About Femicide, Gender-Based Violence and Doctors: A Local Case Report – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

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This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Ms Lorena Vela, a fourth-year medical student from Ecuador. It is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong strictly to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA on the subject, nor that of The European Sting.

In December 2020, Katty Muñoz, mother of Lisbeth Baquerizo, was going through some of the hardest things a mother can go through. It was not for Lisbeth to found a family, to make a career or to become famous. Katty was grieving over the loss of her daughter, and after an alarming call she began to suspect that Lisbeth’s husband was responsible for her death.

Femicide in Ecuador is up 57% from last year, but that number could be higher: violence against women is under-recorded globally. For example, Katty only suspected that a femicide might have happened after a friend contacted her to inform her that Lisbeth’s husband had raped her. Although one in three women worldwide experience violence, only a small number of these cases are legally and publicly reported. Some of the reasons for this are, according to a European Union report, denial, ignorance, underappreciation and a lack of resources and support systems for victims.

When it comes to femicide, however, one of these causes is truly alarming: doctors are responsible for reporting causes of death, and often these are falsely reported as health conditions. Lisbeth’s case became widely known because a doctor signed her death certificate with heart attack written as the cause of death, although the autopsy later confirmed that she suffered from head trauma. This shows the importance of the involvement of health professionals in discussions on gender-based violence and femicide and, as has been shown in the case of Lisbeth, we are still far from being active and positive contributors to this subject.

The first steps in supporting survivors is to recognize that gender-based violence exists (with a higher frequency than we imagine) and to call it by its name. As medical professionals, we may feel limited when deciding to support a victim beyond providing a high quality medical examination with full and sufficient evidence of what happened. However, through an effective doctor-patient relationship, we can help people in denial or in the dark understand what gender-based violence is and how it can quickly escalate into femicide if left unchecked. Empathy and understanding the circle of violence are important when discussing this issue since most survivors are heavily manipulated by their abuser. Naming gender-based violence correctly is also important for femicides. Death certificates are legal documents that require seriousness and honesty – as my professor of forensic science once told us: you can only fill one out if you were there and you know, with proof, what happened-.

We are still far from reducing the number of feminicides and victims of gender-based violence. Until that happens, educating ourselves to provide informed service to our patients may be the first step medical professionals must take to break the cycle of violence for good. Additionally, learning about legal and social issues can help us not only raise awareness about femicide, but also honor those who died too soon and could not live to tell their stories.

The references:

Castro, M. (2021, December 28). A chronology of the femicidio by Lisbeth Baquerizo. G K. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://gk.city/2021/12/21/caso-lisbeth-baquerizo-cronologia/
Direction of Social Communication. (2021). Caso Lisbeth B.: a juicio como presunto responsable del femicidio de su esposa. Fiscalía General Del Estado. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://www.fiscalia.gob.ec/caso-lisbeth-ba-juicio-como-presunto-responsable-del-femicidio-de-su-esposa/
European Parliament. (202 CE). Femicide, its causes and recent trends: what do we know? (PE653.655). Thematic Department of External Relations. https://doi.org/10.2861/83923
Machado, J. (2022, January 8). Los femicidios increase by 57% between 2020 and 2021 in Ecuador. Primicias. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/sociedad/aumentaron-femicidios-victimas-ecuador-muertes/
World Health Organization. (2021, March 9). In a devastating and pervasive way: 1 in 3 women worldwide experience violence. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/09-03-2021-devastatingly-pervasive-1-in-3-women-globally-experience-violence

About the Author

Lorena Vela is a fourth-year medical student from Ecuador. Writing has been a big passion for her since she was in high school, which led her to participate in an anthropology project in India as a National Geographic scholar after winning a regional essay contest. She also attended Harvard University’s pre-college program to study innovative cancer treatments. In the future, she hopes to stay involved in public health and gender issues while running and mountain biking in her free time. She is currently pursuing her future specialty of interest for residency after graduation.

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