Lack of housing forces victims of domestic violence in Latin America to stay with abusers
An investigative study on domestic violence and housing in Latin America reveals that likely hundreds of thousands of women remain in homes where they are subjected to violence simply because they have no alternative place to go.
The 50-page report, released by the Geneva-based international housing rights watchdog the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), exposes the reality facing women in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, where lack of access to adequate housing, including emergency shelter, prevents victims of domestic violence from escaping their abusers.
COHRE interviewed scores of women in cities across Argentina, Brazil and Colombia who experienced domestic violence first-hand and the report presents some of their stories.
The vast majority of the women interviewed by COHRE found it impossible to find a place to escape to when they were targeted by violence in the home – and for many this predicament alone prevented them from fleeing their abusive relationships.
“It is incomprehensible that public policies designed to combat domestic violence have not taken into account women’s housing rights, when it is such a critical factor for women’s safety and security. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is a life or death issue for many of these women,” said Mayra Gomez, COHRE’s Senior Expert on Women.
Most countries in Latin America have high rates of domestic violence – between 30 and 60 percent of women have suffered from domestic violence in the region, though the real figure is thought to be far higher, as many women do not report such violence. In Colombia alone, an estimated 40 percent of women have been attacked by their male companions.
However, safe-housing options for women fleeing such violence are almost non-existent in the region.
COHRE visited battered women’s shelters in Bogota, Colombia; Porte Alegre, Brazil; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The lack of shelters in these three large cities was striking.
In Bogota, there is only one private shelter available to victims of domestic violence. In Porto Alegre, there is also just one battered women’s shelter. In Buenos Aires, a city with over 12 million inhabitants living within the city and its surrounding areas, and in a country where an estimated one in three women will suffer from physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse in her home, there are only two government-run shelters where women can stay for a short time only – typically no more than six months.
“The lack of emergency shelters usually leaves women little choice but to stay in a violent home, often risking their lives,” said Mayra Gomez.
“It is not always easy for women to leave their abusers for a whole range of reasons – but lack of housing alternatives should never be one of those reasons. The government has a responsibility to provide alternatives for these women so that they can live in safety and dignity.”
COHRE said that although emergency housing is important for women forced to flee violence in the home, shelters alone do not ensure adequate housing for women in the long-term. According to the women COHRE interviewed, they need their governments to ensure that women have access to permanent housing solutions when they are forced to end a violent relationship. The women also said that help in navigating the sometimes labyrinthine justice system was crucial for them to be able to get legal protection from their abusers.
COHRE also called on governments to enact protective measures to ensure the exclusion of abusers from the household and the right of the victim to remain within the family home, even if not owned, at least until she is able to access alternative housing.
“The right to adequate housing goes beyond the right to have a roof over your head – it is the right to live in security, peace and dignity, and it is a government’s obligation to ensure that right for victims of domestic violence.”
“For too long, the link between domestic violence and housing rights has been neglected by policy-makers – it is time for governments in Latin America to rectify this mistake and provide women with the secure environments they are entitled to.”
To see a full copy of the report A place in the world: The right to adequate housing as an essential element of a life free from domestic violence in Spanish, please see below.
To read a summary of the report in English, also see below.