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Changing attitudes on gender violence among young people in Argentina

According to the United Nations (UN), violence against women and girls constitutes the most widespread form of human rights abuse.

Surveys suggest that 1 in every 3 women around the world will experience some kind of violence or abuse in her lifetime, usually from someone known to her. Over the last few months, Argentina has been shocked by a spate of brutal attacks on women. 14 violent deaths have occurred already this year, with some of the women burned alive by their partners.

Last year, figures from the Argentine National Supreme Court of Justice for Domestic Violence show there were over 650 cases of domestic violence reported by women in 2010, an increase of 75 per cent over the previous year. Though there is a general worry about increased levels of crime against women, the higher number of cases could be due to a greater trust in the legal system and a higher awareness among women that they can do something about the problem. However, there is still great reluctance among some women to come forward. And according to one local organisation, there are not always the facilities or services to deal with abused women effectively. ‘Victims against Violence’ says there is only one emergency shelter for women across all of Argentina. According to Amnesty International, gender violence in Argentina has much to do with cultural stereotypes and traditional roles, with men growing up in a machismo-orientated society.

Now one city in Argentina has begun to tackle the problem head on. In Tigre, with a population of around 340,000 people, a ‘Programme for the Prevention of Gender Violence’ has been initiated among adolescents. Social experts hold workshops on gender violence and carry out surveys in the city’s secondary schools. Adolescents are particularly targeted because this is when relationships are normally just starting. The programme organisers believe it is the ideal time to form characteristic behaviour.

With the local police receiving a high number of reports about the mistreatment of children, the authorities have also begun to work in nurseries and primary schools. Experts say there is a close link between those who suffer abuse as a child and those who practice violence later on in life. The campaign in Tigre also aims to ensure positive gender roles are portrayed in textbooks and classrooms. When women are presented as “weak” or “submissive” and men as “strong” and “macho”, such representations can lay the foundations for an imbalance in the relationship between the sexes and make domestic violence more likely.

At least with initiatives like the one in Tigre and more cases of abuse being brought to court, as one lawyer says, “women nowadays get real and more attention” and are increasingly coming forward with problems.

Laurinda Luffman signature