“Decades of research reveal that the subjugation of women is directly linked with state and non-state armed violence. When women are left out of peace building—as in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan—the likelihood of a country sliding back into armed violence increases dramatically.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl
This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. In this post, we have excerpted parts from two pieces that have recently appeared in the World Politics Review: first, an interview with Patricia Leidl about government responses to crime against women in Latin America; and second, an article by Leidl and Valerie M. Hudson on the status of women’s rights in Yemen.
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Latin America: “Latin America’s Uneven Response to Growing Violence Against Women”
An interview with Patricia Leidl
WPR: What has prompted the recent public outcry against violence against women in Latin America?
Patricia Leidl: The “recent” outcry over violence against Latin American women is in fact not recent at all. Since the early 1990s, human and women’s rights defenders have been raising the alarm over steadily climbing rates of gender-based violence in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with the sharpest increases beginning in 2006 and escalating by as much as 21 percent each year. In South America, human rights observatories have likewise reported steadily rising rates of violence against women—but most particularly in Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, of the 25 countries that are home to the highest femicide rates in the world, more than half are located in Latin America.
It is perhaps no coincidence that many of these Latin American countries were embroiled in the “dirty wars” of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. These wars were characterized by the proliferation of small arms and extreme and systematic violence against women, which many scholars now believe set the stage for today’s epidemic of femicide. Human rights activists also speculate that women’s greater economic independence—in the form of low-paying and unskilled factory jobs in the wake of free trade agreements with North America, Asia and Europe—could be contributing to a climate of violence against women in a region whose culture of “machismo” traditionally relegates women to the domestic sphere.
WPR: Where does Latin America stand globally in terms of protecting women from violence and, more broadly, advancing women’s equality?
Leidl: Latin America both leads and lags when it comes to protecting women from violence. On the one hand, several Latin American countries recognize that sexually based crimes such as rape, human trafficking and domestic violence constitute hatred or misogyny—something many policymakers in North America, Europe and elsewhere fail to grasp. On the other, the continued low status of women throughout Latin America continues to impede change.
Police forces, medical examiners and the judiciary tend to be under-resourced or too corrupt to even investigate crimes, while police and the military are often implicated in murders and disappearances. In many Latin American countries—most notably Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—women’s rights defenders are being systematically disappeared and murdered, their bodies showing up bearing signs of almost unimaginable sexual violence and torture.
The so-called “war on drugs” is also contributing to increase in femicides, owing to gang activity and large deployments of heavily armed young men to already insecure areas. Where militarism and organized gangs hold sway, so too does impunity.
Nevertheless, in a number of South American nations, the very legacy of brutality and repression that has contributed to femicide may now help bring about its end, as former victims of repression acquire the political means to effect change.
Yemen: “Yemen’s Women Fight to Protect Uprising’s Gains Amid New Turmoil”
By Patricia Leidl and Valerie M. Hudson
Althaibani is just one of many Yemeni women who once believed that the 2011 uprising was the harbinger of a more moderate, more inclusive and peaceful Yemen. Despite violence from security forces, electrical cuts and food shortages during those protests, Yemenis of all stripes gathered in Change Square for months on end, determined to oust Saleh after more than 30 years of cronyism, corruption and uncontested power.
During those heady early days, women fully veiled in the niqab poured into the square, punching their fists into the air, leaping atop tanks and even camping alongside men. For some Yemeni women, it was the first time that they had ever uncovered their faces or spoken their own name in public. They demonstrated, cooked food, spoke to reporters, wrote about their experiences and dressed wounds. Many died and not a few were disappeared by Saleh’s forces. The world took notice: For the first time in the Arab world, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a Yemeni, and a woman—Tawwakol Karman, who helped lead the protests against Saleh.
There was a time in the country’s recent past when that might not have come as such a surprise: Contrary to popular belief, Yemen, like its neighbor Saudi Arabia, was not always as conservative as it is today. Prior to 1978, the year that Saleh seized power, tribal customs prohibited domestic violence, ostracizing any man who dared raise his hand against a woman. But in order to consolidate his rule, including in communist South Yemen after the fall of the Soviet Union, Saleh made common cause with more-reactionary Sunni Muslim religious groups, despite being a Zaydi Shiite himself, like the Houthis.
After the 2011 uprising, for a few brief months, it seemed that Yemen might return to its more equitable, less conservative pre-Saleh ways.
But four years later, the promise of women’s rights lies shattered amid the rubble of Yemen’s failed peace process. During the unsettled months before Saleh ceded the reins of power to his vice president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, as part of a 2012 deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the United Nations, fighting broke out between tribesman loyal to Saleh and various other factions. This put even greater pressure on negotiators seeking a political transition, even as Yemen’s other problems—including electricity cuts, dwindling food supplies and malnutrition—mounted. In Change Square, the united front that characterized the first months of the revolution fractured, as extremist political parties began enforcing their dour code of gender segregation with beatings and slander.
As the talks dragged on and the ever-canny Saleh continued to squeeze concessions from increasingly desperate negotiators, women’s rights faded into the background. The U.N. did manage to insist that a 28 percent quota for women be established at all levels of government. Once agreed upon, however, the quota immediately met serious resistance. Factions otherwise vying with each other for political power concurred on one issue: the necessity of blocking female participation.
According to Nadwa Dawsari, a senior fellow with the Project on Middle East Democracy, all the parties involved saw the quota for women as a threat to male privilege. “They wanted their own in power,” she says. “If the quota was enforced, then the men would lose influence.”
Even as they face a Hobson’s choice between Saleh and the Houthis or Hadi’s Saudi-backed government, Yemeni women are crucial to any long-term political solution. Decades of research reveal that the subjugation of women is directly linked with state and non-state armed violence. When women are left out of peace building—as in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan—the likelihood of a country sliding back into armed violence increases dramatically. The United Nations recognized this reality back in 2000 when it passed Security Council Resolution 1325, which formally called on states to mitigate the disproportionate impact of war on women and to grant women a greater role in managing and resolving conflicts. Clearly, the lessons of Yemen’s failed transition must be learned, as any new round of eventual political reconciliation, after the Saudi airstrikes stop and the Houthis put down their weapons, must include more women.