I just came across a study, which was released at the end of 2010 about a phenomenon that, I believe is pretty specific to Latin America: Women’s Police Stations (WPS).
The first WPS opened in São Paulo, Brazil in 1985 and now similar ones can be found in 13 Latin American countries. The study, Women’s Police Stations in Latin America: An Entry Point for Stopping Violence and Gaining Access to Justice (link to PDF), was carried out by the Center for Planning and Social Science, an NGO based in Quito, Ecuador and it collected data from Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru.
Some facts about WPS in Latin America:
- They are staffed by women
- They are located in a separate building or have access to a separate entrance from regular police stations
- They include a multidisciplinary team that works in coordination with local NGOs devoted to gender specific matters
- Their main goal is to make the problem of violence against women more visible as a public, collective, and punishable issue.
To understand the historical context behind the WPS, the study provides some background information:
The establishment of women’s police stations (WPS) in the four countries included in this study, namely Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru, as well as in others in the region, has its roots in social and political processes. One is the struggle by feminist and women’s movements to break the silence on domestic violence, demand integrated and comprehensive services, and defend women’s rights. The other is the recognition of the state’s obligations to provide access to justice and to prevent, punish, and eliminate violence against women. The two are interrelated and have been carried out at the local, national, regional, and international levels. As is described in what follows, in a relatively brief period, women’s right to a life free of violence has been formally recognized and several mechanisms have been created so they can exercise that right, among which the WPS play an important role.
To place the phenomenon of WPS in Latin America, some figures from a previous study (link to PDF):
- In Nicargua, a study revealed that 48% of women who had at one time been married or in a relationship had suffered verbal or psychological abuse by their partner or ex-partner, 27% had suffered physical abuse, and 13% sexual abuse
- In Ecuador, a national survey found that 41% of women who had at one time been married or in a relationship had suffered psychological violence and verbal abuse, 31% physical violence, and 12% sexual abuse
- Regarding Brazil, in the city of Sao Paulo, 41.9% of women who had at one time been married or in a relationship had experienced emotional abuse by their intimate partner, 27.2% had experienced physical abuse, and 10.1% had suffered sexual abuse. In Zona da Mata de Pernambuco (the entire province, except for the city of Recife), 48.8% of women who had at one time been married or in a relationship had suffered emotional abuse from their intimate partners, 33.8% had experienced physical violence, and 14.3% sexual violence.
- A similar survey carried out in Lima, Peru, found that 57.8% of women who had at one time been married or in a relationship had experienced emotional abuse from their husbands/partners, 48.6% had suffered physical abuse, and 22.5% sexual abuse. In the department of Cusco, 68.5% of women who had at one time been married or in a relationship reported that their husbands or partners had subjected them to emotional abuse, 61.0% had suffered physical violence, and 46.7% sexual violence.
What makes this study so compelling for me is that, when analyzing the success of WPS, it took into consideration different perspectives to explore how local cultural conceptions blend together and either enable or prevent women’s access to the justice system. The researchers worked under the premise that “women in situations of domestic violence, the WPS, and other actors have diverse perceptions of access to justice that do not always coincide with formal and institutional conceptions, nor do they always refer to imposing a penalty”.
While the research points to several flaws and shortcomings in the WPS system and certainly highlights many obstacles that prevent women’s access to the justice system, it does address what I believe to be the main success of this approach to domestic violence:
In some ways, WPS contributions have been impressive: their very high level of visibility transmits the message that violence is no longer a private matter, but rather a violation of women’s rights that must be addressed in the public sphere. As a result, the majority of women in the four research sites, albeit in different proportions, consider that the WPS are contributing to reducing abuse and increasing access to justice. Likewise, they continue to be an important entry point into the formal system of justice as well as the range of specialized services in their communities. They share these achievements with diverse actors who together have implemented multiple actions over recent decades to support social transformation. For this reason, analyzing women’s different experiences with ending violence shows that this is a result of multiple factors, and thus, cannot be attributed exclusively to the work of the WPS.
And while this might not be the end to it, it is certainly a good beginning.