About femicides, gender-based violence and physicians: a local case report

(Credit: Unsplash)

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


In December 2020, Katty Muñoz, mother of Lisbeth Baquerizo, was going through some of the hardest things a mother could experience. It was not about Lisbeth forming a family, having a career or becoming famous. Katty was in grief about losing her daughter, and after an alarming call, she started suspecting that Lisbeth’s husband was to be blamed for her death.

Femicides in Ecuador increased 57% as of last year, however this number could be greater: violence against women is under-recorded worldwide. For instance, Katty only suspected that a femicide could have happened after a friend contacted her to inform her that Lisbeth’s husband violated her. Although 1 in 3 women from all over the world experience violence, only a little number of these cases are legally and publicly reported. Some of the reasons for this are, according to a report made by the European Union, denial, ignorance, underestimation and lack of resources and support systems for victims.

When speaking about femicide, nevertheless, one of these causes is truly alarming: medical doctors are responsible for declaring causes of death, and many times these are falsely declared as health issues. Lisbeth´s case became widely known because a physician signed her death certificate with a heart attack written as the cause of death although the autopsy later confirmed that she suffered cranial trauma. This portrays the importance of the involvement of health professionals when discussing gender-based violence and femicides and, as it was shown in Lisbeth’s case, we are still far away from being active and positive contributors towards this matter.

The first steps in supporting survivors are acknowledging that gender-based violence exists (with a higher frequency than what we imagine) and calling it by its name. As health professionals we could feel limited when deciding to support a victim beyond providing a high-quality medical examination with complete and enough evidence of what happened. However, through an efficient doctor-patient relationship, we can help those in denial or in ignorance to understand what gender-based violence is and how it can quickly escalate towards femicide if not stopped. Both empathy and understanding of the circle of violence are important when discussing this problem since most of the survivors are being highly manipulated by their aggressor. Calling gender-based violence properly is important for femicides too. Death certificates are legal documents that require seriousness and honesty -as my legal medicine professor once told us: you can only fill one of them if you were there and you know, with proof, what happened-.

We are still far away from reducing the numbers of femicides and gender-based violence victims. Until this occurs, educating ourselves to provide an informed service to our patients can be the first step health professionals take to break the circle of violence for good. Moreover, learning about legal and social matters can help us not only to raise awareness about femicides, but also to honor those who died too soon and could not live to tell their story.


References:


Castro, M. (2021, December 28). Una cronología del femicidio de Lisbeth Baquerizo. GK. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://gk.city/2021/12/21/caso-lisbeth-baquerizo-cronologia/
Dirección de Comunicación Social. (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-b-a-juicio-como-presunto-responsable-del-femicidio-de-su-esposa/
European Parliament. (202 C.E.). Femicide, its causes and recent trends: What do we know? (PE653.655). Policy Department for External Relations. https://doi.org/10.2861/83923
Machado, J. (2022, January 8). Los femicidios aumentaron un 57% entre 2020 y 2021 en Ecuador. Primicias. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/sociedad/aumentaron-femicidios-victimas-ecuador-muertes/
World Health Organization. (2021, March 9). Devastatingly pervasive: 1 in 3 women globally 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 huge passion of hers since she was in high school, and that 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 Pre-College Program to study innovative treatments for cancer. In the future, she expects to keep involved in Public Health and Gender-related matters while doing trail running and mountain biking in her free time. She is currently pursuing her future specialty of interest for residency after graduating.

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