By Belinda Goldsmith
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in Latin America must stop accepting violence as a normal part of life, government leaders and campaigners said on Thursday as five countries from the region joined forces to end its high murder and assault rates of women.
Studies show Latin America is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the world's highest rates of femicide - the killing of a woman because of her gender - with 12 women and girls killed daily in the region because they are female.
United Nations figures show that globally in 2012, nearly half of murdered women were killed by a partner or ex-partner. This compared to one in 20 for men.
With the U.N. and European Union launching a 50 million Euro ($58 million) project in Mexico, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said women and men must stop treating violence against women as the norm.
"We must tell boys that beating up girlfriends is not the right thing to do," Mogherini told a launch event at the U.N. where world leaders are meeting for their annual summit.
"We must tell girls that if their boyfriend beats them up, it is never okay."
The so-called Spotlight Initiative in Latin America comes a year after the U.N. and E.U. began a 500 million Euro, multi-year project to help end all violence against women and girls by 2030, which is among the U.N.'s set of global goals.
In recent years women have taken to the streets across Latin America to protest gender violence as part of the international "Ni Una Menos" or "Not One Less" campaign.
Earlier this year Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, called for lawmakers to protect women and spoke out against the "machismo" culture in Latin America.
Mexican actress Cecilia Suarez said the acceptance of violence against women in Latin America must end, particularly in her country where the number of women killed rose to 2,746 in 2016 from 1,089 in 2007.
"There is a growing trend towards sadism in my country. It is atrocious," she told the event where speakers included the president of Honduras and foreign ministers or high-ranking government officials from El Salvador, Argentina and Mexico.
"We need to tackle machismo so we can find solutions."
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the new initiative would help address legislative gaps related to violence against women and set up more services for survivors, among other actions.
Colombian acid attack survivor Natalia Ponce de Leon said women had to stop being the victims.
Ponce was severely disfigured when a stalker hurled acid at her in 2014, causing burns over one quarter of her body, in an attack that shocked the South American country.
She underwent about 15 operations to reconstruct her face and started to campaign to crack down on acid attacks, setting up a foundation and driving Colombia to pass a law with tougher sentences for offenders and better medical care for victims.
"What happened to me could happen to anyone," said Ponce, receiving a standing ovation from the audience. "It is time to take action."
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(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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