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Statement on the emergency due to gender violence in Puerto Rico

May 5, 2021 – 

Over 100 days have passed since an executive order was signed declaring a State of Emergency due to the gender violence epidemic across the island. Since the beginning of 2021, 18 women have been murdered due to gender violence. Activists from La Colectiva Feminista en Acción, a feminist organization on the island, point out that statistically if this pattern continues, 1 femicide will occur every 7 days.

During the past week, amidst the tragedy of two young women whose bodies were found, the need for all sectors in our society to proactively act against this epidemic has never been clearer. Feminist organizations in the country have raised the need to address the problem of gender violence in a comprehensive manner, which would include attacking the problem through education, improving the institutional response and statistical monitoring, and ensuring survivors are provided adequate support and assistance, among other measures. Uniting efforts with these organizations and taking a multisectoral approach is essential to eradicating gender violence in our island.

Environmental justice is deeply linked to gender issues. Incorporating a social justice framework, environmental justice is concerned with how identity – such as race, gender and class – disproportionately affects the level of impacts from climate change and the quality of their physical environment. It seeks to reduce and prevent environmental degradation and the inequities it causes in marginalized communities including, but not limited to, people of color, women, indigenous communities, trans communities, and those living in economically disadvantaged areas.

Throughout history women, particularly those from marginalized groups, have been at the forefront of the environmental movement. Women not only disproportionately experience the effects of environmental damage, but often simultaneously face the intersecting violence and oppression that occurs around them.

Studies have shown there are direct links between environmental pressures and gender-based violence, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Expressions of gender-based violence, such as sexual assault, domestic violence, verbal abuse, harassment, stalking and economic deprivation – among others – are used to maintain gender inequalities and reinforce privilege and control over resources. Therefore, gender is a crucial category of environmental injustice. Gender violence causes women to become more vulnerable to environmental injustices and vice versa.

According to the World Bank, 34% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner. In Puerto Rico during 2020, over 5,000 complaints for domestic violence were reported to the police. 84% of these complaints were from women. At the end of 2020 (December 29), about 60 femicides were registered in Puerto Rico, in comparison with 37 registered at the same date in 2019 (Amnesty International).

Gender violence is a barrier to climate justice and environmental conservation efforts. Estuario is a nonprofit organization that works in the conservation and restoration of the water quality and ecosystems within the San Juan Bay Estuary (SJBE) system and watershed basin. Our team recognizes the importance of gender equity to our work in environmental conservation. There, Estuario joins other institutions and organizations in repudiating gender violence and pledges to act against any form of gender violence. In the aftermath of hurricane María, Estuario launched a platform to offer long term community resilience support. These efforts are part of a comprehensive watershed-based Mitigation Plan to reduce stressors that the most disadvantaged watershed communities face, supporting environmental justice communities through community driven solutions. Studies show that climate change-induced disasters are drivers of gender violence, and often trigger surges as resources become scarce.

Estuario’s initiatives and projects take into consideration the vital interests and concerns of environmental justice communities in the surrounding areas of the SJBE system. Estuario fosters in its agenda the national significance of community involvement and participation in the decision-making process and access to information for everyone.

Estuario stands in solidarity with all victims of gender violence and their families. We vow to use every avenue, including partnerships with relevant government institutions and stakeholders and offer our resources to encourage the involvement of all sectors and individuals in driving and implementing change through education and cultural initiatives. Not only does this include collaboration with federal and state institutions to fight against gender violence, but more importantly, continuing to support communities and grassroots initiatives that promote equity and justice.

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