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Post-Maria: Rise of Femicides and Gendered Violence

August 3, 2021 in


The patriarchal system that is installed in Latin America produces gendered violence and femicides. Machismo or toxic masculinity has contributed to many cases of domestic violence to women and non-men leading to trauma, injury and possibly death to the victim. Gendered behavior is a societal production that reinforces gender roles and norms under differentiating circumstances. Those who attempt to break through the patriarchy are met with violent resistance, whether it is a physical prevention or an indirect prevention. Puerto Rico has faced a similar uptake of femicides and gendered violence since the passing of Hurricane Irma and Maria. To contribute to the natural disaster the economic and political condition of the island was in disarray with ill preparation for the storm and recovery efforts. The cutting public services and the slow rebuilding of different municipalities has created diverse effects across the archipelago of Puerto Rico, one being the attacks against women. Femicides and gendered violence have increased due to the decrease of social services and availability of employment. Prior studies (Slabbert, 2016; Evans, 2010) have shown that where poverty is rampant and there is a lack of governmental services there is an uptake in violence to women. As Puerto Rico undergoes austerity measures there is a correlation of violence perpetrated by cis-gendered men.


In August of 2016, the fiscal control board or “La Junta” was implemented by the President of the  United States, to oversee the debt crisis on the island. The board was created when the Puerto Rican public debt reached an astonishing $72 billion (Rodriguez, 2016). The board could bypass any legislative law created by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and enact their budgetary plan.  The instances of gendered violence has been an issue on the island for years prior to the economic downturn of Puerto Rico. According to a study domestic violence begins from an adolescent age and can carry on to young adulthood (Diaz & Toro, 2012). The machismo expressed by men reinforcing gender roles culminating in a toxic relationship, moreso the economic situation has an increase of violence (Rouro, 2019). Puerto Rico, an archipelago in the Caribbean, was devastated by Hurricane Maria and is considered the worst natural disaster to ever hit the Antilles. The storm made landfall on September 20, 2017 as a category 4 storm with winds at 155 miles per hour (Adams et al., 2019). The entire island lost power, water and gas, with mudslides, power cables and trees uprooted blocking the roads. The results of the storm left infrastructure disseminated, along with it a critical economic disaster. The increase in gendered violence has become a health crisis as well as a human rights issue, that continues to cause harm to the residents still living under these circumstances. There are three components that produce violence by cis-gendered men, the machismo culture engrained in society, the austerity measures construed by the fiscal control board and limited disaster relief with the slow recovery process.

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La Junta fiscal implemented austerity measures that affected many social service programs on the island. The crippling debt forced many public institutions such as schools, hospitals and government offices to shut down. This fiscal crisis forced the minimum wage to flounder down to the federal minimum of $7.25, while there was a rise in taxes to 13%. The average income of a Puerto Rican household stands at $19,000, with prices of staple goods are economically inaccessible to residents (Hinojosa & Melendez, 2018). The austerity measures stretched to cutting funding for teachers, doctors, professors and social programs that include WIC, affordable housing and medical services. Many Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line and those able to leave have been able to move to the United States, while many are trapped and must undergo the ordeal implemented by La Junta (Adams et al., 2019). The control board is an unconstitutional addition that has removed the public voice from the decision making process and has reduced the population to pawns to be thrown away. The social toll that the people are enduring with rising prices, rampant unemployment and the defunding of social welfare has created an atmosphere of unfortunate circumstances for many municipalities (Morales-Diaz & Del Toro, 2012). In areas of high unemployment they become a hub for crime, some of which becomes gendered. The burden of poverty within family falls on the shoulder of the male figure, under the patriarchal gender roles, producing them to be violent against their partner. To retain domination within the household, with no jobs there are instances of domestic abuse, the relation between the two becomes continual cycle as there is a reliance for women to stay due their economic conditions.

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The gendered violence and femicides, the murder of a girl or woman by a man because they are woman, are attributed to the patriarchal hierarchy in Puerto Rico. The hierarchy creates gendered roles where the man is the dominant figure and the woman is subordinate to the man. This has reproduced machismo or toxic masculine behavior in relationships. In Latin America there are some legislators that do not recognize domestic violence as a crime (Saccomano,2017). According to a 2003 study, Puerto Rico was found to have the sixth highest rate of femicide in the Americas, and was found to have the seventh highest rate worldwide (Roure, 2011). The ages of victims of femicides were between 20 and 39 years old, with all these cases being with spouses or intimate partners. In these cases there were only a small percentage of orders of protection and arrests against the aggressor, with the majority choosing not to report due to the bureaucratic process, lack of protection and fear of retaliation from their abuser (Roure, 2011). The laws created on the island serve to be symbolic as they do not provide the adequate protection needed for victims of domestic violence. The social services for victims is insufficient as public funding was scarce for domestic violence victims and are more so with the fiscal control board managing the budget.

