Venezuelan women are being murdered at a frightening pace, and yet the country still lacks a clear path of action to understand, report, prevent and eradicate this extreme form of gender-related violence.
Last year alone, the country registered 236 femicides, which means a woman was killed every 37 hours, according to the Utopix Femicide Monitor, a platform that gathers femicide data by scanning digital outlets since 2019. These numbers are even more alarming considering this is an unofficial count; the true scale of femicide is likely much higher.
Not to mention that 2022 also saw 119 frustrated femicides, referring to women who survived the attacks, while 68 Venezuelan migrant women were killed abroad, mostly in other South American countries.
If we look at recent years, femicides in Venezuela are growing exponentially. The Femicide Monitor tracked 167 cases in 2019 and 256 the next year, a 53 percent increase, as victims of machista violence were forced into lockdown with their aggressors during the Covid-19 pandemic. Then in 2021, 239 women were killed, almost on par with 2022.
Everything indicates that this worrisome trend will continue, but aside from feminist organizations, nobody seems to be sounding the alarms and there is no sign of a comprehensive government plan to assist women at risk.
A few months ago, I participated in a night vigil (nothing religious) to demand justice for all femicide victims. It was a small gathering and as we crossed two main avenues in central Caracas, activists received insults for writing “Ni Una Menos” [Not one woman less] at the foot of a statue. It made me realize how much work we have ahead to transform a society that worries more about “graffiti” than women’s lives.
Naturally, this is a worldwide problem. In 1976, feminist author Diana E. Russell coined the term femicide to describe “the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female.” Her purpose was to acknowledge these were patriarchal-enabled murders that demanded political and social solutions. She called for a global consensus to facilitate action.
Consensus is precisely what Venezuela urgently needs.
“Historically, femicides were never given much importance in our country, people were always shocked by femicides in Mexico but unaware that this was also happening here,” Venezuelan anthropologist and feminist activist Aimee Zambrano explained to me.
However — Zambrano continued— when you stop seeing these crimes as isolated events and you start to see the whole context and when you give it focus and name it and show it, this makes people become aware of the problem and how it is all rooted in patriarchy and the inequality that women suffer.
For Zambrano, who is the founder of the Utopix Femicide Monitor, Venezuela is in desperate need of a “feminist emergency plan.” One that must involve all state institutions, local and regional governments, the media, and the judicial and educational systems.
This plan begins with unified and detailed official data about all forms of violence against women, a national educational campaign addressing harmful stereotyped gender roles, gender-responsive policing and justice as well as access to survivor-centered shelters and support systems.
All of these things are more or less missing right now.
Venezuela’s last official yearly numbers on femicides came out in 2016 with 122 cases reported back then. Last year, Attorney General Tarek William Saab informed of 1,201 femicides, including frustrated cases, between August 2017 and November 2022.
Saab added that 1,081 murderers had been charged but only 443 were convicted. In five years, the prosecutor’s office also issued 322,456 protection measures for women (a number that gives an idea of how widespread the issue is) in situations of violence and in 2021 a special office for femicides was opened.
However, the numbers failed to provide categorized information. There was no differentiation between femicides and frustrated femicides, types of femicides as well as aggravating circumstances surrounding the murders, including women’s disappearances.
“In the absence of criteria and well-explained indicators, information and solutions become very gray,” stated Zambrano. The Femicide Monitor was precisely created to try to fill in these gaps.
The platform has identified that the home continues to be a deadly place for women, with 103 killed by their partners or former partners last year while organized crime was responsible for 30 femicides. Obstetric violence, which goes widely underreported, caused the deaths of at least 22 women, and an alleged illegal abortion resulted in one woman dying. One trans woman and two lesbians were also killed in 2022.
Another concerning pattern last year was women suffering sexual assault (19) and torture (25) as well as bodies being abandoned in public spaces (67). There was also a rise in girls and women reported missing (22) before being discovered as victims of femicide.
“It is important that we create a warning system. When a woman disappears generally femicide has occurred or it is associated with cases of human trafficking, forced prostitution, physical or sexual violence and even vicarious violence [using women’s children to inflict pain],” explained Zambrano.
Currently, Venezuela does not have an emergency response system for when a person goes missing (usually a child or a woman), such as the Amber Alert in the US, the Sofia Alert in Argentina, the Alba Alert in Mexico or the Isabel Claudina Alert in Guatemala.
The country’s justice system likewise has glaring shortcomings, ridden with sexist practices that have cost women’s lives, added the feminist activist.
In many femicide cases, there is a history of harassment with aggressors being detained but almost immediately freed. Women are often revictimized by officials, a practice that prevents them from continuing with the process.
For Zambrano, police, judicial and government officials across all state institutions are in great need of constant training with a feminist perspective.
Furthermore, Venezuelan women urgently need access to shelters equipped with legal, psychological, medical and social attention “because most of the time women and their children have no choice but to live with their aggressors,” resulting in their deaths. The country only has three such spaces right now, one less than in 2017.
“In conclusion, everything the Venezuelan state is doing regarding femicides and machista violence is insufficient despite recent efforts, and while many feminist organizations are doing a wonderful job to report cases and assist victims, we do not have the muscle to attend to the number of cases occurring daily,” concluded the feminist activist.
She is right.
While it is undeniable that Venezuela has some of the most advanced legislation regarding women’s rights born out of a decades-long feminist struggle and the Bolivarian Revolution, one thing is what happens on paper and another one is reality.
This is why a national feminist emergency plan is key. Such a plan implies a national media campaign to raise awareness of machista violence, especially femicides, and how to ask for help. It also requires feminist courses in schools, non-discriminatory access to justice and protection mechanisms.
Above all, we need to reach a consensus on prioritizing women’s lives.