NGOs in El Salvador Helping WomenWomen in El Salvador face a myriad of challenges, including gender-based violence, poor living standards and unequal treatment in education. Underscoring the severity of the situation, in 2021, El Salvador had one of the highest rates of femicide in Latin America and the world, with a reported 2.4 cases of femicide per 100,000 women. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), women and girls between the ages of 15 and 29 years face the greatest threat of femicide. In response to the issue, a number of NGOs in El Salvador are helping women to avoid violence and discrimination.

NGOs in El Salvador Helping Women

  • Women of Hope: In 2021, the nonprofit organization Salvador’s HOPE launched a project called Women of Hope. This initiative tackles increasing rates of sexual and domestic violence, kidnappings and disappearances among El Salvador’s women and girls by providing counseling, resources and abuse and safety training. Working in collaboration with local churches and NGOs, Women of Hope aims to promote “Worth, Value and Dignity” among vulnerable women.
  • The Girls’ Education Accelerator (GEA): The GEA is a Global Partnership for Education (GPE) project that supports girls and young women in a number of partner countries. The first of these to access the GEA and its funding was El Salvador in June 2022. The country received a $15 million grant to advance gender equality in education from early childhood to adolescence and strengthen the girls’ education focus of the government’s “Crecer Juntos” (Growing Together) policy for early education. For instance, a GEA research project found that 70% of test booklets across four key subjects promoted domestic and familial roles for girls while overlooking women in professional careers. Hence, the GEA is serving as an initiative that focuses on developing gender-sensitive learning materials and reform assessments so that teachers can more accurately assess the gender disparities in their classes’ results. The World Bank’s “Growing Up and Learning Together: Comprehensive Early Childhood Development” program and the “Nacer, Crecer, Aprender” (Be Born, Grow Up and Learn) program of the Inter-American Development Bank are lending further support to the initiative.
  • LibrES: For an El Salvador without Gender-Based Violence: Arizona State University has launched a five-year project, “LibrES: For an El Salvador without Gender-Based Violence,” in an effort to reduce rates of gender-based violence in El Salvador. With $35 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), LibrES works in San Salvador, San Miguel and Santa Ana. These cities have the most recorded cases of gender-based violence in the country. LibrES collaborates with local organizations and plans to serve 3,000 Salvadorans, train 1,000 people to promote gender equality and female empowerment and facilitate more than 100,000 interactions through its public campaigns by the time of its conclusion in December 2027. Furthermore, many of ASU’s schools are collaborating to support women in El Salvador. The Thunderbird School of Global Management, for one, is training staff to introduce its DreamBuilder curriculum, which helps women worldwide launch or refine their own businesses. The university’s Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law is also working with Salvadoran prosecutors to make the country’s legal system a safer place for survivors of gender-based violence.

Looking Ahead

Despite the injustices that they face, the almost 3.5 million women living in El Salvador today are gaining growing support in the fight against violence and educational inequities. Local, national and international organizations are working to raise awareness regarding issues that affect women, These organizations also work to provide protection and opportunities for the many women who are victims of gender-based violence.

Martha Probert

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