prejudiced health workers and misled about the risk of the virus being transmitted to their unborn children. According to a survey of 285 women living with HIV in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua found that 23 percent of them had faced pressure from doctors and nurses to be sterilised.
The rate ranged from 20 percent in Nicaragua to 28 percent in Mexico, according to research by the Mesoamerican Coalition for the Reproductive Rights of Women with HIV and the Women and Health Initiative of Harvard School of Public Health.
The consistency of the rate over a large geographical area pointed to a “systematic pattern” of pressure and coercion, said Harvard School of Public Health research fellow Tamil Kendall.
“It’s really unthinkable that women living with HIV are being pressured and forced into sterilisation when treatment almost eliminates the possibility of the mother-to-child transmission… and also provides options for safer conception and pregnancy,” said Kendall, who presented the research at an international conference on AIDS in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“In this day and age there is no reason why women living with HIV can’t safely exercise their reproductive rights,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that it was likely the attitude of many health workers reflected the stigma towards HIV in the societies they came from.
Citing U.N. figures, Kendall said there were 59,300 women living with HIV in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in 2012.
The study said pregnant HIV-positive women – whose status was known to health workers – were almost eight times more likely to report an experience of pressure or coercion to sterilise than women with HIV who were not pregnant.
In one “particularly horrific” case, Kendall said a Mexican woman was sterilised without her knowledge while under anaesthetic for a Caesarean section. When she woke up, her thumb had been dipped in ink so it could be used on a consent form.
In another case, a young Salvadoran said nurses threatened to deny her a Caesarean unless she signed up to be sterilised.
Without treatment, the likelihood of a HIV-positive mother transmitting HIV to her child during pregnancy, labour, delivery or through breastfeeding ranges from 15 percent to 45 percent, WHO says. With the right antiretroviral treatment, the transmission rate can be reduced to below 5 percent.
The women surveyed in Central America came from rich and poor, rural and urban backgrounds. Women of indigenous and African descent were also represented. Yet neither their ethnicity, nor economic or social status were significant in indicating whether they were likely to be pressured to sterilise, Kendall said.
Sepur Zarco Case: Military commands taken to court for rape, sexual slavery and by domestic violence in Guatemala
Miguel Ángel Gálvez Judge presides over the court of First Instance located on the 14th floor of the Tower of Courts in the center of Guatemala City. On Tuesday October 14, 2014, after three hearings with the Public Affairs Ministry, the prosecutor, the plaintiffs and the defense of two accused military officers, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez decided, following an analysis of the law in light of the evidence, testimony and arguments, that army colonel Esteelmer Giron Reyes and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij will have to attend an oral and public trial.
Esteelmer Reyes Francisco Girón is accused of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery, murder and humiliating treatment. Heriberto Valdes Asij is accused of forced disappearances and sexual violence. The historical truth will be heard at a trial in October 29. Until then, both accused remain in preventative prison.
Sepur Zarco is a community in the municipality of El Curtain in Izabal. There, a military detachment was built during the hardest years of war and genocide, in 1982. There, crimes against humanity were committed, rape and sexual slavery of about 20 women amongst them. Some of these women had their husbands and relatives killed or disappeared too.
Read more about this case in CAWN’s blog!
Eviction of the Garifuna community of Barra Vieja
The Garifuna Women of the Tornabe Network, Honduras, have informed our partners that on September 30, at dawn, their families were evicted and their homes destroyed. Below, more information from AlbaTV and Radio Mundo Real:
Barra Vieja is located adjacent to the tourism project Indura Resort, owned by the Honduran power elite. Since August 6 there have been eviction attempts, only frustrated by the repeated failures in the drafting of an eviction order.
“Right now we are being evicted by the police and the army, and this is due to pressure from the Indura Beach & Golf Resort project,” Nahum Lalin said to Radio Mundo Real, He’s the leader of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organisation (OFRANEH), and eexplained how the police and military contingent proceeded to destroy the homes of families that have been living in these lands for more than 55 years. The members of this community are about to become landless and homeless, not knowing where to go. The eviction order came from the Justice Department of Tela. Prominent public servants took part in the process of eviction, and have admitted receiving funds from Indura Beach.
Recently a hearing was held regarding the case of the Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), regarding the offences committed against the community in the 80s, instigated by the rising of speculation in property.
The human and territorial rights of the inhabitants of Barra Vieja have been violated, and this eviction is part of a strategy to clear the coast from the Garifuna people, who have inhabited the area for more than two centuries.
