On Thursday, March 27th, in Costa Rica, the girls from the Vinotinto U-17 made history. The faced Canada, a formidable foe, in the World Cup U-17 in the quarter finals. They won and got a shot at the semifinals. They lost, and ended in fourth place overall.
Coach Kenneth Zseremeta scouted Venezuela with a fine tooth comb to find these girls. It was an uphill battle. He had to face a lack of a formal female football clubs, and parents who just did not want to see their girls playing a male sport. Such is the case of 14 year old Deyna Castellanos, the top goal scorer in the tournament together with Gabriela García.
It was her brother, fellow footballer Álvaro Castellanos (Aragua Futbol Club) that pressured her mother into letting her play. Because of her passion, Deyna was beaten by boys, and even called a Machito (tomboy) by other children’s parents.
That same day Venezuela beat Canada, a thousand miles away, in Maracaibo, another girl faced a formidable foe, but she didn’t stand a chance.
Young, uneducated, poor, and lacking parental supervision for most of the day, she was persuaded by her boyfriend and his pals to have a drink at the school yard. She was gang raped and had her head crushed in by a brick. Her body was left abandoned until the janitor of the school stumbled upon it on the early hours of the morning.
Carla Isabel was her name. She too was 14.
What made the difference? What gave Deyna a chance to break free from stereotypes but plunged Carla in to violence and death?
The WHO has identified the risk factors for gender-based sexual violence and the victimization of women. They include 4 levels: individual (like age, education, intra-parental violence, acceptance of violence, harmful use of alcohol), relationship (multiple sexual partners), community (weak community sanctions and poverty), and societal (traditional gender norms and social norms supportive of violence).
Women and girls who are victims of sexual violence suffer physical, psychological, reproductive, emotional, and mental harm. They can suffer from unwanted pregnancies, abortions, gynecological complications, sexually transmitted infections, post traumatic stress, and depression. Furthermore, sexual violence can also affect persons economic development, pushing the victims further down poverty and violence, making them more vulnerable to subsequent attacks.
Unfortunately, there are no official statistics on sexual violence in Venezuela. The government avoids data like the plague.
So, how can we assess the scope of sexual agression and gender violence in Venezuela? We might have to look at other available data to shed some light into what is happening everyday to our girls.
In 2008, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in the United States hosted a congressional briefing on the racial and ethnic disparities in teen pregnancy rates. They realized something very important, the correlation between sexual aggression and teen pregnancy.
This may be part of the reason why the small number of teen pregnancy reduction programs that have been employed in Venezuela have utterly failed. If we look at the Venezuelan picture, all teen pregnancy campaigns have focused on contraception education, but only 1 in every 10 sexually active teen uses them. The number of underage pregnancy has skyrocketed in the last years, as to make Venezuela in the region. So clearly, something else is at play here.
As Malika Saada Saar says
Teen pregnancy isn’t simply about girls and boys being promiscuous, or lacking access to sex education or contraception. Too often teen pregnancy is about girls losing agency over their bodies because of the unbearable injuries of being sexually violated.
Underneath the discourse about the educational strategies needed to prevent teen pregnancy lies a much harder and complex issue: Violence in girls’ lives leaves them at risk for teen pregnancy—especially for girls of color.
I remember reading a heartbreaking article about the Niñas Madres from Venezuela. The writers interviewed 4 or 5 mothers, under 18. All of them had been sexually abused in their home. Some got pregnant knowingly, to escape their horrid family condition. Others, dealing with the repercussion of the abuse, did not have a responsible or mature sexuality and ended up with unwanted pregnancies.
Saada Saar also theorizes that:
“… any campaign to reduce teen pregnancy must also become a campaign to reduce the unacceptable levels of violence against girls and to give all girls the opportunity to realize their full personhood, equality, dignity, and worth.”
In Colombia, a recent study (2011) indicated that not only was sexual violence pervasive in the female youth, it was also consistently linked to increased risk of unintended pregnancy among young (13 to 24) females. Colombia by the way, has been one of the 5 Latin-American countries that have had more success in reducing their teen pregnancies from 2000 to 2010.
In 2004, a study in Aragua also found that the victims of sexual abuse were in the majority young girls (12 to 18 years old). And an astounding 43% of the attacks occurred in the home. They concluded that:
The most affected victims were female, since they occupy a vulnerable position in a patriarchial society…
Venezuela’s epidemic of Niñas Madres is actually showing us the astounding levels of misogyny and sexual aggression in our country. When violence is the norm, it is reflected in our girls very differently than in our boys.
For every boy killed, a girl is getting pregnant. For every bullet shot, a girl is being raped.
Sometimes the aggression becomes murder, as was the case of Carla. But Carla is just the most extreme example of the insecurity and violence that is bringing Venezuela to a halt.