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Women's Rights in El Salvador
Establishing effective women’s rights in El Salvador, including freedom from domestic, sexual and organized violence, is challenging but not impossible. Grassroots organizations and marches are leading the charge for the law and society to be more aggressive towards male perpetrators against women.

There are similar yet unique narratives that women who endure extreme violence, die from extreme violence or seek asylum in other countries tell to escape such violence. Much of the violence that women in El Salvador endure boils down to a critical lack of reproductive choices, resources, education and discriminatory gender hierarchies in the home and the workplace. Machismo, or macho-man characteristics, beliefs are present in all of these narratives.

For women’s rights in El Salvador to flourish, the country must assess and address the ways machismo, as a form of systemic patriarchy, is persistent in the daily functions of El Salvadorian women’s lives and identify potential solutions to this system issue.

Laws Protecting Women’s Rights in El Salvador

There are a collection of laws, international and domestic, upholding women’s equal status with men, barring discrimination or violence against woman. El Salvador is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará).

Despite these existing conventions, reports reveal that seven of the top 10 countries with the highest femicide rates are in Latin America, including El Salvador. This highlights the primarily symbolic nature of these conventions, many of them suffering from a general lack of enforcement.

In 1996, 2010 and 2011, the Salvadoran government implemented three laws to further the protection of women’s rights and deter violence against women.

The first was the Family Domestic Violence Act (1996) addressing intra-familial violence and femicide. A 2010 law, the Special Integral Law for a Life Free of Violence against Women, aimed to punish all forms of violence against women, ranging from workplace harassment to murder. Lastly, the Creation of Specialized Courts for a Life Free of Violence and Discrimination against Women (also known as Decree 286 or the “Femicide Law”), of 2011, emerged for specialized courts to deal with cases of all violence against women, requiring all legal staff to obtain necessary knowledge on a woman’s right to a life free of violence and discrimination.

Unfortunately, the laws have not proven effective as the endurance of beatings, rapes and femicides have multiplied since the introduction of the first policy in 1996. For example, in 2012, a year after El Salvador instated the Salvadoran femicide law, the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR) estimated that El Salvador’s impunity rate was as high as 77%.

Grassroots Efforts to Protect Women’s Rights in El Salvador

La Colectiva, a nonprofit based in El Salvador, aims to provide services and resources to women facing and addressing gender-based violence. The organization’s founder, Morena Herrera, strives to abolish the country’s abortion penal code. The organization not only addresses domestic conflicts but also focuses on reproductive rights and education so that women feel empowered to retain all rights to their bodies and seek help when necessary.

Abortion and reproductive rights are critical issues in El Salvador. The country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in all of Latin America, with one-quarter of young women ages 15 to 19-years-old having been pregnant. In fact, 41% of pregnancies among 10 to 19-year-old girls stems from sexual abuse, with 12% of those being the result of incest. The degradation of women’s rights in the eyes of the law is most apparent when women seek an abortion, as the law considers it a homicidal offense with a 30-year-minimum sentence.

The feminists of El Salvador are also targeting the judicial system, a conservative stronghold, for its negligence of violence against women cases, including the sexual assault of teenage girls. Many women deem authority efforts futile since perpetrators function about society with impunity. To offset this disparity, El Salvador is making strides to equip more women judges with proper training on gender issues, making them more likely to support victims and women’s rights in El Salvador.

In April 2017, feminist organizations throughout the country organized and demonstrated to denounce widespread sexual violence, the mysterious disappearances of women and mass femicide, in an effort to disrupt the machismo culture that affects women from all backgrounds, ages and economic statuses. These marches occur every year on March 8, International Women’s Day, as women’s rights activists demand more radical and swift change for equality.

– Vicki Colbert
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Syria
For nearly a decade, the Syrian Civil War has left the Middle Eastern nation desolate, impugned with violence, and, more importantly, divided. However, when it comes to mainstream coverage on the Civil War’s effects, women are not usually in the spotlight, at least until recently. With the Syrian Civil War coming to a close, rebuilding and drafting a new constitution has commenced. This transition period is giving nonprofits and international organizations a unique opportunity to elevate women’s rights in Syria.

Overview

One can define women’s rights as women having the same legal protections and economic opportunities as men, along with an equal footing in the rebuilding process. Essentially women in Syria should have fair access to nonprofit and IGO resources as well as food, water and medicine.

Currently, Syrian women suffer from food insecurity, loss of education, lack access to clean water and medical supplies and gender-based violence at a disproportionately higher rate than men. In fact, in 69% of communities, early and unwanted marriage is a prevalent concern.

Moreover, before and during the war, societal roles of marriage and domestic abuse escalated dramatically. One report noted that “even though the state endowed women with rights to education, employment, etc., society ignored those rights. They saw society as a mechanism that reproduces the privileged position of men through customs and traditions.”

