Latin America possesses the highest murder rate in the world. While many of the social issues that incubate violent crime persist, a number of nonprofits are working to change course by leveraging tactics from development policy to feminist-inspired grassroots education initiatives.
The Igarapé Institute – a nonprofit research and policy organization based in Brazil – recently released interactive maps enumerating global murder statistics, breaking down homicide rates by region, gender of victim, and weapon used. The report points to some positive trends, but also details intractable violence in many marginalized communities.
Some of the most notorious murder capitals have actually seen dramatic decreases in violent crime – the report lists Bogotá, São Paulo, Medellín and Rio de Janeiro of having shrunk violent crime rates through a mix of improved living standards and education, along with policing reforms. Dishearteningly, high homicide rates in poor, often black or mixed-raced cities and neighborhoods across Latin America remain largely unchanged.
One-third of global homicides occur in Latin America – nearly 145,000 annually. The region’s share of the earth’s population is just one-tenth.
In an interview with the Guardian, founder of the Igarapé Institute Robert Muggah remarks that – much like the rest of the world – the violence is disproportionately concentrated in marginalized communities. “The perception in many cities that everyone is equally at risk is flat-out wrong. In many US cities, for example, less than 5% of street addresses account for 75% of violence. In Bogotá, just 2% of street addresses are where 98% of homicides occur,” he explains.
This means that – while the likelihood for many people of being the victim of homicide is shrinking – the still-massive murder rates are taking a greater toll on underserved and marginalized communities. Contributing in part to this trend are the demands from growing middle-class and commercial districts for better and more intensive policing, subsequently promoting the neglect of poorer, less-influential neighborhoods.
While NGOs and governments digest the information presented in the report, and the Igarapé Institute produces supplementary analysis on how to approach policy considering the highly localized occurrence of murder in poor communities, other groups are taking aim at the problem with unique frameworks and strategies.
The Center of Migrant Social Rights (CENDEROS) – a group that receives funding from the Irish development agency Trócaire – works with boys and men to overcome entrenched notions of masculinity, teaching them that a violence-prone identity that celebrates murder is dangerous and – ultimately – a dead end. As Michael Solid writes for Huffington Post:
[CENDEROS] works directly with boys and men on reconceiving “masculinity” in hyper-machista societies. This involves deconstructing their upbringings, personal traumas, and how their surroundings have shaped their behavior. They come to learn that it is in everyone’s interests to allow women to do basic things like come and go from the home when they choose, share control of economic resources, engage in training and income generating activities, and make decisions.
While the majority of homicide victims in the region are male – around 85 percent – women are nonetheless subjected to endemic physical, sexual, and psychological violence. Victims of rape receive little support. Paraguay attracted worldwide condemnation this May after denying a 10-year rape victim access to an abortion. The suspect involved in the rape was the girl’s step-father.
Violence toward women is fundamentally tied to gender issues that influence other forms of violence, including the region’s high murder rate. By addressing the identity issues that are at the root of both, NGOs are deploying creative and empowering programs to ameliorate the overall health of Latin American societies.
Different manifestations of violence share common roots and patterns, and represent a larger patchwork of interrelated issues that call for considered and multifaceted approaches. With improved statistical understanding from NGOs like the Igarapé Institute providing the framework for new and inventive policy-making, front-line justice nonprofits like CENDEROS make up the-rank-and-file of potential pilot groups for rolling out new strategies to bring down the region’s high murder rates.