Marching through the rain against some of our worst nightmares
photos and story by Eric Jackson
An unfortunately small crowd of maybe 200 women, sprinkled with a number of men, marched to protest against the violence that gets visited upon women in Panama. If you consider the death toll, murder is much more often a crime suffered by men. So far this year, there have been 16 homicides of women reported in Panama. When you consider the more general topic of male violence used to control the lives of women, the official statistics understate the problem by far, but so far this year there have been more than 17,000 domestic violence cases filed with Panamanian authorities this year. Even more seriously under-reported are the rape cases.
In the crowd that assembled by the El Carmen Church there were labor unions and feminist groups. Politicians and their parties were notably absent. A couple of young Argentine jugglers were perhaps the most noticeable of the sprinkling of foreigners.
Yes, there were people there because it was the proper show of labor solidarity with oppressed female colleagues, or because it’s an obligatory plank on any really socialist organization’s platform, or because it’s a central demand of the feminist movement. But for so many of us, it was about our worse fears or our most nightmarish memories. It’s not polite for a reporter or anyone else to pry open old wounds of this nature, but this reporter knows a few of the demonstrators’ stories.
A man whose daughter was beaten to death. Women who were raped. Parents, siblings and children of women who were murdered. Men who, at the moment they saw domestic violence visited upon their mothers, also suffered it themselves. These latter cases are of special concern because domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that tends to get passed down from one generation to the next, and when one reviews the history of the violent offenders in Panama’s most hellish prisons, most of them were themselves the victims of domestic violence.
The November 25 date — a horrible time to march through the streets of Panama — was internationally determined, at a 1981 United Nations sponsored conference that declared the day to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It’s the anniversary of that day in 1961 when Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo had three sisters active in his opposition, Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal, beaten to death and then tried to disguise the deaths as the result of an automobile accident. The crime shocked the Dominican Republic and the world, and most fateful for Trujillo, shocked US President-elect John F. Kennedy, who shortly after taking office set into motion a covert plot that resulted in Trujillo’s assassination. (Looking back, the “regime change” was followed by more instability and misery rather than any particularly noteworthy flowerings of freedom or democracy to the DR.)
Also of concern to many of the protesters is the Varela administration’s proposed regulations implementing and changes to Law 82, which is aimed at preventing violence against women. Minister of Government Milton Henríquez proposed measures against communications media — including the online social media — that publish material said to denigrate women, which met strong resistance from journalists but not from the advertising cartel. The online press was, in Henríquez’s usual insulting way, excluded from the discussion. But meanwhile many feminists and people who work in the legal system say that the regulations would be ineffective both at dealing with domestic violence cases that come before the system and at encouraging victims to take recourse to the law. The government now proposes to eliminate the possibilities of fines for sexism in media. It seems that the marchers are not entirely in agreement about the subject. They dislike degradation in the media and many or most would rather keep the possibility of fines, but some in the crowd also know of how publicity for things like birth control of breast exams has sometimes been labeled as pornographic. There appears to be a greater consensus of dislike for Henríquez.
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