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OAS Chief: Violence Against Latin America's Women a 'Never-ending Story'

FILE - A woman's shoes lie on a street in Quezaltepeque, July 2, 2013.

From the rape of a toddler in Peru to a woman in Venezuela who was thrown off a balcony, progress on combating widespread gender violence in Latin America risks backsliding, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) said Tuesday.

Luis Almagro, chief of the 34-nation OAS, cited other recent examples of gender violence, including the murder of women land rights defenders and the region's high rate of femicides — the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender.

"It's a never-ending story and we must fight against it and put an end to it," said Almagro, at a conference on gender violence hosted by the Washington-based regional bloc.

Violence against women is driven by an entrenched patriarchal culture and a lack of justice for women with few criminals punished, he said.

"Violence against women and girls in our region continues to be one of our most alarming phenomena — physical, sexual violence and femicides, this is something that affects us every day," Almagro said.

While Latin America has made progress in recent years by introducing new legislation to protect women, including laws passed by more than a dozen countries that define and punish femicide as a specific crime, they are not being implemented.

"We are facing a threat, of a moving back, regression because of hatred and intolerance that brings about the kind of violence we are talking about here," Almagro said.

Gender violence experts speaking at the conference also highlighted that child sex abuse in Latin America remains hidden, while women face new forms of violence, including online stalking and harassment and attacks on social media.

Dubravka Simonovic, United Nation's special rapporteur on violence against women, said better data to show what is working is a priority. She said the U.N. is working to build a global database on femicides in each country.

In El Salvador, Simonovic said she was "shocked" about women who had suffered miscarriages were wrongly serving 20-year prison sentences for terminating their pregnancies. Abortion is banned under any circumstances in the Central American nation.

Feride Acar, head of the Council of Europe's group of experts on action against violence against women (GREVIO), said changing social attitudes was the "crux of the matter."

"A lot of the implementation ... depends on being able to change the mindsets in society that are based on patriarchal attitudes and on the assumption of gender inequality," Acar said.