By: Lykke E. Andersen*
In 2013, Bolivia passed Law No. 348 titled “The Integral Law to Guarantee Women a Life Without Violence” in order to address the high levels of physical and sexual violence against women, and the unacceptably high levels of femicide (basically defined as a woman being killed by someone she knows).
A special police force, FELCV (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra la Violencia) was created by the law, and they attended 57,773 cases of violence against women and 68 femicides during their first 20 months of operation (1). That corresponds to about one femicide every 9 days in Bolivia. During the 5 months from January to May 2016, FELCV attended 13,724 cases of domestic violence and 21 femicides (2), corresponding to about one femicide per week in Bolivia.
The law is very tough on the aggressors. A femicide will land you 30 years in prison without possibility of parole. For comparison, according to the Penal Code, a homicide only carries sentences of 5 to 20 years in prison, or if the victim is a child, up to 25 years. Physically abusing your wife may result in sentences of 2-4 years if there is no permanent damage, but 5-12 years if the damage (psychological or physical) prevents her from working for more than 90 days. Sexually violating a woman, who is so drunk that she is unable to resist, carries a prison sentence of 15 to 20 years (add 5 years extra if she gets pregnant due to the violation) (3). This means that a man could potentially serve more time in prison for raping one drunk woman for 5 minutes than for killing 4 men.
Given the differences in the expected costs of killing a woman compared to a man, you would expect homicides to be much more common than femicides. And indeed they are. According to the latest statistics available, men are at least three times more likely to be killed by inter-personal violence than women in Bolivia. Of all the deaths of 15-49 year old men, 9.8% are due to inter-personal violence, while only 2.8% of the deaths of 15-49 year old women are due to inter-personal violence (see Figures 1a and 1b).
Figure 1: Causes of death for 15-49 year old females and males in Bolivia
Women are much more likely to die from pregnancy related complications than from violence. 9.9% of the deaths of women aged 15-49 in Bolivia are caused by complications during pregnancy and child birth (including unsafe abortions), while only 2.8% are caused directly by inter-personal violence (see Figure 1a). Thus, men are more likely to kill women lovingly than violently.
Of course some proportion of pregnancy related deaths might be initially caused by violence, but it seems unlikely to be the majority. Even if we make the hopefully extreme assumption that 50% of all maternal deaths are the result of sexual violence, women are still less likely to die from violence than men.
The laws in Bolivia are clearly skewed in favour of women, although men apparently suffer more from deadly violence than women. But the application of the law is quite different from the letter of the law. Most women would be reluctant to put the father of their children in jail for many years, no matter how abusive he is, as the loss of his income does not exactly make it easier to raise the kids. In rural areas, the families of a young rape victim might prefer to privately negotiate a cow as compensation, rather than officially denounce the rapist and put him in jail (4).
As long as women are financially dependent on men, the law is unlikely to be very effective. Still, that could change quite rapidly if several courageous women step forward and put their violators in jail, and thus set off a virtuous circle where more women denounce violations, and more men are deterred from committing the crimes in the first place. Certainly, I would be careful if I were a man in Bolivia, and I would be particularly careful not to mess around with an economically independent woman, or her daughters.
(3) Articles 308 and 310 of Law No. 348.
(4) For example, see p. 15 of this European Parliament study “Sexual violence against minors in Latin America”: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/578023/EXPO_STU(2016)578023_EN.pdf.
* Lykke E. Andersen is a Senior Researcher at INESAD. She greatly appreciates feedback on this post either in the comments below or directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of everybody at Fundación INESAD.