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