OFRANEH demands respect for the rights to the ancestral lands of the Garifuna in Honduras, and the immediate return of usurped lands in Barra Vieja.
Autumn 2014 Newsletter out!
25 September 2014
A new turn of the season means another edition of CAWN’s newsletter. More calls for solidarity, analysis, news, invitations and more – from women and from Central America.
In this edition, we highlight the plight of hundreds of women are incarcerated across the world for having suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and other obstetrical complications without medical attention. Many of them live in El Salvador, where they usually live in poverty and marginalization. Some have been sentenced to decades behind bars.
CAWN is working with our Salvadoran partner the Citizens Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion on a campaign to free 17 of these Salvadoran women. On 25 September these issues will be discussed in detail in an evening debate in London.
Indeed, this year is one of intense activity around this International Day of action in London, with a coalition of feminist and human rights organisations launching the first edition of the Festival of Choice. The Festival encourages people to join the discussion on abortion and works on an inclusionary basis and it offers a packed programme of activities between 23-28 September – including ours on Thursday 25th!
A pro-choice festival in London!
CAWN is proud to have co-organized the Festival of Choice, a pro-choice festival to take place in London between 23 and 28 September, in solidarity with the International Day of Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion (28 September).
We aim to raise awareness of threats to reproductive rights and the plight of women and girls in countries around the world who do not have access to safe and legal abortion. The Festival also wishes to celebrate the solidarity and activism of women and girls and to strengthen and support the prochoice message, locally and globally.
On Thursday 25 September, a special Solidarity discussion on the Impact of Banning Abortion in El Salvador will take place between 6.30 and 9.30pm at Amnesty International Secretariat - book your free tickets now to avoid disappointment!
Honduran woman campesino leader assasinated
Last week, Honduran campesino leader Margarita Murillo was murdered by three heavily armed men while she was working her land in Villanueva, in the northern region of the country. Her assassination is one of the latest in a long string of murders against members of the Honduran Resistance Front. Former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya is one of the principal leaders of the Resistance. He confirms that since the 2009 coup d’etat, which removed him from office, the political repression and persecution against members of the resistance has only increased.
“Since the coup d’état there has been murders, massacres and barbarous acts. We have made complaints to every international organization and nobody does nothing to stop this brutal and criminal subjugation of which the people of Honduras are victims,” explained Zelaya.
About Murillo’s murder, he expressed that “the death of Margarita Murillo, a campesino and workers’ leader and a coordinator of the Resistance and the Libre Party is a crime that we emphatically condemn, because it touches the most intimate fiber of all of the Honduran people. With her murder, more than 300 resistance members have been assassinated. In five years, 36 journalists have been killed, as have 80 lawyers, and more than 73 campesino leaders. And more than 1,500 complaints of human rights violations that still have yet to been investigated”.
CAWN warmly welcomes the support of Jean Lambert MEP. Jean is a Green Member of the European Parliament and voices like hers are crucial to save women’s lives and to free unjustly incarcerated women in El Salvador. CAWN thanks Jean Lambert wholeheartedly.
Jean has issued a statement calling for the abolition of a law prohibiting all cases of abortion – and even criminalising miscarriage victims – in El Salvador.
Nicaragua: Illegal raid and harassment of feminist organisations
An illegal raid in Silvia Suarez’ house was held on the night of the 4th of August by police forces without any court order. Silvia is the director of Casira Foundation, offering shelter to female victims of violence. The entire house was searched. When Silvia asked for a search warrant, a police officer responded that they were under the orders of Daniel Ortega and he added ‘You’re involved in political activities. The repressive grip is tightening. We will meet again and act!’
The state has carried out a series of repressive measures against feminist and progressive political opposition, including disappearances of people in rural areas, attacks in which these attacks took place and other measure that have been denounced as violating basic human rights.
International recognition of trafficking of women and of violence against women informal workers
Wednesday 30 July, World Day Against Trafficking, gave CAWN the opportunity to remind ourselves and others about an excellent critique of media and civil society discourses on this complex issue, which CAWN published to learn from the experience of the London 2012 Olympics. Please, let us know if you’d like a hard copy of our ‘Trafficking and Exploitation of Women‘ report.
Similarly, on 25 July, the Orange Day was a time for reflection and action to tackle violence against women and girls who work in the informal economy. Over half of Central Americans are informaly employed, women mainly – many experience various types of violence. CAWN’s paper ‘Surviving as we can‘, provides plenty of case studies and data on this issue.
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