Across the world, violence against women and girls is a serious and pervasive problem. Preventative measures are greatly needed to benefit future generations as well as mental health interventions to help those in need right now, particularly in LMICs (low and middle income countries) worldwide.
In this article, Daniela Jiménez Parrado and Liliana Gonzalez share with us Rita’s story. Daniela and Liliana work with MQ on WARMI, a network of Latin American women promoting mental health care for women. WARMI’s slogan is “Seek the change you want to see”, an ethos inherent in this moving and powerful article.
WARNING: the following story contains references to domestic violence, abuse and suicide. Please also note, English is not the first language of the authors.
In Bogota, Colombia, on August 2nd, 1982, the echoes of two gunshots pierced through the neighbourhood, signifying the tragic end of Rita’s life, leaving behind her young son with no regard.
Rita, the youngest daughter of a traditional family, had roots in Boyaca, a highly esteemed agricultural region in the country. In the 1950s, her family migrated from the rural areas of Boyaca, driven by the pursuit of a brighter future.
Rita was involved in a relationship with a married colleague from her workplace, enduring a cycle of abuse where he would physically harm her, shout at her, and then return with apologies, claiming love while placing blame on her for everything. He promised to change, but this pattern persisted.
Rita had grown accustomed to such treatment as it mirrored her upbringing. Her mother, too, experienced mistreatment from her husband without any response or resistance, and all her sisters had to endure similar hardships.
Escalation and Escape
Exhaustion overwhelmed Rita, compelling her to make the decision to leave her abusive partner. However, upon learning of her intention to leave, he resorted to threatening her life and even his own.
When Rita sought help from her family, they dismissed her claims and refused to believe her. Despite her attempts to escape the city and seek shelter with one of her brothers, he turned her away, fearing she would burden him.
On a sombre Monday in August, she met with her boyfriend, who awaited her near her house by the prominent bus he operated. It was there that the harrowing threats materialized into a heart-wrenching reality, as he took her life before tragically ending his own through suicide.
Rita was my aunt, a young woman of only 22, who not only left behind a son but was also a daughter, a sister, and a friend.
Across Latin America, this represents a timeless tale of feminicide, a tragedy that could have been averted through education. The Colombian Observatory of Feminicide reported a distressing figure of 612 documented cases of feminicide in the year 2022 alone. Alarming statistics expose a chilling cycle of gender-based violence perpetuated by the government.
Every three hours, a woman becomes a victim of such violence. Astonishingly, this equates to 148 incidents each day, impacting approximately 47,000 women enduring this gender-based violence.
Passion From Pain
As women, we carry the weight of these painful memories, intimately understanding the profound impact of such experiences. It is precisely these shared stories that have ignited our passion and commitment to create a project aimed at effecting positive change and providing meaningful solutions to address these issues.
Thus, WARMI was born—a network of Latin American women from diverse disciplines who strive to promote mental health care for women and celebrate the beauty of diversity.
We joined forces with MQ Research, an organisation keen on developing a project to combat gender violence and generate lasting impact.
Change is Crucial
In conclusion, Rita’s tragic story underscores the urgent need for addressing feminicide and gender-based violence in Latin America. The high incidence of reported cases highlights the pervasive nature of this issue. To combat this, education, awareness, and systemic change are crucial.
Initiatives like WARMI and collaborations with organizations like MQ Mental Health Research are actively working towards creating safer environments and promoting mental health care for women. By challenging societal norms and working together, we can strive towards a future where women can live free from fear and violence.
Our thanks to Liliana and Daniela for sharing Rita’s powerful story. To learn more about WARMI, visit their website.