Claudia Paz y Paz was the first female Attorney General of Guatemala. In this role, she strove to restore faith in justice by combatting a culture of impunity.
With more than 50,000 registered cases of violence against women each year, gender-based violence in Guatemala has become an epidemic.
It is the most reported crime in the country with more than 5,000 reports of sexual violence and 600 violent murders of women each year. In fact, Guatemala has the 3rd highest femicide rates in the world.
It was only recently that, violence against women was even considered a crime in Guatemala. Before, it was thought to be a private family matter in which the government did not have a say.
When Guatemala experienced a dramatic increase in femicide, organizations with women leaders finally began to work towards better government responses. They demanded that these acts of violence be criminalized, and advocated for creating specialized fiscal, judicial and police agencies that would be able to adequately address the issues and help victims. Thanks to such pressures, Guatemala has created prosecutor and police units specialized in gender-based violence and has greater penalizations of crimes.
As Attorney General, I saw these issues first hand. There is a tremendous need to protect the marginalized, particularly when it comes to violence against women and girls, and those who commit these crimes are not held accountable by our justice system.
To start changing this, I established a comprehensive care system in which women who have suffered from gender-based or sexual violence could receive the medical attention they needed and also file reports. These care facilities increase access to justice by incorporating 24-hour courts with prosecutors, police and forensic experts available.
Through this system, women don’t have to choose between making a report and receiving medical attention and are able to preserve any appropriate evidence for future criminal proceedings. Implemented in nine offices of the Public Ministry of Guatemala, these measures have helped streamline the protection of women who have suffered from violence, as well as the investigations that follow.
Although there have been many advancements, this system needs to reach all corners of the country. At the same time, they should be accompanied by actions towards preventing future violence against women.
Violence against women doesn’t just affect women – it affects society as a whole. It is important to listen to the voices of men and include them in the conversation about gender-based violence. We must stand together, united, in order to fight these injustices.