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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

More education needed to stop gender violence

Iraida Hornedo Camacho/Ileana Espada, PARE Committee compliance officer

By The Star Staff

The most recent wave of gender violence in Puerto Rico has brought to the forefront the need for a comprehensive plan to educate people and implement preventive measures that address the causes of the phenomenon.

Iraida Lugo, from the Gender Equity Observatory, said in an exclusive interview with the STAR that “I think that we have to take into consideration at a social level the situations that are occurring and that create an environment of violence that explodes in the most intimate spaces.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced people into their homes, sparking more incidents of gender violence and a lack of assistance due to strained social and government resources. This year, the Observatory has identified 61 cases of femicides, where 14 were intimate, 36 are under investigation, and two were perpetrated by family members.

“It’s not necessarily that there are more cases; it’s more that they’re more publicized,” Lugo said, noting last Saturday’s murder of a woman at the hands of an ex-policeman and leader of the United Front of Organized Police (FUPO by its Spanish acronym), who then committed suicide.

“Violence against women has, at a cultural level, the macho look of control over the couple,” she said. “Saturday’s case has to do with consent; that mentality assumes that ‘if you are not mine, you are nobody’s.’ It’s a matter of possession.”

“Even in the face of the [gender violence] state of emergency, there are more cases, but maybe it’s that people are becoming more aware and are identifying instances of violence, such as economic violence, that are aspects that our mothers and grandmothers accepted as normal, but this generation doesn’t,” Lugo suggested. “Now, everybody knows that no one has the right to violate another person.”

Later on Tuesday, meanwhile, Police Commissioner Antonio López Figueroa announced that agents from the Criminal Investigation Corps were investigating the killing of Zuleyka Fernández Rivera, which occurred at dawn in Río Piedras, in accordance with the protocol established for suspected cases of femicide and transfemicide.

“In accordance with the protocol promoted by the PARE committee and in accordance with the Governor’s public policy, all cases involving the violent death or apparent violence against a woman are investigated following this protocol. Therefore, we will keep the classification of the cause of death open until we can confirm that it is not a femicide,” López Figueroa said in a written statement.

Another critical aspect the Observatory is worried about is the regression of attained human rights, such as the right to an abortion, and the need for more feminist men.

“Not all of them are violent or aggressors, but that’s why education with a gender perspective is so important, because it also impacts adults,” Lugo said.

Tackling gender violence ‘takes time’

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia insisted that although progress has been made in addressing the issue of violence against women, it is a complex issue that takes time, calling the femicide of Iraida Hornedo Camacho by the former FUPO leader “terrible, unnecessary and horrible.”

“This is a problem that is not going to be solved overnight. Now we have femicides. Before, the crime of femicide did not exist in the statistics. We are continuously trying to improve so that, in the area of statistics, it is more accurate,” the governor said in an aside with the press. “So we are not going to stop [working on] this. This is a complex issue, but we are totally determined to continue the fight. And every one of these femicides is terrible, including the one that Ms. Hornedo just went through. This was something terrible.”

Pierluisi said both the Women’s Advocate’s Office and the officials in the Gender Violence Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education Committee (PARE) have done their job of training public and municipal employees on the issue of gender violence. More than 40 municipalities participate in the Protection Order and Order Processing Center. Those municipalities collaborate with commonwealth authorities to enforce protection orders in cases of gender-based violence. In addition, the protocol has been created for and public employees have been trained in the handling of gender violence cases. In public schools, a gender perspective curriculum will not be implemented, but equity and respect among all human beings will be taught.

PARE Committee ‘has not thrown in the towel’

Ileana Espada, PARE Committee compliance officer, denied that the group she heads has “thrown in the towel” in the fight against gender violence or that the body created by Pierluisi has become a “rubber stamp” despite the fact that the number of cases of gender violence reported at the local level continues to rise.

“The government began to implement measures on January 25, when the state of emergency was declared. In the statistics we are compiling, we see that more cases are being reported, which means that victims are seeking more help than before,” said Espada, who is also a prosecutor, in a radio interview (Red Informativa), while highlighting the training work promoted by the PARE Committee in public administrations, to avoid re-victimization in cases of gender violence.

“A systemic problem that has existed for years is the lack of reliable statistics, something we are remedying,” she said. “To measure compliance, you have to have numbers to know if there is more incidence. As the person responsible for the compliance, one of the important projects is to be able to adapt the mobile system, to have an electronic bank of protection orders which, in turn, notifies the victims when their order has been reported,” said the lawyer, assuring that the problems that the courts have regarding the granting of protection orders are being solved little by little.

Espalda also advocated for what she described as uniformity of services for victims of gender violence.

“There are 78 municipalities with 78 mayors, with different structures; some have stronger resources, others do not have those resources,” she said. “Part of what we want is that if a survivor who lives, say, in Caguas and moves to Lares to receive the same services, that uniformity of services, especially accessibility, is very important, no matter where you live in Puerto Rico. That has been one of the biggest challenges, to be able to give that support to the municipalities so that they can develop their offices, at least one person who has received training and knows where to refer that person.”

The governor extended the state of emergency until June 30, 2023 in the face of gender violence cases and emphasized the guidelines that agencies must continue to implement and which the Compliance Officer will follow up on.

“The work we started on January 25, 2021, with the Declaration of Emergency and our unwavering commitment to eradicate violence, is not over,” Pierluisi said in Executive Order 2022-035. “Therefore, we reiterate the public policy articulated in Administrative Bulletin No. OE-2021-013 and we commit to giving continuity to the initiatives and projects initiated and implemented by the Prevention, Support, Rescue, and Education (PARE) Committee. Furthermore, building on what has been achieved so far, it is worth ascending to the next stages of the fight against gender violence.”

Noting in a statement at the time that “gender violence continues to cause too much damage … in modern Puerto Rico,” the governor said “it is therefore necessary to continue working to achieve a society free of behaviors that cause physical, sexual, or psychological harm motivated by gender stereotypes.”

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