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Asylum's broad reach

An appeals court ruling seemingly opened the door to allow any woman from Guatemala to be granted asylum in the U.S.

July 25, 2010

We certainly don't want to minimize the threats to women in Guatemala, or around the world, for that matter. Generally speaking, women don't have the political and economic clout or the firepower that men have, and there are plenty of situations in which women are subjected to crimes simply because they are women: spousal abuse, forced marriage, forced sterilizations, sex trafficking and honor killings, to name a few. The problem in this case is that Guatemala is dangerous not just for women but for everyone. The homicide rate for women is somewhat higher in Guatemala than in the rest of Latin America, and that is disturbing. But the homicide rate there last year (which was more than three times Mexico's) was substantially worse for men than women: 709 women were killed compared with 6,498 men. And though many of the slain men quite likely were involved in gang violence and criminal activities themselves, impunity is rampant across the board — about 98% for the killing of women, according to the U.S.-based Guatemala Human Rights Commission, and just slightly less than that for men.

Too many cultures see violence against women as a prerogative, not a crime. The United States must continue to fight against this and offer protection to the most endangered people, but it cannot be expected to provide refuge to all women at risk. Though it is important to broaden the umbrella to include groups of persecuted people who don't fall into the prescribed categories, the designation of all Guatemalan women is simply too broad. On points like this, either the U.S. attorney general or the U.S. Congress could help by clarifying what constitutes a protected social group. The solution to the broader problem of violence against women, however, is not just to accept victims into the United States but to forcefully address the cultural biases and lack of justice in the countries where it is taking place. One way to do this would be for Congress to pass the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act, which seeks to make the issue a priority for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. This would direct U.S. support and assistance to educational, economic and other programs that address the root causes of violence against women, and build up rule of law to hold abusers accountable.

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