International Forum on Women’s Rights in El Salvador

Last week, Voices staff attended the International Forum on Women’s Rights at the National University of El Salvador.  The forum was a collaborative project between a number of domestic and international women’s rights organizations including Las Dignas and Ormusa, the National University’s Center for Women’s Studies, and the United Nations Development Program. Speakers and participants from Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and El Salvador gathered for three days to discuss issues such as violence against women and femicide, reproductive rights, and legislative discrimination.

Dr. Ana Caredo from Costa Rica, for example, discussed problems relating to violence against women in Central America. Her analysis focused on the term “genero” and its social inferences, as well as the lack of an international convention on violence against women.  In Spanish “genero,” refers to women, the discrimination they face, and the power struggle between the sexes. Dr. Caredo posited that over time Latin America cultures have accepted male dominance and the power imbalance between the sexes, which has resulted in an increase in violence against women.  She also argued that the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other international agreements fail to address the issue of violence against women.  With the murder rate of women growing exponentially, Dr. Carcedo called for the international community and all governments in the region to take appropriate action to achieve balanced power structures and end the violence.

Dr. Ximora Laza, a Salvadoran human rights attorney addressed discrimination against women in Latin America from a legislative perspective. Dr. Laza focused on four types of discriminatory legislation in Latin America.  Some laws are directly discriminatory, while others indirectly discriminate.  She also categorized some laws as arbitrarily inverse measures, meaning that they seem to give women preferred treatment but have a discriminatory affect.  Others laws are “false measures,” which are paternalistic or falsely protect women. The Salvadoran Labor Code, for example, prohibits women from working night shifts or handling certain toxic substances. These provisions limit opportunities for women in the workplace and seek to preserve their role as family caregiver, while perpetuating the power imbalances between men and women.

These were but two of the speakers who highlighted different aspects of gender inequality in Latin America.  Despite the wide range of important issues discussed at the forum, abortion and same sex marriage were never addressed. Though debates over these issues are elements of women’s rights discussions around the world, in El Salvador they remain taboo, even for a forum at the National University.

The forum was well attended by male and female students and professors of all ages, who engaged speakers during question and answer sessions, and participated in lively discussions between panels. A key component of the Salvadoran population, however, was missing – campasinos (El Salvador’s rural population).  Power imbalances between the sexes and violence against women is often most prevalent in rural communities, yet their unique stories, points of view, ideas, and concerns were not represented on the panels or in the informal discussions during the breaks.

Voices is planning a delegation to El Salvador in August of 2010 to discuss women’s and gender issues such as genero, machismo, education, economic opportunities, and all other aspects of women’s rights.  In addition to organizing meeting with different groups and communities, we will invite a group of Salvadoran women to be a part of the delegation, which will allow the discussions to last long after the meetings are over. For more information, contact voices@votb.org.

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