The Puerto Rican government responded this weekend to the plea of thousands who have asked the island's leaders to address the ongoing crisis of gender violence.
Newly sworn-in Gov. Pedro Pierluisi signed an executive order Sunday declaring a state of emergency that would allocate resources to deal with gender violence in Puerto Rico.
"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," Pierluisi said in a news release. "For too long, vulnerable victims have suffered the consequences of systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education, lack of guidance and above all, lack of action. 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."
“Fighting does work,” said Lourdes Inoa Monegro, the program director at Taller Salud, a nonprofit organization that's been helping women in the island deal with the gender violence crisis.
As cases of gender-based killings continued to rise, advocacy groups in the island had been demanding concrete action from the government to address the crisis.
Although advocacy groups wish the island hadn’t reached this point of the crisis in the first place, members of Taller Salud say this state of emergency was past overdue. “This is a message that our claim was much needed,” Inoa Monegro told ABC News.
After Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico in 2017, domestic violence rose substantially, according to an analysis from GEN and Type Investigations. The analysis found that in 2018, the intimate partner murder rate in Puerto Rico rose to 1.7 per 100,000 women, up from 0.77 per 100,000 in 2017.
Meanwhile, the rate of gender violence in general is still rising. Last year, a total of 60 indirect and direct murders linked to gender violence were reported in the island, according to Puerto Rico's Gender Equality Observatory, a figure that represents an increase of 62% from 2019.
So far, Puerto Ricans have already mourned the loss of a transgender man and a young woman in the first three weeks of 2021. Both cases are being considered as gender-based murders by advocacy groups.
While many advocates have taken Sunday's declaration as an effective measure to move forward, Vilma Gonzalez, the executive director of the nonprofit Paz Para La Mujer, said “the work doesn’t end here.”
Gonzalez said now is the moment to start working and execute everything that was approved in the executive order.
“We are here to help, but we are also here to inspect the process,” Gonzalez told ABC News.
The new executive order declaring the state of emergency would create a committee called PARE (an acronym in Spanish that means Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education of Gender Violence) that would work on determining what measures and policies should be taken to address the ongoing crisis in the island.
The PARE committee will have 17 members, including representatives from the main gubernatorial agencies, people that work for nonprofits and gender violence experts.
As part of the executive order, a mobile app will be created to assist victims and report aggressions. A program to check in with women who have filed restraining orders and educational media campaigns will also be launched.
The order also stipulates that an official will be designated to oversee and verify that everything in the executive order is being followed.
"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 boys and girls that every human being has to be respected, as well as empower to our next generations to eradicate this evil," Pierluisi said in the news release. "Equity between boys and girls, men and women is key to achieving the Puerto Rico without gender violence that we all want."
While this new order does address many issues that former governors Ricardo Rossello and Wanda Vazquez hadn’t taken in consideration, there are some aspects of it that still need work, both Inoa Monegro and Gonzalez said.
Inoa Monegro said some aspects of reliable data collection, transgender killings and gender education were mentioned in the order at an “ambiguous” level.
“We are interested in the steps,” Inoa Monegro said, but added, “What is the timeline now?”
Gonzalez said this state of emergency “can't stay in a paper.” As a person who works directly with victims, she said it’s crucial to see the plans on the executive order come to life. “A work plan without accountability is nothing,” she said.
Following years of work from nonprofits and multiple protests of Puerto Ricans demanding change, advocates say this state of emergency against gender violence is just the first step.
“Now is when we get to work,” Inoa Monegro said.