Since marriage is a cultural safeguard against rape and kidnappings, more women entered marriages only to become victims of abuse. Thus it is vital that nonprofits, International organizations and the global community as a whole, emphasize women’s rights in the initial rebuilding phases.

Women Now for Development

While the past decade presented several obstacles for obtaining women’s rights in Syria, local actors, nonprofits and international organizations are paving a solid foundation for the future.

In December 2018, when the U.S. announced its departure from the Syrian Civil War, the international organization Women Now for Development (otherwise known as Women Now) kicked-started a series of humanitarian centers in non-state controlled regions in Syria.

These centers served to provide educational skills and medical assistance to Syrian women, particularly those fleeing violence. Additionally, Women Now’s help centers assisted with:

  • Fighting illiteracy, especially among women and young people.
  • Empowering women economically through training and providing them with support to create income-generating activities.
  • Providing education through classes in technology, communications and foreign languages.
  • Supporting women’s access to society and building civic engagement.
  • Providing children’s education and protection.

What makes Women Now different from other international organizations is that rather than excluding Syrian Women from the development conversation, it is emphasizing their voices and perspectives. As a result, it is allowing for a more effective and streamlined localization effort.

UN Women

Another instance of international organizations assisting women’s rights is U.N. Women. For the past two years, the group helped women participate in a cash-for-work program that taught the women skills while giving them a stable revenue stream. Additionally, the U.N. Women’s project in Syria created safe-spaces and skill training seminars, allowing women to escape abuse both due to the war and normalized oppression in Syrian society.

Regional analysts predict that with a new wave of protests and emphasis on failed human rights campaigns, Syria will either fail as a state or work within a globalized system to strive for a better future.

The Middle East Women’s Initiative has lead the battel for female representation in the new Syrian government so far, both in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ability to win influence over the people and in Syrian Women’s international representation. The Initiative noted in a recent index how “Women in the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces hold senior leadership roles across policy functions and institutions. Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, acts as the region’s de facto head of state, speaking before the U.S. Congress and meeting U.S. President Donald Trump last year. Further, the SDF operation to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control was led by a woman commander, Rojda Felat.”

Reforms for the Future

In order for Syria to build a foundation that genuinely upholds women’s rights, it needs to introduce and expand on new policies. A highly recommended reform would be to restore compliance to CEDAW laws regarding discrimination against women.

While Syria signed onto CEDAW, an international framework against female discrimination, it conveniently left out several key provisions. In the transition, Syrian government officials must consider re-instating said provisions to grant women a stronger foundation of civil liberties and elevated socio-economic status.

Another critical step is to increase funding for feminist nonprofits. Under the current status quo, feminist nonprofits are quintessential to providing women with protection and critical resources.

“This[assisting women in Syria] was difficult without proper funding. Women Now was only able to compensate staff for their work with a minimum wage due to feminist organizations’ funding, who understood the importance of care to staff working in difficult circumstances. When centers had to shut down, and programs could not be delivered, the remote management team also lost funding for their salaries.”

Finally, both regional and global actors must pursue international diplomatic coordination. As stated previously, military conflict disproportionately impacts women. However, international and regionally based specialized committees are already making progress on de-escalating violence and creating safety mandates. Thus, increased diplomatic coordination should be a primary priority.

While many would call Syria a failed state and lost cause for any form of human rights, past and current reforms are starting to paint a different narrative. Now it is up to the rest of the world to decide whether they are willing to support said vision.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking and Violence Against Women in Africa
African women have experienced inequality in many aspects of life throughout history. Today, some of the largest risks African women face are human trafficking and gender-based violence. These risks are prevalent in underdeveloped areas where women are more likely to have lesser access to education and formal job opportunities. According to a 2005 article in the U.N.’s African Renewal, the majority of impoverished people in Africa are women. Thus, violence against women and modern-day slavery are two major consequences of poverty in Africa today.

Quick Facts About Human Trafficking in Africa

The largest group of human trafficking victims across the world are between the ages of 9 and 17. Most female trafficking victims fall within the 18-20 age group. According to the African Sisters Education Collaborative, 9.24 million people in Africa are currently victims of modern-day slavery. This is 23% of the world’s population of modern-day slaves. In addition, over half of all human trafficking victims in Africa are under the age of 18. The majority of African human trafficking victims are female. Moreover, sexual exploitation makes up over half of all human trafficking exploitation in Africa. The exploitation of victims frequently lasts for less than a year. However, some victims reported experiencing exploitation for up to 16 years.

