Climate Change, Community News, Corruption, COVID 19, Economy, education, El Salvador Government, Environment, Equality, human rights, International Relations, migration, News Highlights, Politics, solidarity, U.S. Relations, Water/Agua, Womens issues

What is Going on in El Salvador?

You are cordially invited to a very intriguing conversation with Salvadoran experts, tomorrow evening. The topics we will be discuss are the Current state of Politics and Freedom of Expression in El Salvador.

If you want to directly contribute via the Zoom meeting, pre-register @

We can’t wait to see you!

Están cordialmente invitad@s a una conversación muy intrigante con expertos salvadoreños, esta noche. Los temas que trataremos son el estado actual de la política y la libertad de expresión en El Salvador.

Si desean contribuir directamente a través de la reunion de Zoom, preinscríbase @

¡Estamos ansiosos por verte!

Equality, human rights, News Highlights

Black Lives Matter

As a human rights organization, Voices on the Border ardently denounces all acts of racism, discrimination and violence against Black people and empathize with their outrage and share in their grief of having lost so many innocent lives to ignorance and hatred.

We stand in total solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement because we truly believe in the power of the people and encourage their right to fully express their pain, joy and demands for justice and peace, however they see fit. The movement’s global spread is giving us a sense of hope for the future, while also allowing us to examine our own commitments to structural and strategic change, which we acknowledge must come from within in order to be sustainable.

We are currently in the middle of our annual Board meeting, and this analysis helps us appreciate that, due to VOICES ‘proximity to our local partners, both are given frequent opportunities to be challenged and educated, socially and culturally. On the the other hand, this same examination leads us to ask ourselves how we can improve the representation of people of color on our Board, to ensure cultural accountability and organizational growth towards social equilibrium.

Historical hatred and unhealed wounds are realities that we must face and correct, in the United States, in El Salvador, as human beings. This complex task is the responsibility of us all.



Como organización de derechos humanos, VOCES denuncia ardientemente todos los actos de racismo, discriminación y violencia contra los negros y empatiza con su indignación y comparte su dolor de haber perdido tantas vidas inocentes por ignorancia y odio.

Nos solidarizamos totalmente con el movimiento Las Vidas Negras Importan, porque realmente creemos en el poder del pueblo, y alentamos su derecho a expresar plenamente su dolor, alegría y demandas para la justicia y paz, como ellxs quieran. La difusión global del movimiento nos está dando una sensación de esperanza para el futuro, y, al mismo tiempo, nos permite examinar nuestros propios compromisos con el cambio estructural y estratégico, que reconocemos deben venir desde adentro, para ser sostenibles.

De hecho, nos encontramos en el medio de nuestra reunión anual de la Junta Directiva, y este análisis nos ayuda a apreciar que, debido a la proximidad de VOCES a nuestros socios locales, pues a ambos se les da oportunidades frecuentes de ser desafiados y educados, social y culturalmente. Por otro lado, esta misma inspección nos lleva a preguntarnos cómo podemos mejorar la representación de gente de color en nuestra Directiva, para garantizar la responsabilidad cultural y el crecimiento organizacional hacia el equilibrio social.

El odio histórico y las heridas no curadas son realidades que debemos enfrentar y corregir, en los Estados Unidos, en El Salvador, como seres humanos. Esta tarea compleja es responsabilidad de todos nosotrxs.


Equality, Uncategorized, women & girls

Protecting and Preventing Acts of Violence Against Women in Morazán

El Salvador’s recently held mid-term elections on March 4, saw a staggering overturn of political power as right-wing parties overtook the senate and major municipal seats in San Salvador, La Libertad and Santa Ana; and much could be said about the ‘debacle.’ At the same time, human rights defenders and survivors are celebrating the exoneration and release of two Salvadoran women unjustly incarcerated in for miscarriages many years ago.


Last year, El Salvador experienced 3,605 homicides, a 1,675 reduction from 2016. As multitudes rise up in outrage against the country’s oppressive justice system and high rate of gender-based violence, El Salvador continues to be one of the most dangerous countries to be a woman.

2017 National Statistics
graph-1.png(source ORSMUSA)

More troubling is that the factual number of violent cases against Salvadoran women and girls are most certainly much higher than the statistics represented above because victims do not report becasue of fear of retribution and impunity. It is important to note that the majority of these victims suffer abuse in their own homes at the hand of men most close to them.

2018 Women’s March in San Salvadoroutput_mOcplO

Silvia Juárez, program coordinator for the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace  in El Salvador (ORMUSA) stated that women “are still not equal. The profound root of violence against women is inequality. We are considered human beings of less value.” On the eve of International Women’s day, a vigil was held in San Salvador and on March 8, over 3,000 marchers took to the streets to protest the country’s widespread inequality and violence against women. Their demands were simple: dignity and respect for all women and reforms to the healthcare and judicial systems.

