In a March 2013 report, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented comparative cross-country data on the state of violence against women in 12 nations across Latin America and the Caribbean. As the subsequent infographic by Hispanically Speaking News illustrates, Bolivia topped the chart by some margin.
When asked about their experiences over the past 12 months, one in five Bolivian women claimed to have been victims of physical abuse, with 53.3 percent of women reporting physical violence by a partner.
Intimate partner violence in Bolivia is 35 percent larger than the next highest abuse rate of 38.6 percent for both Colombia and Peru. At 17 percent, Dominican Republic appear to have the lowest, albeit still unacceptably high, level of partner violence against women.
Although it appears that more women in Bolivia, than in other Latin American countries, suffer abuse, only 16.5 percent of the surveyed said that wife-beating can be justified for a reason. 38.2 percent of Ecuadorian women and 22.9 percent of women from Paraguay reported believing so.
The PAHO report aims to bring awareness of the extent of violence against women in the region and its standing as a violation of human rights. It also argues that it carries serious consequences for public health – repercussions that need to move higher up the list of public health priorities. These include negative health consequences such as “physical injury, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS), maternal mortality, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide, among others”. According to the report, for example, “in Mexico City… rape and intimate partner violence against women was estimated to be the third most important cause of morbidity and mortality for women.”
This directly affects the economy. According to studies by the Inter-American Development Bank, for example, gross domestic products (GDP) of Nicaragua and Chile were reduced by 1.6 and 2 percent, respectively, as a result of lost earnings from violence against women. The report calls for a coordinated effort to tackle the domestic violence issue, with greater participation of the health sectors in affected countries.
By presenting comparable, cross-national data on violence against women in the region, the path-breaking report is the first of its kind. According to PAHO’s Director, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, “it is the sincere hope of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) that this report will contribute to increasing knowledge about violence against women in the Region and, more importantly, that it will motivate policy makers and programmers to grant this issue the political attention that it deserves by designing and implementing evidence-based initiatives and policies that can contribute to eliminating violence against women.”
There are already numerous organizations that work in Bolivia and that will be able to make use of the new findings to support their causes. Womankind, for example, is an international women’s human rights charity that has been building partnerships with local Bolivian women’s organizations since 2002. Their primary aim has been to improve women’s capacity to stand up against discrimination and domestic and other kinds of violence. They also work with the Bolivian government to help change mindsets and shift policies to include and prioritize women in decision making process. Click here to find more about Womankind’s work in Bolivia and here to learn about other organizations working to make a difference to Bolivia’s women.