History of Violence Against Women in Africa

Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is a traditional practice that has occurred in at least 28 African cultures throughout history. Additionally, over 120 million women and girls are victims of genital mutilation across the world. Despite violating international human rights laws, FGM/C often goes unreported within African countries. This is due to its prevalence and importance in cultural traditions. According to the Translational Andrology and Urology article, a nonmedical practitioner often performs FGM/C. The aim of this practice is to fulfill religious or cultural rites and sometimes for economic benefits.

Domestic violence is another alarming issue that is prevalent across Africa. A third of all African women had experienced physical or sexual domestic violence. In addition, every eight hours a domestic partner kills a woman in South Africa. Around 51% of African women experience beatings from their husbands. This happens when women go out without permission, neglect the children, argue back, refuse to have sex or burn the food.

Modern-day Women’s Rights in Africa

Many African countries accord equal rights to women in their current constitutions, such as Uganda, South Africa and Kenya. The African Union (AU) recognizes the “critical role of women in promoting inclusive development” in Article 3 of the Protocol on Amendments of the Constitutive Act of the AU. Additionally, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa lays a foundation for African governments to follow to promise equal rights to their female citizens. The document also protects women against gender-based violence and empowers women to fulfill their potentials within society.

Women received the right to vote in many African countries throughout the 20th century. Since then, many African governments have increased the number of women they allow in leadership roles and governmental positions. Some African countries, like Uganda, require by law that a certain number of government positions and organizations’ leadership roles be allocated specifically for women. This is similar to the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Countries like Rwanda criminalize violence against women in domestic violence laws. However, there is a low circumstance in enforcing and implementing these policies due to cultural traditions. In addition, the village or family institution is informally superior to law enforcement.

Strides Towards Women Empowerment in Africa

The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Since then, the CEDAW has worked to encourage African countries to “commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms.” Ninety-nine countries around the world have ratified the CEDAW since 1980.

Eliminating the risk and existence of human trafficking is also a major part of female empowerment and keeping women safe in Africa. Educating women, showing them their potential for formal job prospects and warning them against the signs of engaging with human trafficking can prevent human trafficking.

The Devatop Centre for Africa Development is a leading global advocacy group that focuses on anti-human trafficking efforts in Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest human trafficking hubs. Devatop Executive Director Joseph Osuigwe told The Borgen Project in an interview that he created the Centre in 2014 after hearing stories from human-trafficking survivors. Since then, the Centre has implemented several training programs to raise awareness of human trafficking in Nigeria and to provide protection for victims. “Within 9 months, the trained advocates [from The Academy for Prevention of Human Trafficking and Other Related Matters] sensitized 6000 people in over 30 communities,” Osuigwe said. “They reported three cases of human trafficking, of which one of the victims was rescued.”

What Still Needs to be Done for Women in Africa?

Few sub-Saharan African countries have successfully addressed gender-based violence issues. Hence, bridging the gap between policy and practice across Africa will help end human trafficking and violence against women.

Government leaders, nonprofit organizations, international allies and citizens alike will need to unite to protect and empower all African women.

Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in CambodiaThe Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been one of the world’s most important nongovernmental organizations defending women’s rights since it was adopted by the U.N. General Council in 1979. Since then, it has been ratified by 187 countries and has played a major role in the overall increase of women’s safety and living standards worldwide.

Cambodia ratified the CEDAW in 1992, shortly after the end of its civil war. Despite the good intentions such a ratification signals, women’s rights in Cambodia remained stagnant for many years.

Not until the 2003 National Poverty Reduction Strategy (NPRS) was enacted did the Cambodian CEDAW ratification become anything more than nominal. Among many other goals, the NPRS acknowledged and addressed the gap in education, employment and property rights between men and women. Though many women were helped by the plan, the fact remains that they were simply a small part of a larger overall strategy. There remained much to do.

Though women’s rights in Cambodia were helped by both the NPRS and a 2002 affirmative action policy, which gave priority to women entering tertiary education, it was not until recently that the government began truly following through on its commitment to equal rights for women. The Cambodia National Council for Women (CNCW) and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) were both established in 2001, but it was not until 2005 and 2007, respectively, that either began having any measurable effect.

Some progress has been made. In 2005, 64 percent of people in Cambodia knew a man who had abused his wife. By 2009, the number had shrunk to 53 percent. Infant mortality rates dropped from 65 to 45 per 1000 births between 2005 and 2010, and maternal mortality rates dropped from 472 to 206 per 100,000 births over the same period. From 2008 to 2013, the number of women who received education increased three percent overall, with the most significant improvements being made in the vital rural regions.

Women’s rights in Cambodia have come a long way in a short amount of time, but there is no place now for complacency. Women make up only 15 percent of the Cambodian Senate, a number unchanged since 1999. Parliament is slightly better, with one in five members being women, but this percentage is still frighteningly low.

