Reactions from both officials and the media to the murders of two Argentine women in Ecuador suggest that old-fashioned misogyny still commands in modern Latin America.
BOGOTÁ — The corpses of Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni showed that one had been hit on the head and the other stabbed. News of the murders in Ecuador of these two young women traveling from Argentina has quickly spread across Latin America.
A suspect held for the killings told police that the girls had told one of his friends they had no money for lodging, so he took them to his house "where the tragedy occurred."
That statement is insufficient as evidence and wouldn't be enough to obtain a conviction in either Ecuador or Argentina. Moreover, the girls' families say the explanation makes no sense. They suspect the girls were caught by a sex-trading gang, and believe it's unlikely they would have gone to the house of two strangers.
There have also been some investigative irregularities. It's not clear, for example, whether a public prosecutor was present when police checked the bodies, whether the house was ordered to be searched, or even whether the detained had legal representation when making statements.
But it seems the killings are typical in at least one sense: the media's response. Journalists have asked what the girls were wearing, whether they were partying at the Montañita beach where they initially disappeared, and whether they liked to dance. In other words, were they actually to blame?
Leaving their homes was certainly bold, but to visit another country "all alone" (even though the two were together), was looking for trouble, the media seem to be saying. Curiosity about visiting other parts of the world, then, is tantamount to a death wish? And when police were negligent and the families complained, President Rafael Correa dismissed their concerns as a typical "Third World complex."
These murders unfortunately fit in perfectly with continental statistics on gender violence and killings of women. They are furthermore a warning to all women in Latin America: Careful, because this could happen to you!
We are all trained as young girls to know where not to venture "alone." I remember when I was a girl and played outside our home, my grandmother would instruct me that should a man approach, I should start shouting the names of all the male members of our family. Certainly there was little they could have done then, but the shouting indicated we were "not alone."
I didn't get to know the Caribbean region much as a child or teenager. Because there were only women in our house, leaving Barranquilla was unthinkable. We never took a taxi "alone," or if we did, we would urgently call someone to tell them its number plate. With good reason, many parents today must be thinking they will not let their daughters travel alone, as they could be killed.
Gender violence, sexual harassment, female killings and rape build barriers of the mind that in turn delineate the places that are "off limits."
Bit by bit, we end up confined to private spaces where, in the end, we are liable to suffer domestic violence. Unfortunately, there can be no "safe place" for women if we have to share that space with sexism and misogyny.