Gender violence in Puerto Rico has increased in recent years, so much so that newly sworn-in Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has declared a state of emergency in response to calls by activists on the island.
Last October in Connecticut, Nina Vázquez joined other Puerto Rican women in the diaspora to rally in Hartford in support of activists on the island who demanded the state of emergency. During the rally, Vázquez, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, read the names of women murdered in her homeland of Puerto Rico in 2020.
“Puerto Rico actually has very high rates of femicides, interpersonal and domestic violence," she said this week. “We were unifying our voices with the feminist collective of Puerto Rico in their calls for a state of emergency.”
A 2019 study by Kilómetro Cero and Proyecto Matria in Puerto Rico found that the island had one femicide a week.
In 2020, the Observatory for Gender Equity, a coalition of feminist and human rights organizations in Puerto Rico, documented a 62% increase of femicide cases since 2019. The Observatory documented 60 cases in 2020, including six instances of transfemicide, the murder of transgender people.
Speaking from Puerto Rico, Debora Upegi, an Observatory analyst, said the project set out to monitor and analyze cases of gender violence that often went unreported.
“After Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, on the island we began to observe a dramatic increase in gender violence that was seen in situations of domestic violence, but we also began to start monitoring [cases] of femicides,” said Upegi.
Vázquez said she’s heard personal stories of women who have fled the island looking for safety.
“A lot of the people who are here living in recent years from Puerto Rico are actually escaping abusers from the island,” she said.
Pierluisi’s executive order would establish an advisory committee to implement PARE, a Spanish acronym for Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education. To fund the order, the governor will present a proposed preliminary budget to the Financial Oversight and Management Board, which oversees Puerto Rico’s finances.
Vázquez said while this may not be a perfect solution, it’s a breath of fresh air for Puerto Rican women on the island and in the diaspora.
Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.