That same day in Morazán, 600 protestors marched through the streets of San Francisco Gotera, confronting important judicial courts and even the town hall, while chanting slogans like “We don’t want flowers, we want justice!”

In 2016, 176 cases of domestic violence and 72 acts of sexual violence were reported in Morazán. According to the Citizen Network of Morazán Women (the Network), though down from the 14 official reports in 2016, five cases of femicide were invisibilizedthis year. The Network consists of 8 municipal associations scattered throughout the department with the mutual objective of promoting and defending the human rights of women. They accomplish their goals through combining unity, education and protest.

Women’s Day in Morazán, 2018output_jBLsBe

Gender-based violence is so prevalent in Morazán that it has led to the Network and other local organizations to begin to develop a community based approach to facilitate the recovery of victims and their families by educating communities and service providers, offering victims immediate and long-term support, and holding relevant  institutions accountable. Fortunately, this interrelationship of Morazán leaders exemplifies a support network of local women who can identify effective solutions to support victims of violence and their families in resource-constrained settings.

Click here for more information about the Network’s initiative and ways you can help.

The time is now.

agriculture, Economy, Equality, Food Security

More Neoliberal Economic Policies Will Not Stop Unaccompanied Minors From Seeking Refuge

DSCF0020March 2-3, Vice President Joe Biden was in Guatemala with leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). Their agenda was to “accelerate the implementation of the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (the Plan).” The meeting came just a month after Vice President Biden announced that the Obama Administration would ask Congress for $1 billion in aid for the region.

The purpose of the Alliance’s Plan, $1 billion fund, and the March meeting is to address the surge of unaccompanied minors leaving the Northern Triangle for the U.S. It’s an important goal. In FY2014, more than 60,000 youth were caught trying to enter the U.S. and government officials expect more than twice that in FY2015.

While the Plan arguably contains some constructive approaches towards decreasing violence, the emphasis is on implementing neoliberal economic policies. The proposal reads more like CAFTA-DR 2.0 or a World Bank structural adjustment plan, than an effort to stem the flow of emigration. The Northern Triangle and U.S. governments are proposing that foreign investment, more integrated economies, and free trade – and a gas pipeline – will provide the jobs and opportunities necessary to keep youth from seeking refuge in the U.S.

Income inequality and violence are the driving forces behind youth seeking refuge in the U.S., but its hard to imagine how more neoliberal economic policies, which many cite as the reason for inequality over the past 25 years, will do anything except ensure the region’s rich will remain so. A skeptic might even argue that the U.S. and Northern Triangle governments are using the “crisis” of violence and emigration in order to implement policies that further their own economic interests.

Increasing Foreign Investment and Investing in Our People

The Alliance Plan and other related documents emphasize that the solution to emigration, violence and inequality has to be economic – attracting foreign investment, unifying regional economies, increasing competitiveness in global markets, and training the workforce. The Plan, which was first published in September 2014, offers four Strategic Lines of Action. The first, and most detailed, is to stimulate the productive sector. The second is to develop opportunities for our people. Of the $1 billion grant from the U.S., $400 million will support these two lines of action.

Stimulating the productive sector means “attracting investment and promoting strategic sectors capable of stimulating growth and creating jobs… we will make more efficient use of our regional platform to reduce energy costs that stifle our industries and the national treasury, overcome infrastructural and logistical problems that curb growth and prevent better use of the regional market, and harmonize our quality standards to put them on par with what the global market requires.”

The Plan identifies four productive sectors: textiles, agro-industry, light manufacturing, and tourism, none of which are new to the Northern Triangle. Textile maquiladoras, sugarcane producers, factories, and tourism have exploited the region’s labor force and natural resources for years. They have created jobs, but ones in which workers are paid a sub-poverty minimum wage and endure a myriad of human rights abuses. Saskia Sassen wrote in 1998, and other since then report that so far the global economy has produced “a growing supply of poorly paid, semi-skilled or unskilled production jobs.” That has not changed in the past 17 years. When unions and workers try to negotiate better wages or working conditions, manufactures and investors simply leave. The environmental impacts of these sectors have been equally devastating, and will get exponentially worse if large-scale tourism, a gas-pipeline, and other industries are allowed to move forward.

While CAFTA-DR pretends to address labor and environment, and the “race to the bottom”, Northern Alliance governments provide detail about the concessions they will give to foreign investors. These include lower energy costs, infrastructure, and “harmonization” of standards, which some believe means an agreement on a very low bottom.