No Cambodian provinces are governed by women, and sex trafficking, low wages and long hours at menial jobs remain a reality for many women, especially those in rural areas. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights monitors violations of women’s rights and the work they do alongside the CNCW and the MoWA will continue to shepherd Cambodia into the future. If Cambodians truly wish to become a modern nation, the progress they have made cannot stop until reality reflects the intent of the CEDAW, signed so many years ago.

Connor S. Keowen

Photo: Flickr


Morocco is known for being one of the most progressive states in the Middle East and North because of its advancements made for women. Despite these advancements, women’s education in Morocco still lags behind. In 1999, King Mohammed VI ascended the throne after the death of his late father. Since then, his reign has been touted as “the education decade,” and the rise of literacy for the women of Morocco could be partly credited to the King. Here are five facts about women’s education in Morocco.

  1. Literacy rates are low but are still increasing. For a long time, the literacy rates for women in Morocco have been low. King Mohammed’s implementation of more progressive laws has helped to increase these literacy rates. For example, one gave rights for women to be autonomous in the Family Code. Another removed all restrictions from the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). According to the World Bank, literacy rates jumped from 27% in 1999 to about 63% in 2016. Unfortunately, the number of girls pursuing high school and university are still low. Just 10% of girls attend university, but the numbers are growing due to the construction of new schools and girls’ dormitories at existing schools. This makes it easier to attend when the closest school is miles away from home and unreachable by public transportation.
  2. There is a big gap between the urban and rural areas of Morocco. Almost 90% of women in rural areas are illiterate. These numbers are largely due to the cultural norms in rural areas, where traditional gender roles are still prevalent. People still believe the proper place for a woman is at home. This is why the number of girls attending schools in rural areas is only 26%, while for boys it is 79%. Unfortunately for girls in rural areas, access to schools is far from easy. Most schools in rural areas are miles away from homes. The schools become inaccessible because of the poor infrastructure and dirt roads not always being reliable.
  3. The Language Barrier: Berber vs. Arabic. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language in the country, but Berber is the language spoken in rural areas. In many Berber-speaking areas, girls stay at home because school is taught in Arabic. The teachers provided by the state almost never know how to speak Berber. This takes away the chance for these girls to learn.
  4. Education for mothers on the rise. On a positive note, parents of children are also taking advantage of opportunities to learn when they can. The state started a program called Mahou Al Omiya (Erasing Illiteracy), which provides night classes in local schools. Although the program is open to both men and women, mothers of school-aged children have the highest attendance rate. This gives mothers the opportunity to complete the schooling they never had the chance to finish. This opportunity helps the mothers to form relationships with the teachers of their children and gives them the ability to assist their children with their own school work.
  5. Foreign aid is a necessity. Foreign aid has become essential to the advancement of women’s education in Morocco. Aid like the United States Millennium Challenge project has provided $100 million towards the construction of more schools in Morocco. The work of NGOs has also become essential. The campaign Let Girls Learn sends Peace Corps volunteers to assist local leaders to help advance girls’ education and empowerment.

While there remains a long way to go, the progress for women’s education in Morroco over the last 20 years has been remarkable. With continued local and international support, opportunities for young and old will continue to drive the nation toward a lasting prosperity.

Maria S. Rodriguez

Photo: Flickr

cedaw
Despite having been proposed during the Carter administration, the Global Women’s Treaty (CEDAW) was never approved by the Senate. Under the current Obama administration, attention has been brought back to the United Nations treaty for ratification. Many human rights organizations have criticized the United States’ inaction with this treaty for decades.

The treaty hopes to attain full gender equality, specifically in areas of domestic violence, maternal health, economic opportunities and human trafficking. Although the U.S. prides itself on being at the forefront of human rights activism and campaigns, not ratifying the treaty seems contradictory. Only seven nations, including the U.S., have not ratified the treaty.

The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has supported the treaty twice, but there has not been substantial support in the Senate as a whole. CEDAW acts as a guideline for countries to follow in order to eliminate gender inequality. In past years, many advancements in women’s rights have been attributed to the CEDAW framework.

With barriers to economic and social equality, countries are functioning at a fraction of their potential. CEDAW helps to alleviate these barriers, tailoring guidelines for each country based on its current landscape. For these reasons, the U.S.’ ratification would not only help solidify domestic efforts to foster gender equality, but also promote gender equality in other nations.

With nations including China, Russia, the UK and many of our NATO allied nations participating, the U.S. is one of the few to not cooperate on this issue. With U.S.’ leadership and resources, the international alliance toward improving global living conditions for women can prosper. With the approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hopefully CEDAW will pass through the Senate this year.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Human Rights Watch, CEDAW 2014
Photo: Ratify CEDAW Facebook