Within the framework of a profoundly sexist culture, the phenomenon of gender-based violence is linked to violence against women, children and adolescents, particularly those from the poorest sectors of society and those belonging to indigenous communities. Paraguay has one of the highest rates of child sexual abuse in South America: one case every three hours. About 650 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 become pregnant each year. And femicide, like domestic violence in general, is increasing every year.
Overview of Gender-Based Violence in Paraguay
Gender-based violence has undeniably deep historical and cultural roots. Unlike other Latin American regions in which gold and silver were abundant, the process of colonisation in Paraguay was characterised by the subjugation of indigenous peoples, particularly the Guaraní, at the hands of the Spanish in order to exploit the indigenous labour force. The cultural institution of cuñadazgo, or tovaja (enslavement of Guaraní women under the pretence of marriage) led to the forced servitude (mita) and enslavement (yanacona) of men and women, whose labour was exploited for agriculture and as personal servants. Abuse and violence against women earned Paraguay the unfortunate title of "Muhammad's Paradise". Many indigenous groups soon rebelled and were subsequently massacred. The subjugation and feeling of inferiority vis-à-vis a colonising power, abuse of women and vulnerable people, and children being raised with absent fathers all profoundly affected the subsequent historical and cultural development of the country. The absence of men after the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) highlighted the complex social phenomenon of Paraguayan machismo.
This legacy was reflected some time ago in a speech by former Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes to Brazilian business representatives, in which he offered Paraguay as "a beautiful woman... ready to be used and abused".
A recent study (available in Spanish only) revealed the employment inequalities that affect women, as well as providing a breeding ground for the development of gender-based violence. One third of women aged 15 and over do not study and lack their own financial income. Just over half of women are currently out of work, 9.2% are working but not receiving pay, and 7.1% are unemployed. The average monthly income of working women, both those living in cities and in the rural sector, is only ₲1,862,641 ($286.5), compared to ₲2,462,508 ($378.8) for men. "57.1% of women work independently, in the form of unpaid domestic labour and in the household, with this figure rising to 78.3% in the rural sector. Young women are engaged in unpaid labour, which impacts them twice over. On one hand, they lack their own resources and, on the other hand, the patriarchal and adult-dominated culture within their families generates conflicts that lead to migration in the case of young rural women".
Paraguay introduced measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, which produced social isolation. Although very successful, they have led to an increase in violence against girls, adolescents and women. Violence has increased by more than 87% compared to the previous year. The 39 victims of femicide this year are proof of this growing trend.
Addressing the Issue
Patriarchal ideology is very deeply entrenched in our culture, and it is used by the most conservative sectors of society against any movement that questions the underpinnings of the status quo. It affects the majority sectors of the population, even infecting the grassroots organizations themselves. It is particularly difficult to work on raising awareness of human rights with regard to gender issues.
Catholic and evangelical groups, together with government institutions, launched a real crusade against "gender ideology" years ago, even calling into question international agreements signed by Paraguay. They managed to prevent sex education from being introduced into the public education system, and one education minister even offered to "burn books in the squares".
Resistance within union organisations is also often met with hostility, and addressing gender issues alone can generate serious divisions, so we need to take special care when raising them.
Despite the many difficulties in our organisation, we have managed to make progress in at least some areas: establishing a women's unit; providing formal training in gender issues; establishing ties with civil society organisations that work in this field; and systematically informing the public of cases of abuse or violations of women's rights.
Today we are focusing our efforts on training women teachers as true political agents of the inevitable change in our country and in our education, trying to recover the ground lost to the pandemic.
As a trade union organisation, OTEP AUTÉNTICA SINDICATO NACIONAL (Organización de Trabajadores de la Educación-Auténtica) has put forward proposals for public policies, including greater investment in education and addressing the current climate of exceptionalism regarding the protection of health in all its forms, particularly the mental health of the members of the educational community given the consequences of the effects of the pandemic.
The education budget is barely 3.4% of the GDP, and under these conditions it is impossible to seriously uphold the right to quality public education for the social sectors made impoverished by the neoliberal model. We are actively working to establish a trade union movement to demand at least 7% of the GDP be invested in education, as well as compliance with the law regarding teachers' labour and professional rights.
It is still very challenging to initiate discussions on protection networks and the development of strategies to address the consequences of violence on girls, adolescents and adult women. Although we know that violence transcends social classes, it remains a fact that the impoverished population is still the least protected. This becomes significant when placing it within the framework of public education, not only because education itself is the basis for knowledge of basic rights and possible mechanisms for their protection, but also because schools will continue to be the second fundamental social and cultural structure by which children and adolescents are educated, and therefore this issue will eventually become state policy.