Women in El Salvador and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

For some, it was a day of turkey feasts and family gatherings, but for many more, November 25th was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Designated by the United Nations back in 1999, it now marks the beginning of a 16-day campaign of activism that culminates in Human Rights Day (December 10).  According to the United Nations Population Fund, November 25th marks the start of 16 days of activism against gender violence by highlighting 16 forms of gender violence and proposing 16 ways to stop it (read more here on UNFPA’s page and on Rutgers’ official campaign page).

In El Salvador, Contrapunto prefaced the holiday by featuring two articles addressing the status of women in the region.  One article, “The ‘sin’ of being a women in a machista country,” highlighted the high level of violence women in the country face, pointing out that El Salvador has the world’s highest “femicide” or homicide rate for women of 129.46 per million women.  The article denounces not only the physical violence women face, but also the sexual violence, and recounts a recent case where evangelical pastor Antonio Moreno was arrested and charged in the rape of 13 female minors and two male minors.  The author also decries El Salvador’s 197% increase in violence against women from 1999 to 2009, according to United Nations Development Program representative Richard Barath.

Violence against women comes in many forms, some of which are less obvious to a largely patriarchal society in which male abuse of women can be considered “normal,” the author states.  The Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo de la Mujer (ISDEMU) (Salvadoran Institute for Women’s Development) gathered data this year for its Second National Report on the Situation of Violence Against Women in El Salvador and reported that from January 1 to November 5, 2010, the institute handled 6,320 cases of violence against women.  The National Civil Police (PNC) gave equally alarming figures, stating that there were 477 women murdered from January to October 2010, with 193 of those murders occurring in the capital city alone.  Ima Guirola of the Instituto de Estudios de la Mujer “Norma Virginia Girola de Herrera” (CEMUJER) summarized the figures differently:  in 2010, a woman is murdered every 13 hours.  85% of reported cases involve a perpetrator known to the women, and 76% of women who have suffered sexual abuse faced that abuse when they were younger than 19.  Both institutes have denounced what they consider to be cultural legitimization of violence against women coupled with a lack of strong institutions for criminal prosecution.

Another article in the same publication, entitled “Discrimination against women is latent,” focused on the November 17-19 visit of Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, Rapporteur on the Rights of Women from the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (see IACHR press release here).  Mejía Guerrero acknowledged that there was political will to see an end to violence and discrimination against women, but stressed that the government needed to take more steps to improve the situation on many levels, with special attention to the weaknesses in the justice system.  Mejía Guerrero judged El Salvador’s judicial system to be weak due to the large number of cases of violence against women that go unpunished because of “a lack of tools that facilitate the investigation process and victim’s compensation.”  According to the Attorney General’s Office, of the 6,803 cases of sexual crimes against women that took place between 2008 and 2009, only 436 have obtained convictions.  Mejía Guerrero stated that the problem is also a regional one, which encompasses a wide range of discrimination against women, including economic, social, and cultural rights.  According to a 2009 report by Consejo por la Igualdad y la Equidad (CIE), El Salvador has a 14% gap in salary between men and women, with women also reporting numerous labor violations such as unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, and exploitation.

Given these troubling statistics, the situation women face in El Salvador is as unacceptable as it is worrisome, and merits serious attention by the Funes administration.  Given the government’s pro-life crackdown and constitutional amendments that go to extreme lengths in order to preserve a life beginning at the point of conception, it is puzzling why the government has not done more to advance and protect the rights of women once they are indeed born.

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