Sexualized Violence in Peru amid Covid-19

By Patricia Ruiz Bravo and Aranxa Pizarro 

Peru has been under sanitary emergency for the past five months due to the coronavirus pandemic. During this time, we stayed home for more than a hundred days following the mandatory lockdown established by Peruvian authorities. Currently and in spite of the government’s measures, Peru has become the country with the highest mortality rate in the world due to COVID-19. Along with the increase of COVID-19 cases, however, sexualized violence in Peru has also increased alarmingly, affecting especially women, children and members of the LGTBIQ+ community nationwide. 

As part of the measures taken to prevent coronavirus from spreading, the mandatory lockdown aimed to safeguard the health of the population in a country where the health system has been neglected for a very long time. For instance, when the pandemic started, the Social Health Insurance (EsSalud) only had 122 ICU beds nationwide. Due to the poor health system infrastructure mentioned and the speed of infection, staying home seemed like the best solution. However, for a large group of women, children and members of the LGTBIQ+ community, confinement, far from ensuring their health and safety, has diminished it as a result of the increase of sexualized violence and domestic abuse.

By the end of July, according to the Women’s Emergency Center, there has been more than 1600 registered cases of rape, and 73 cases of feminicide nationwide. Moreover, the calls answered by the Government’s hotline for people at risk have increased significantly this year in relation to 2019. So far, more than 130,000 calls have been made to report sexual violence, while in 2019 the number of calls for the entire year only reached 119,786 calls. 

“The Other Disease” by Leslie Moreno Custodio from Lima, Peru. The image is part of the Photographic Exhibition “Peruvian women in times of pandemic” organized by the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. © Leslie Moreno Custodio

Now that confinement is over, but we are still under a state of health emergency, the situation has not really changed. In fact, the problem is worsening and becoming normalized. Authorities and the civil society do not want to see the enormous damage that COVID-19, the mandatory lockdown and the current health emergency causes to women, children and, even less, to the LGTBIQ+ community. Newspaper articles focus on the economic impact of the crisis and the daily number of deaths, rather than dealing with the increase of sexualized violence and domestic abuse. 

Regarding the response of the Peruvian government, the strategies to prevent and address sexualized violence include containment measures as part of the Aurora program of the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations: there are temporary shelters, travelling emergency teams and emergency care services. However, these measures are not enough. Not even close. Especially because the number of shelters, travelling emergency teams and emergency care services is not enough to cover the people’s needs. For example, there are only 14 temporary shelters nationwide. Also, it is very complicated for the population at risk to call and report to the Government’s hotline when the abuser is at home with them. 

The government, the civil society and the private sector must, therefore, acknowledge that in this situation women, children and members of the LGTBIQ+ community are affected not only by the  pandemic due to COVID-19, but also by the conditions of confinement and imprisonment that aggravate sexualized violence and domestic abuse to unbearable limits. The fear of being hit or verbally abused and of the repetition of violent behavior makes daily life a perennial suffering. 

Other elements that further aggravate the situation include the fact that many women have lost their jobs, making them even more dependent on their partners and harder to escape abusive relations and domestic violence. Also, these conditions have made it more difficult for women to report, ask for help or escape the cycle of violence. Moreover, many women are still required to stay at home due to age, health problems or preexisting conditions, making it harder for them to make use of their formal and informal support networks. 

Domestic and care work further aggravate the situation, since it is overwhelmingly performed by women and under more difficult conditions during the health emergency (including problems in obtaining food, medicine and services). This is worsened by the presence of children who have stopped attending school until further notice and by family obligations to attend to their schoolwork. Also, a considerable number of men have lost their jobs or have had their incomes reduced, which has led to an increased  frustration. Even more so when they are confined to a space – the domestic sphere – which most men in Latin America do not consider theirs. The scenario is not easy, nor are the solutions.  

While we have made good progress on laws and regulations, daily life continues at its own pace. Sexism is there, embedded in the minds and practices of an extensive part of the population. Hegemonic masculinity, based on the belief that males have supremacy and power over women and their bodies, is far more prevalent than is being recognized by civil society and the authorities. 

