Since the "Northern Triangle" of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala emerged as the main corridor for US-bound drugs, it has become one of the deadliest places in the world to be a woman, and the killings show little sign of abating.
In the first six months of this year seventeen clandestine graves were discovered in El Salvador, containing 48 bodies, 70 percent of whom were females, according to the Attorney General's Office (FGR). All were aged under 25, and 90 percent are thought to have had links to criminal gangs, reported La Prensa Grafica.
The alarmingly high proportion of women among the victims in Salvadoran mass graves serves as a reminder of the high prevalence of "femicide" -- gender-based killings of women, often marked by their extreme brutality -- in the Northern Triangle.
The region has seen a huge rise in murders of women in the last decade (see graph, below). El Salvador currently has the worst femicide rate in the world with 13.9 per 100,000 women while Guatemala (third in the world) and Honduras (seventh) have rates of 9.8 and 7.2 respectively....
In recognition of the growth of femicide, Guatemala and El Salvador passed laws in 2008 and 2010 respectively giving special legal status to the crime and violence towards women in general. Since President Otto Perez took office in January, Guatemala has even created a task force to tackle femicide. Honduras, on the other hand, has been slow to follow suit, despite calls for the state's legislature to pass similar initiatives.
However, these efforts have not as yet born much fruit -- impunity for femicide stands at 90 percent or above in both El Salvador and Guatemala, leading many to question the efficacy of recognizing it as a crime in its own right. Lawyer Susana Chiarottin, for one, told Inter Press Service last year that, "Where the legal definition of femicide exists, it has led to greater impunity rather than effective punishment."
Recent statistics show that 186 women were murdered in El Salvador during the first four months of 2012 according to PNC data.
In a blog post earlier this year titled Violence Against Women is on the Rise, Voices from El Salvador wrote:
Victims of femicide are murdered precisely because they are women, and targeted violence takes many forms, the most obvious being domestic abuse within an established relationship and sexual violence both in and outside of a relationship. But victims of female-targeted crime do not always know their victims. Often, their crimes are even motivated by circumstances outside of the victim’s direct control, such as family members’ gang involvement. Perhaps the most disturbing trend in violence against women is the targeting of young women in rural areas, who are prone to random attacks by strangers simply because they are vulnerable.There are some signs that the government is starting to take notice, if not take action. In June, president Funes gave a passionate nationally broadcast address to the country about the problem of violence against Salvadoran women. Funes urged a change of societal attitudes regarding violence in the home, pledged his government would promote programs to prevent violence against women, and urged police, prosecutors and the judicial system to end impunity for gender-based crimes.