San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemalan women take up arms amid climate of insecurity

The climate of insecurity in Guatemala is forcing women to arm themselves to protect themselves and their families, the Central American nation’s state newspaper, Diario de Centroamerica, reported Monday.

The official newspaper said an increasing number of women of different professions are acquiring weapons and registering them with Guatemala’s Arms and Munitions Control Office.

Some 9,200 weapons have been registered at that agency in the name of women, representing 4 percent of the total weapons registered.

DIGECAM Assistant Director Guillermo Mejía said it is uncommon for women to visit the weapons regulatory agency. However, they are increasingly showing more interest in carrying a firearm for self-defense.

What is motivating women to arm themselves, the official told the Diario, is the need to feel more secure and protected, because many of the women own businesses and have been the victims of crime.

Many of the female gun owners have received training on how to fire their weapons and others have been shown how to do so by their husbands or sons, Mejía said.

Activist Rosario Escobedo, of the women’s organization Sector de Mujeres, said she feels that violence will not be done away with by arming oneself and it is the duty of the authorities to provide security for the public.

But women have been strongly affected in recent years by the climate of insecurity.

Between 2003 and 2008, the murders of women increased in Guatemala by 179 percent, according to a report prepared by the national Ombudsman’s Office.

During 2009, 720 women were murdered in Guatemala and another 899 were injured in acts of violence, according to the same report.

Meanwhile, last month 40 women were killed in violent acts.

Guatemalan authorities blame gangs and other organized-crime elements for much of the violence in this Central American country of roughly 13 million people, which recorded 6,475 homicides last year, an average of 18 murders per day.

By comparison, 7,724 people were slain last year in neighboring Mexico, a nation of more than 100 million where rival drug cartels are waging war with each other and the security forces.

All but 4 percent of Guatemalan murders go unpunished, according to the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

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