Colombian Sandra Patricia Correa survived numerous brutal beatings and nine stab wounds at the hands of her estranged husband before he threatened to kill her. On Friday nights Alexander de Jesus Ortiz would turn up drunk at Correa’s home, threaten to take away their young daughter, and yell in the street: “Dirty bitch, I’m going to kill you.”
Three years later, when Correa, 35, agreed to meet him in Colombia’s second city of Medellin, he carried out his threat, stabbing her in the chest in a motel room in November 2012.
In a country where an average of two women are killed every day, Correa’s death might have gone unnoticed.
But earlier this week the Supreme Court ruled that she was a victim of femicide – the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender – an historic judgment that has set a precedent and encouraged women’s rights campaigners.
In the first case of its kind in Colombia, the Supreme Court sentenced Ortiz to 18 years in prison for femicide, overturning a lower court ruling that the killing was a crime of passion, motivated by jealousy.
“This is not a love story but the crushing of a woman by a man who considered her to be his subordinate …” the Court said.
Just two days ago Brazil passed a law against femicide, the 16th Latin American nation to approve similar legislation in recent years.
The Colombian court ruling could help push forward a bill proposed by a group of women lawmakers that would make femicide a distinct and legally defined crime.
“This is an unparalleled decision that makes it clear that what happened to Correa and other women is not a crime of passion, which only serves to justify the actions of the perpetrator, but is a crime based on gender,” said Martha Lucia Sanchez, women’s rights secretary at the Bogota mayor’s office.
“It sends a message to society that such crimes don’t end in impunity, and gives us a tool with which to get other convictions for femicide in the future, with a maximum prison sentence of 40 years without parole,” Sanchez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Femicide is a growing and widespread problem across Latin America, and the region has the highest femicide rates in the world, the agency United Nations Women says.
Many victims of femicide, like Correa, have a long history of domestic violence and the perpetrators are often their current or former partners, family members or friends.
Changing social attitudes that tend to condone violence against women is a long-term task.
A recent government poll found that 45 percent of Colombians asked about domestic violence said a woman who remains with an abusive partner does so because she enjoys being beaten.
The poll revealed entrenched attitudes in Colombian society, where domestic violence is widely seen as a private issue and nearly 80 percent of those questioned said people should ‘not wash their dirty laundry in public.’
Colombia’s macho culture, along with high levels of inequality, are key reasons for the widespread violence against women, experts say.
“Traditionally Colombia has been an unequal society and discrimination against women is deep-rooted,” Belen Sanz, head of U.N. Women in Colombia, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“The inequality is seen between rich and poor, rural and urban, and among ethnic groups. The more unequal a society is, the higher the level of discrimination against women is.”