The U.S. and Northern Alliance countries have been implementing neo-liberal economic policies since the early 1990s; the same period that crime and gang violence began to proliferate. Privatization, dollarization, free trade agreements, maquiladoras, Millennium Challenge Corporation grants, Partnership for Growth, Public-Private Partnerships, and more have all been implemented over the past 25 years. The same period that crime and violence has skyrocketed.

As academics (good articles here and here) and campesino leaders in rural El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have articulated for years – globalization and neoliberal economic policies are the reason for the high rates of inequality that has resulted in the high levels of crime and violence, and lack of opportunities that have forced youth to flee. Poverty and inequality are nothing new in the Northern Triangle, but Globalization and neoliberalism is simply the latest tools the elite use to maintain and grow their wealth.

Just this week, El Faro published an article titled “The Neoliberal Trap: Violent Individuals or Violent Situations ” that is based on 2013 study in El Salvador. The authors found that communities that are more isolated from the global community and depend sustenance agriculture were less likely to experience social isolation, gangs, crime and violence. Communities that have a greater market mentality are more socially isolated and prone to crime. The article argues, “The neoliberal reconstruction has renewed and amplified the conditions of alienation. Meanwhile, some elites embrace neoliberal reconstruction as a means of assuring their position in the new “transnational capital class of global capitalism, while a large part of the population is left out and has to fend for themselves.”

Colette Hellenkamp drew a similar conclusion in her piece War and Peace in El Salvador. She concludes, “The wealthy few in [the El Salvador] do whatever is necessary to maintain their riches and quench their thirst for comfort and power. Their status and wealth will not be threatened as long as they ensure that the masses remain uneducated and in chaos.” The crime and violence in El Salvador has certainly caused such chaos that instead of opening small shops and providing services the region’s otherwise hard-working and industrious workforce is leaving en masse.

Academics also point out that proponents of neo-liberal ideologies believe their model is perfect – “everyone benefits, not just some, all.” Those that don’t are referred to as the “underserving poor or the underclass that demonstrate two characteristics – they are underserving and predisposed to unlawful behavior. Proponents argue that free market, neoliberalism is perfect and if people don’t benefit, its not the market’s fault, it’s because people are lazy and prone to violence.

The Northern Alliance Plan is to double down on the neoliberal policies that sustain the same economic inequalities they say they are want to correct. Bur more sub-poverty, minimum wages will only serve to further stratify the economic and social classes.

Albert Einstein said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” But that’s what the Northern Triangle Plan seems to want to try and do.

Violence and Security

Instead of focusing on more neoliberal economic policies, the Plan must focus on putting an end to the high rates of crime and violence.

Analysts agree that most of the youth detained on the U.S. border were fleeing violence. A report published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that 58% of the minors interviewed “were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.” The report identified two sources of violence – “organized armed criminal actors and violence at home.” A report written by Fulbright Fellow Elizabeth Kennedy found, “59 percent of Salvadoran boys and 61 percent of Salvadoran girls list crime, gang threats, or violence as a reason for their emigration. Whereas males most feared assault or death for not joining gangs or interacting with corrupt government officials, females most feared rape or disappearance at the hands of the same groups.” Other reasons for leaving included the lack of economic opportunities and reunification with family members in the U.S. But of those youth, “most referenced crime and violence (the chaos) as the underlying motive for their decision to reunify with family now rather than two years in the past or two years in the future.”

The proposal for decreasing violence in the Northern Triangle is a mixed bag at best. The Plan wants to invest more money into the same heavy-handed, militarized, law enforcement policies that have been failing for 25 years. Alexander Main provides a good critic of these policies in his Truthout article, Will Biden’s Billion-Dollar Plan Help Central America.

But its not all bad. There are some proposals in the Plan that focus on alternative conflict resolution, safe schools, trustworthy community policing, modernizing the justice system, and giving civil society and churches a greater role in prevention and rehabilitation. There are also needed reforms for ensuring better governance and addressing organized crime. One of the more positive ideas is to “improve prison systems, including infrastructure based on prisoner risk profiles, the capacity of prison staffs, and rehabilitation programs, including those focused on juvenile offenders and their prison conditions.”

El Salvador has even proposed an ambitious $2 billion plan that proposes similarly progressive policies for ending violence at the national level. The plan “promises parks, sports facilities, education and training programs for the country’s 50 most violent municipalities, as well as improvements to the worst prisons where the country’s biggest gangs – Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS13) and Calle 18 – have proliferated over the past decade.”

If implemented, these projects could help decrease levels of crime and violence, and calming the chaos that helps maintain high levels of inequality. But if academics and campesino leaders are right, and globalization is the cause of the inequality, these positive steps are unlikely to have any lasting impact. The undeserving poor will still be limited to working sub-poverty wages and have little if any social and economic mobility.

