Femicide in Guatemala reached a new height altogether during the 36 year long civil war, as many Mayan Ixil women faced the brunt of systematic policies of genocide through rape and brutalisation. As much as an undercurrent in conflict, femicide seems to subsist with as much rampancy in peacetime as it did in war time. There has been a history of violence and against women in Guatemala – no matter what form it manifests in. In 2012 alone, as many as 708 women suffered violent deaths consequent, according to the National Institute of Forensic Sciences. In 2013, up until June, there were 403 deaths. In Central America, the Central American Integration System and the Council of Ministers for Women in Central America have ranked Guatemala as the nation with the largest number of killings of women in the region.
Engendering justice against such a backdrop is necessary in the Guatemalan milieu. A separate Court for Femicide and Other forms of Violence against Women has been constituted in the province housing Guatemala’s capital city. Comprising three women judges, the country has come to earn the distinction of being the first in the world to so much as even have a specialised court for femicide and other forms of violence against women. Created by the Law against Femicide and other forms of Violence against Women, the court came into existence after approval in 2008, as a strategic response to the slew of murders of women in the country. Besides punitive measures, there are also preventive measures in a bid to protect the right of women to a life free from violence of any kind. It criminalises conduct of VAW, and also imposes penalties of varying degrees. The special court has already proved its prowess – having earned a sentencing proportion of over 30%.
What sets these courts apart is the fact that they have engendered the law – evaluating each case in keeping with the gender perspective, analysing each case, its facts and circumstances in keeping with the needs of gender justice. The court also ensures that its victims and witnesses are provided for – as it has a psychologist, a social worker, day-care facilities and other facilities that can engage children during their mothers’ participation in court procedures.
These courts have definitely been a “first step” of sorts. There are teething troubles, of course – whether in that testimony remains the chief source of evidence, or in that these courts are yet to have their presence in all parts of the country. Nevertheless, Guatemala has shown the world the tremendous potential of vehicles for engendered justice.
By Kirthi Jayakumar