BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – Sofía Rodríguez’s father killed her mother, Noemí Cristina
Rodríguez, in May 2019. When a Buenos Aires police officer emptied the purse she was
carrying at the time, the first item to fall out was a restraining order. “It didn’t help
her at all having that paper in there. She carried it like a shield. To her it was as if
having it there meant nothing would happen to her,” Rodríguez says. Her mother had filed
police reports against her aggressor three times before, and the document ordered him to
maintain a set distance from her.
Since 2009, Argentina has had one of the region’s most advanced laws against gender-based
violence, which includes an array of protections. Some, like panic buttons and cellphone
applications, allow those in danger to notify security forces immediately. And more
recently, the country has introduced dual GPS monitoring devices, in which the aggressor
wears a tracking device on the ankle and the accuser receives either a handheld or
bracelet sensor. When the aggressor gets too close, both the accuser and the authorities
are automatically notified that the aggressor violated the restraining order.
But these measures were not enough to protect Melissa Julieta Kumber, a police officer
whose ex-partner, also a police officer, killed her in 2019. Kumber had reported him
previously and gotten a judge to issue a restraining order, but it wasn’t enough, says her
mother, Claudia Vallejos. “It didn’t work, and I believe the only measure that might save
a woman from femicide is that when the woman files the report, they arrest [the aggressor]
and do a full investigation.”
The number of women murdered in Argentina yearly has remained essentially the same since
2008, the earliest year for which data is available. This situation is not unique to
Argentina; it’s true across most of Latin America and the Caribbean, where legislation
addressing gender violence is widespread.
Costa Rica became the first country to criminalize femicide, a term coined in the 1970s by
British author and feminist Diana Russell. She defined it as “the killing of females by
males because they are female”. Since then, 18 other countries have since adopted the
Out of those 18 countries, 13 have implemented comprehensive laws to curb gender-based
violence. These laws contain preventive measures, education initiatives and reparations to
support the families affected by such violence. Among them is Mexico, where femicides have
seen an increase. In 2021, in the span of one year, more than 1,000 women were murdered
for gender-related reasons, marking a troubling trend.
And in the Caribbean, which has been much slower to pass laws to address femicide,
domestic violence rates are some of the highest in the region.
So, does this imply that the laws, along with the protection and prevention measures, just
Alejandra Valdés Barrientos, coordinator of the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin
America and the Caribbean at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and
the Caribbean, says the question is complex. “Going against culture means a difficult
legislative fight,” she says. “It is very difficult to change and eradicate femicide
because of the conditions under which it occurs, which is a perpetuation … of patriarchal,
discriminatory and violent cultural patterns and the predominance of a culture of
privilege for men.”
Barrientos adds that, even if these countries introduced changes in their penal codes,
many lack comprehensive legislation to adequately address prevention, such as regulation
of media portrayal of women, or the adoption of educational programs in schools.
“We can continue running large media campaigns once a year,” she says, “but we must take
permanent actions to train men and women to produce changes.”
Still, she recognizes that even a change to the penal code does have significant effects
on society and the judicial system: It allows authorities to investigate crimes from a
gender-based perspective and helps both the state and NGOs to collect data on such crimes,
Another crucial challenge in supporting laws against gender-based violence is instituting
reparations for the relatives of a person who dies by femicide, Valdés Barrientos says.
Argentina pioneered this approach with the 2018 Brisa Law, which established the
government’s responsibility in supporting the relatives of murdered women, dictating the
amount of reparations, and when and how it is to be provided.
For Rodríguez, only immediate arrests will help women like her mother. “My feeling is that
there is no cure for what happened to me. It just quiets down a little and then resurfaces
sometimes,” she says.