In the early hours of the morning of 21 February 2017 in El Cortezal, a small quiet town in the Northeast of Nicaragua, Vilma Tujillo, a 25-year old mother of two was burned by members of an evangelical church of which she was a member.
El Cortezal is a no-man’s land where there is no state presence, no school, no hospital, and no police station. Law and order are di by religion. The town’s main authority is the pastor of the religious congregation, Juan Gregorio Rocha.
According to members of the Church ‘Heavenly Vision’, which belongs to the Evangelical Congregations ‘Assemblies of God’, Vilma Trujillo was “demonized” for having been unfaithful to her husband.
Juan Gregorio Rocha, age 23, performed fasting and a prayer “cleansing” with eight other individuals while Trujillo allegedly remained locked up and tied in a house next to the church for six days as the group decided her punishment. According to the pastor, a “divine revelation” suggested that Trujillo needed to be thrown into a bonfire to drive out the devil inside her, and thus allow the sin of her infidelity to be forgiven.
Trujillo was thrown naked into a bonfire, both her hands and feet tied. For six hours she remained in the fire which caused second and third degree burns in 80% of her body. Relatives of Trujillo tried to help her while she was being burned alive, but members of the religious congregation blocked access to the site. According to El Confidencial, a local newspaper, Trujillo’s sister found her nine hours later. Her brother and father helped transport her to a hospital which then transferred her by airplane to a bigger facility in Managua, the capital, because of the severity of her burns. Vilma Trujillo died a few days later.
Religion and patriarchy
Religion is a significant part of the culture of Nicaragua. According to the Pew Research Center, based in Washington D.C., 40% of Nicaraguans currently declare themselves as Protestant or Evangelical, and 50% as Catholic.
The history of Christianity has been built from a patriarchal perspective, resulting in the relegation of women as inferior to men. For example, in some Christian sects, women are not allowed to conduct religious ceremonies. In Brazil, in order to undergo tubal ligation surgery, women must obtain their husbands’ signature. The general belief that has grown from these teachings is that women are incomplete unless controlled by men.
It is a well established fact that men and women do not have equal rights or opportunities for individual possession, and for the use of resources for development and production. Gender disparities in terms of access to economic resources, including credit, land and economic power-sharing, directly affect womens’ potential to achieve the kind of economic autonomy they need to provide a better quality of life for themselves and their dependents.
In Latin America, especially in the Mesoamerican region, religion (namely Christianity), continues to exert a great influence in shaping the consciousness of individuals. The Christian religions often preach androcentric messages, demand devotion to male-made doctrines, justify macho behavior, legitimize patriarchal practices, foster misogynistic attitudes, and incite violence against women. They legitimize in many ways the exclusion of women from the public sphere, political life, intellectual activity, the scientific field, and limit their functions to the domestic and private sphere – the education of sons and daughters, care for the husband, care for the sick and the elderly, etc.
Patriarchal relations have exerted every kind of violence against women – physical, psychological, religious and symbolic. The list of abuse is endless: sexual harassment in schools and jobs, trafficking of women, sexual and domestic bondage, mutilation on grounds of infidelity, restriction of movement and exclusion from the public sphere, rape in war and times of peace, forced prostitution, wife bartering, negation of women’s rights, HIV infection through husbands, rape in marriage, etc.
Patriarchy and femicide
Patriarchy is defined as the manifestation and institutionalization of male domination over women. As a consequence of a patriarchal, androcentric and male chauvinist culture, women in Nicaragua, and in many other Latin American countries, are considered and treated more as an object than a social subject.
Different studies on crimes against women demonstrate that the origins of misogyny relate to the old concept of men’s superiority over women, the patriarchal nature of society and the tendency to use violence as a tool of repression in order to maintain male domination. Latin America is the region with the most female murders on earth. Among the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are from Latin America and the Caribbean.
The inequalities in Nicaragua affect mainly women. Different research estimate that half of the women in the country have suffered some type of violence. Considering that the population of women in Nicaragua is about 2.5 million, this means that more than one million women have suffered violence. Between 2012 and 2017, at least 345 deaths of women by femicide were recorded in Nicaragua.
The organization Red de mujeres contra la violencia, and different associations in defense of women’s rights, classify the murder of Vilma Trujillo as a result of misogyny and male chauvinism, as well as religious fanaticism. Juanita Jimenez of the Autonomous Women’s Movement told Nicaraguan local media that the “act of barbarity” was an example of fanaticism and misogyny.
In Nicaragua Law No. 779 defines “femicide” as the offense committed by a man who kills a woman, publicly or privately, as an extreme result of violence. The law also punishes various types of maltreatment, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and patrimonial. According to many human rights organizations, Trujillo’s death was a result of sexism.
This horrible crime exposes the social problem women have faced through history in countries of patriarchal nature and how some manipulate religion to discriminate against women.
Trujillo’s death has also prompted outrage from human rights activists calling for tighter control over religious sects in Nicaragua and the rest of Latin America.
There is a need to expose actions that violate and affect the safety and rights of women, and there is a need to demand justice and set a precedent in favor of equal rights between men and women.