Violence is never domestic, it roars wild where every day a woman serves dinner to the carnivore in porcelain made out of her broken bones.
The indigenous name of Puerto Rico means ‘Land of the valiant Lord’. Its citizens redefined its meaning as the land of the valiant boricuas. Valiance means courage and the Republican Government of Puerto Rico showed outstanding courage when it declared the state of emergency in the wake of the increasing gender violence crisis on the island.
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Declaration of Emergency until June 2022
The Government of Puerto Rico responded to the plea of thousands who asked the Island leaders to address the ongoing issue of gender violence. Newly sworn-in governor Pedro Pierluisi signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency that would allocate resources to deal with gender violence in Puerto Rico. The government believes that gender violence is a social evil, based on ignorance and attitudes that cannot have space or tolerance in Puerto Rico they aspire to have. The cause of this uprising violence/killings against women are systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education and guidance and above all, of action.
In the year 2017 Hurricane Maria not only destroyed life and property but also caused a substantial rise in domestic violence cases according to the analysis of GEN and TYPE investigation. The analysis found that in 2018, the intimate partner murder rate in the country rose to 1.7 per 100,000 women, up from 0.77 per 100,000 in 2017. In the year 2020, a total of 60 indirect and direct murders linked to gender violence were reported on the island. According to the Gender equality observatory, it was an increase of 62% from 2019. In the first three weeks of 2021, the citizens also mourned the loss of a transgender man and a young woman who lost their lives due to gender violence.
Puerto Ricans demand state of emergency amid rise in violence against women
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Puerto Rican Women’s Plan of Action for Equality, Development and Peace
Puerto Rico stands out as a pioneer in the Latin America and Caribbean region in the adoption of government policies for women’s rights. Since 1995 till date, several policies of legislation have been adopted and many became laws that continue to set policy in various areas involved in the protection and advancement of women in the country, thus creating better conditions for their development.
The government set up the Special Communities Agency that offers a series of workshops that train women on the subjects of health and violence. The commission for women affairs in 1996 also developed and established a Teacher Training Programme for men and women which was designed to promote gender equality in vocational education.
The Puerto Rican government passed several acts in the past to promote gender equality such as - In 1998, Act No. 3 was adopted prohibiting sexual harassment of the students in public and private schools, the Act also ensures that men and women can pursue their education free from the fear and pressure of sexual violence in their institutions of learning. Act No. 226 passed on 13 September 1996, established medical protocols to care for victims of domestic violence, as was Act No. 284 passed on 21 August 1999 which prohibited stalking, hence making it a crime in Puerto Rico.
In 2003, the office of the Procurator for Women delineated a model, for the prevention of violence in marital relationships between young couples, to be used as a teaching tool in public schools. The office established its first satellite bureau in Vieques to attend to the special needs of the women suffering from health issues or violence. The Working Mothers Protection Act was amended in 1997 so that employees who dismiss a female worker on account of pregnancy or deny her maternity leave were made punishable by suspension or revocation of their business, professional licenses or by a fine of up to $5000. In 1999, Act No. 129 of 17 June was adopted eliminating discriminatory provisions barring the overuse of business activities by married women. On 30 July, Act No. 181 granted an equal right to maternity leave to working mothers who choose to adopt children. The Roe v. Wade case of 1969, finally led to the legalisation of abortion in January 1973. Hence, all this shows that the government of Puerto Rico, from times immemorial, is dedicated to giving women the rights which would lift them out of poverty, make them self-dependent; is working towards women’s health and is strictly against violence towards women.
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Measures Under the Emergency
Coming to the contemporary situation, concerning the emergency, Vilma Gonzalaz, the executive director of the non-profit organisation ‘Paz Para La Mujer’ declared that Work doesn't end here. Now is the moment to start working. The executive order declaring a state of emergency aims to create a committee called PARE (an acronym in Spanish that means Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education of Gender Violence) that would work on determining what measures and policies should be taken to address the ongoing crisis in the island.
As a part of the executive order, a mobile app will be created to assist victims and report aggressions. The Government of Puerto Rico is not only making laws but is also ensuring a proper framework to implement them. The government believes that the educational approach is vital to teaching boys and girls that every human has to be respected, as well as empower the next generations to eradicate this evil. Pierluisi stated that ‘Equity between boys and girls, men and women is the key to achieving Puerto Rico without gender violence that they all want.’
Beginning of the Work
The Republican Governor of Puerto Rico has correctly analysed the root cause of the problem and is keen on working to eradicate the cause so that all in all the problem can be eradicated and a vision that seemed utopian in the past can be achieved. The government believes that the state of emergency can’t stay in a paper. For them, the state of emergency against gender violence is just the first step. It is the beginning of their work towards it.
Among the initiatives laid out in Pierluisi’s executive order is a committee tasked with providing rescue, support, and education. This committee comprises 17 members, three of whom are representatives from organizations that work on gender violence issues. Recently, activists have also urged the governor of Puerto Rico to add LBGTQ to the gender violence emergency declaration. Pedro Julio Serrano, a well-known human rights activist on the island, called the governor's state of emergency order “historic” but also requested to include everyone. According to him homophobic and transphobic violence also needs to be checked.
In the wake of this, the declaration is made to offer protection to gay and transgender people, they can also use the mobile app to request help and report attacks.
Authorities are also to create a new program to monitor women who have taken out restraining orders against abusers, and a new committee will be responsible for enforcing policies and proposing other measures.
Puerto Rico is practising sustainable development as this model of development relies on ending the discrimination towards women and provides equal opportunities for education and employment. Gender equality stimulates economic growth, which is important in countries with fewer economic opportunities. The example of the Puerto Rican state of emergency till June 2022 shows that Puerto Rico is developing socially, economically and politically.
By Avni Goel
Avni is a first-year Economics Honours student from Hindu College who has a keen interest in everything ranging from history, politics, mythology, culture, economics and international affairs.