Guatemalans scale volcano to protest domestic violence

Violence against women has surged in Central America, prompting awareness efforts like the one in Guatemala this weekend.

Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters
People climb up the Volcan de Agua (Volcano of Water) to participate in the Subida por la Vida (Climb for Life) event to campaign for peace, about 37 miles from Guatemala City over the weekend.

Thousands of people, one after the other, climbed to the top of a dormant volcano in Guatemala over the weekend, ascending the 12,352-foot slope of the Volcan de Agua (Volcano of Water).

They weren’t on an adventure excursion though. It was a mega protest against domestic violence, which included 12,000 women, children, and men (including Guatemala’s new president Otto Perez Molina).

Look at the photos here

Violence has dogged Central America, and while it is gang killings and drug trafficking violence that dominates headlines, violence against women is rising.

The march in Guatemala is one of several actions organized by human rights defenders in recent years. We reported about a creative effort in Suchito, a colonial town outside of San Salvador, where centuries-old whitewashed homes were adorned with permanent wording that read: “In this house we want a life without violence towards women.”

The stencils, including a bird and flower, are the work of the Feminist Collective for Local Development to “elevate societal rejection of domestic violence, and make it a subject we should all be worried about,” local feminist activist Morena Herrera told me.

And this week the Nobel Women’s Initiative, begun by women laureates in 2006, is in Mexico, and heading to Honduras and Guatemala, from Jan. 22 to the 31, to talk to defenders of human rights for women, and to focus on the unsolved killing of women in the region.

The United Nations recently named Honduras the most violent place on earth, and Mexico has the dubious distinction of being home to five of the world’s ten most deadly cities," they wrote on their website.

Their work comes as crime against women has increased across Mexico and Central America. InSight Crime reported last year that the Salvadoran Women for Peace (Organizacion de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz - ORMUSA), which tracks violence against women, says there has been a five-fold increase in “femicides” over the last decade, outstripping the murder rate.

In Guatemala, the BBC reports that some 600 women were murdered in the nation last year.

Nowhere are femicides more notorious than in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, where women began disappearing in the 1990s. InSight Crime says that some 1,500 females have been reported missing since 2008, according to Mexico's special task force on violence against women.

In all of these countries, violence against women has increased alongside organized crime. But as InSight Crime notes:

 “The kind of ultra-violence associated with the killings of women may be an indicator less of organized crime, than of the culture of violence that comes in the wake of organized crime.”

Domestic violence has many roots, but the one that analaysts often point to is a cultural of machismo that runs throughout Latin America.

In Guatemala, the march was an attempt to forge a culture without violence, particularly against women. "We're trying to get young leaders to start a generational change in attitudes where people say - until now we've sort of accepted that there is this culture of violence, but no more," said British ambassador Julie Chappell to the BBC.

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