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Hurricane Maria left the infrastructure of Puerto Rico devastated, with no protocol set up in the event of a natural disaster. For many municipalities, like Utuado, they were ill equipped to handle the destruction of water supplys’, electricity and communication. Towns were already suffering from poor social services before the hurricane made landfall (Adams et al., 2019). The entire island of Puerto Rico was left in darkness for a minimum of 3 months, with first responders unable to reach communities due to lack of resources and equipment to clear roads. Residents trapped relied on one another to survive as the government was unable to do so. As the slow recovery process began, many were faced with insufficient funding to restart their lives, as damages were out the price range for many residents (Hinojosa & Melendez, 2018). The austerity measures imposed by the fiscal control board continued as they did not reopen schools and shutdown many University of Puerto Rico campuses (Hinojosa, Melendez & Pietri, 2019). As the economic situation worsens the unemployment rate rises, with the price of goods as well rising. The position of poverty stricken communities breeds crime and violence, with victims of relationship violence being woman. (Duffy, 2018)

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The patriarchal hierarchy attached with economic strain produces gender violence as men reclaim dominance to retain superiority. The crumbling infrastructure of Puerto Rico created a cycle of violence perpetrated by toxic masculinity. In Puerto Rico it is evident in the case study of Sofia, who is a victim of domestic violence living in a shelter with their infant child during Hurricane Maria. The case study highlights the navigation of the court system and the lack of legislative support for victims in a post-natural disaster state. The struggle that Sofia had to go through with no assistance from police or social services, proved difficult for her to leave her abuser. The four major problems faced by victims on the island are; lack of communication and transportation, lack of police presence, courts being closed, and a massive exodus of residents from the archipelago. These factors culminated to the decrease in reporting of domestic violence concluding to femicides (Roure, 2011). In rural areas there is less support for victims, unlike urban centers where women are able to find refuge and resources for abuse. I will be using the life-span and expectancy for women in an abusive relationship, comparing the rural and urban perspective. Puerto Rico is 70% mountainous, making a majority of domestic abuse taking place in municipalities that lack material support (Hinojosa & Melendez, 2018). In comparing both parts of the island I would be able to get a full scope analyze of the different material conditions of the women in Puerto Rico. Since there is a dependency on the man, women in rural areas will endure abuse to maintain economic security.


In conclusion, it is linked that the economic disparity creates violence in the household and amongst partners. The violence in a post natural disaster state, is still common as there are no resources to assist residents affected. There is a failure by the state to address the violence taking place in Puerto Rico and there are no structures to provide economic relief for residents. The slow recovery process has only worsened the situation on the island and it will continue to worsen unless there are accurate policies and resources invested into rebuilding. The suffering in Post- Hurricane Maria can be fixed through restoring budgetary control to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, auditing the debt and investing in social services one being to domestic violence shelters. Until then those who lack resources are trapped in their municipalities and will continue to endure the horrors of abuse. 


Duffy, L. (2018). Viewing Gendered Violence in Guatemala Through Photovoice. Violence Against Women, 24(4), 421–451.

Holladay, P. J., Mendez-Lazaro, P., Centeno, H. M., Rivera-Gutierrez, R., Adams, K., & Brundiers, K. (2019). Utuado, Puerto Rico and Community Resilience Post-Hurricane Maria: The Case of Tetuan Reborn. Recreation, Parks, and Tourism in Public Health, 3, 5–16.

Morales Díaz, N. E., & Del Toro, V. R. (2012). Experiencias de violencia en el noviazgo de mujeres en Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican Journal of Psychology / Revista Puertorriqueña de Psicología, 23(1), 57–90. Retrieved from

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Saccomano, C. (2017). El feminicidio en América Latina: ¿vacío legal o déficit del Estado de derecho? / Feminicide in Latin America: legal vacuum or deficit in the rule of law? Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionals, (117), 51–78. Retrieved from

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Hinojosa, J., Melendez, E. & Pietri K. S. (2019) Population Decline and School Closure in Puerto Rico. Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, 1-17. Retrieved from 

Hinojosa, J., & Melendez, E. (2018) The Housing Crisis in Puerto Rico and the Impact of Hurricane Maria. Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, 2-23. Retrieved from