“A New Normality” by Mónica Gulnara Vizcarra Sánchez from Huancayo, Peru. The image is part of the Photographic Exhibition “Peruvian women in times of pandemic” organized by the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. © Mónica Gulnara Vizcarra Sánchez

Also, it is crucial that the LGTBQI+ community is fully included in the government’s actions towards preventing sexualized violence amid COVID-19, especially since they are among the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society. This entails gathering data to learn more about the impact of the pandemic in their communities and the challenges that they are facing. More information about the sexual violence experienced by transwomen and the LGTBQI+ community is a key factor to demanding safer conditions and protection where they are needed. In Peru, trans and gender-diverse persons are still not recognized by the government and authorities which, as the United Nations Expert on Sexual Orientation said in 2018, “has created a legal vacuum, violating the right to equal recognition before the law, and in turn, the rights to health, education and housing”. 

So, what can we do? We need to start by promoting safer conditions for victims to report sexualized violence because “the negative response to speaking publicly or making a report to the local authorities can be so damaging that we have come to call this the second rape” (Alcoff, 2018).  This entails “public humiliation and harassment against victims, and a highly selective outrage dependent on identity” (Alcoff, 2018).  Promoting safer conditions to report sexualized violence must go hand in hand with holding people accountable for their actions and ending the culture of impunity that we have in Peru.

We also need to empower women and the LGTBQI+ communityto speak-up through LGBTQI+ and feminists/women’s rights organizations and movements. Their demonstrations – such as through the march #NiUnaMenos, student protests against sexual harassment, and the actions of LGBTQI+ collectives like No Tengo Miedo or Féminas Perú – have brought this other pandemic of violence out of silence and normalization. 

We also need to join forces and fight together to make visible the forms in which different women experience sexism, discrimination, violence, machismo, etc. Promoting #transnationalfeminisms is a way to share experiences and reflect on perspectives and challenges that women worldwide are facing and to join forces and find ways to navigate a situation that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon, since vaccines are still in the works and sexualized violence rates are still going up.

This article is part of the #DossierCorona thread #TransnationalFeminisms, which emerges from the online series “Transnational Feminist Dialogues in Times of Corona Crisis” organized by the Margherita von Brentano Center for Gender Studies at Freie Universität Berlin in cooperation with the MA Program Gender, Intersectionality and Politics at FU Berlin, Academy in Exile and Academics for Peace Germany.

A previous version (in spanish) of this blogpost was published here.


References

Alcoff, L. (2018). Rape and Resistance: Understanding the Complexities of Sexual Violation. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.


Patricia Ruiz Bravo is a sociology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where she is also Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. She holds a PhD in Social Sciences with a major in Development, Population and Environment from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. She is a researcher specialized in gender, higher education, culture and development. Currently, she is the Director of the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions of the same university. pruiz@pucp.edu.pe

Aranxa Pizarro Quiñones is a graduate MA student of Sociology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Her areas of interest are gender, feminist theory, higher education, social philosophy and trans studies and works at the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. apizarroq@pucp.edu.pe


Further articles in the thread #transnationalfeminisms of the series #DossierCorona on TRAFO:

Sabina García Peter, Nina Lawrenz and Tanja Wälty, Introducing #DossierCorona #TransnationalFeminisms, 1 July 2020.

Eliska Bujokova, Rewriting Histories of Care in the Times of Corona, 9 July 2020.

Vidisha Mishra, COVID-19, Technology, and the Future of Care Work, 15 July 2020.

Éva Fodor, Anikó Gregor, Júlia Koltai and Eszter Kováts, Household Divisions of Labor and Care Work in Times of COVID-19: Empirical Lessons from Hungary, 29 July 2020.

Ailynn Torres Santana, COVID-19 and Security Risks for Women: Indoors and Outdoors, 6 August 2020.

Andrea Dip, Brazil and Coronavirus: How Denialism, Religious Fundamentalism and Necropolitics has Disproportionately Affected Women, 13 August 2020.

Chia Longman, Covid-19 and Radical Self-Care, 20 August 2020.

Margreth Lünenborg, Wolfgang Reißmann, Miriam Siemon and Moe Kinoshita, “#systemrelevance in one word? women” – The Need for Analyzing Gender(ed) Media Discourse, 26 August 2020.


Citation: Patricia Ruiz Bravo and Aranxa Pizarro, Sexualized Violence in Peru amid Covid-19, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 02.09.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/24860.


Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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