Young people in Latin America still think violence against women is “normal”: Oxfam

The findings of surveys carried out in Bolivia, Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic show that male violence against women persists in the daily lives of young people in Latin America.  

Oxfam has revealed in a report published today that male violence against women remains very much a part of life for young Latin Americans, who still consider it “normal.”

The report entitled Breaking the mould: changing belief systems and gender norms to eliminate violence against women, analyzes the beliefs of young people aged 15 to 25 from eight Latin American and Caribbean countries, about violence and partner relationships. These beliefs are based on a distorted idea of “romantic love” (expressed as control, not loving companionship). They lead young people to reproduce the inequalities they see in society and to view acts of male violence as “normal”. This includes telling a partner how she should dress and what kind of friends she can have, checking her mobile phone messages and who she is communicating with, having access to her personal passwords and censuring her photos on social media, as well as keeping track of her movements.

In Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, six out of every ten men aged 15 to 19 surveyed by Oxfam believe that jealousy is a demonstration of love and 65 per cent of them believe that when a woman says “no” to a sexual relationship, she really means “yes”. Similarly, seven of every ten think that a woman is responsible if she is groped or cornered because she is wearing the wrong clothes, while 40 per cent of them think that if a woman has been drinking alcohol, she is to blame if a man rapes her, even if she is unconscious.

Despite the common belief that violence in partner relationships is prevalent among older couples and not common among the younger generation, according to the Breaking the mould report, 56 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men aged between 20 and 25 know a woman in their immediate circle who has suffered physical or sexual violence in the past year. Similarly, seven of every ten young people think that male violence is a serious problem in their own country.

Progress has been made in almost all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean with laws against violence and feminicide; but this is not enough. Impunity is fed by the tendency to consider acts of violence against women and girls as “normal”. Male sexism or machismo, presented in music, literature, films, family relationships, friendships and partners as something that is tolerated and even celebrated, has concrete and grave consequences. 86 per cent of women and men aged 20 to 25 surveyed by Oxfam believe their friends would not intervene if a friend hit his girlfriend. In Colombia, nine of every ten believe that their friends would not intervene either. 

Damaris Ruiz, Oxfam’s coordinator for Women’s Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean states:

“The data in Breaking the mould demonstrates that machismo is accepted and tolerated by many young people in the region. This, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean – where 14 of the 25 countries in the world with the highest number of feminicides are found – must sound the alarm for us to act immediately. The normalization of this everyday sexism often ends with the worst consequences for women and girls. Proof of this is found in the 1,831 women who were murdered in 2016 simply because they were women, according to CEPAL figures. We know that this can and is changing, and we must motivate and support young people in this transformation so that they can live free from gender violence”.

For Oxfam, male violence is not inevitable and it is possible to prevent it. It is positive that 61% of young people aged 15 to 25 reject violence that occurs in public spaces and that 90% recognize many forms and expressions of violence. And, although it is a minority, it is not silent: 29 per cent of young people surveyed would report aggression towards a woman. 

There are also encouraging and transforming contributions from feminist organizations, young people’s collectives, journalism and digital activism to generate new initiatives, create networks, influence politics and open new ways forward on gender equality and a world free from male violence. 

Notes to editors

The Latin American Social Sciences Council (CLACSO) supported the study in the data collection and processing and analyzed the results of 4,731 surveys, 47 focus groups and 49 in-depth interviews.

Download the executive summary of Breaking the mould.

Contact information

Annie Thériault in Lima, Perú | annie.theriault@oxfam.org | + 51 936 307 990 | @annietheri

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