Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared a state of emergency Sunday over the island’s gender violence crisis, a measure local groups have demanded from the government for years.
The executive order—which allocates public resources to address femicides and other forms of violence against women— is considered an important step in addressing a long-existing issue that jumped back into the spotlight after a recent murder.
“Gender violence is a social evil, based on ignorance and attitudes that cannot have space or tolerance in the Puerto Rico that we aspire to,” said Pierluisi in a press release. “It is my duty and my commitment as governor to establish a STOP to gender violence and for these purposes I have declared a state of emergency.”
The emergency declaration, established through an executive order, implements a series of wide-ranging policies to combat gender violence in Puerto Rico. It comes days after police say a man confessed to killing his partner of 16 years, a nurse and mother of three found dead in a ravine. The crime outraged many on the island who say violence against women hasn’t been taken seriously.
As part of the order, a mobile app will be created to help victims report their aggressors to emergency services. Authorities will create a program to check in with women who have filed restraining orders. And the government will launch media campaigns to educate the public about gender violence. A compliance officer will be charged with ensuring the order is followed, while a committee including local rights groups will simultaneously monitor implementation and publish progress reports.
“To eradicate gender violence we have to make concerted efforts between the state and society in which, in addition to a comprehensive plan, there is an educational approach to teach our children that every human being has to be respected, as well as empower to our next generations to eradicate this evil,” the governor added in his announcement. “Equity between boys and girls, men and women is key to achieving the Puerto Rico without gender violence that we all want.”
The crackdown on gender violence comes days after Angie Noemi González, a woman from the mountain town of Barranquitas, was killed by her spouse, police said. Her uncle, Alex Santos, told el Nuevo Herald she worked at a nursing home, including during the pandemic, and had survived cancer. He said she had expressed fear for her life but thought that filing a restraining order would be pointless.
“It’s a piece of paper that won’t protect me at all,” he said she told her.
There were at least 60 femicides in Puerto Rico last year, according to local watchdog group El Observatorio de Equidad de Género. That figure represents a 62% increase from 2019. The U.S. territory registered the world’s highest per capita rate of women over the age of 14 killed by their partners in a 2012 report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Declaring a state of emergency due to gender violence was one Pierluisi’s campaign promises. The governor said recently his team was working to issue the executive order as soon as possible, and one of the first measures the new Puerto Rican Senate approved in January was requesting the declaration of emergency from the governor’s office.