If Not More Neoliberal Economic Policies…

Stemming the flow of emigration is a complex task, and the Northern Triangle and U.S. governments are right to consider a multi-faceted approach that aims to provide economic opportunities, end violence, and address other deficiencies.

Instead of more neoliberal economic policies, the Northern Triangle and U.S. governments, and the IADB should focus their plan on making the region safe from crime and violence. There are very smart, informed civil society leaders who have put forth some very reasonable proposals. The governments should do more to work with them to implement their ideas and proposals on a large scale. The plan articulates some of these ideas, but instead of taking second place to more neoliberalism, they should be at the heart of the proposal.

The solution should include creating economic opportunities, but that does not require foreign investors or selling out the region’s workforce and environment. Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans are known as hardworking and industrious. Instead of building infrastructure and providing incentives to multinational corporations, the governments should focus those investments on supporting and incentivizing local, small businesses. That does not mean small business loans, but it might mean making it more difficult for international corporations like Walmart to run all the mom-and-pop shops out of business. Family businesses do more than provide jobs; they build neighborhoods and social networks.

Instead of promoting agro-industry and exports, as proposed by the Plan and Partnership for Growth, governments should support communities in their efforts to promote food security and sovereignty. El Salvador’s family seed program, for example is an example of a relatively low cost government action that supports small family farmers that are trying to feed their family and contribute to their local economy. In 2013, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development called for a “rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

There are solutions. The only question is motive and whether policy makers are really interested in addressing emigration, violence, and economic inequality, or using the chaos and “crises” as means to further their own economic interests. This month, President Sanchez Cerén and the Legislative Assembly declared March 26 as the National Day of Peace, Life and Justice – a day in which all Salvadorans will unite and demand an end to the violence and chaos. But even this simple idea of bringing people together was too much for the business class. ANEP (El Salvador’s Chamber of Commerce) came out against the Day of Peace, Life, and Justice, argues that celebrating a National Day of Peace would cost El Salvador $56 million in lost economic opportunities. ANEP representatives argue, “the suspension of just one day of work will cost Salvadorans more that 56 million dollars, and could result in the loss of contracts from export businesses, and thus the employment of workers.”

Their position could be one of pure practicality. More likely it is a true reflection of their priorities – money and profits over peace, life, and justice.

Equality, Womens issues

International Women’s Day in Morazán – More of a Rally than a Celebration

This week Voices on the Border has been hosting a delegation from Georgetown University, a group of students getting their Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution. They are exploring issues of conflict and peace in the country, beginning with several meetings in San Salvador to get a general overview of issues at the national levels, followed by several days in the mountains of Morazán, where Voices has worked since 1987.

2013 Celebration of International Women’s Day at the Temple in San Luis


Yesterday the delegation attended a Celebration for International Women’s Day at the Temple in San Luis in Community Segundo Montes, where a few hundred women gathered to discuss issues that impact their every day lives. Even before the delegates arrived in Morazán, gender issues came up in several of our meetings in the Capital. At CONFRAS (Confederación de Federaciones de la Reforma Agraria Salvadoreña), we learned that only 1% of Salvadoran women own land! Maria Silvia Guillén, the Director of FESPAD (Foundation for the Study of Application of Law) told us of a recent case in which a woman who worked at the Legislative Assembly filed a sexual harassment case against her boss, only to be arrested for defamation. We also heard horror stories of pregnant women going to the hospital with a miscarriage, only to be arrested for supposedly trying to terminate their pregnancy. Several women have been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison. During our meetings we heard of several law reform efforts in 2012 to improve conditions for women, but few passed the Legislative Assembly, which is still controlled by men.

The celebration held at the Temple of Martyrs and Heroes in San Luis was as much a rally and call to action as it was a celebration. During the event we spoke with Father Miguel Ventura, who has been working in the region since the early 1970s. He told us that while Morazán doesn’t suffer the high rates of femicide that other regions have, they do have the highest rates of domestic violence in El Salvador. The number of men who attended the event at the Temple, approximately 5, is evidence of the persistence machismo culture. We were told that if men attended the event their male friends would ridicule them.

Speakers at the event stressed the need for women in the region to continue fighting for equality, stressing greater awareness of rights and the need to report domestic violence. While highlighting some of the successes over the years, they said that women had to keep fighting.

Traditionally men give women flowers. Perhaps next year the best gift that Salvadoran women could get would be reduction in the rates of domestic violence, femicide, and inequality.

Advocacy, Equality, violence, Womens issues

Violence Against Women is on the Rise

Targeted violence against women claimed over 500 lives in El Salvador last year, and the death toll continues to rise. The rate of these femicides, as they’ve been termed, has risen 197% in El Salvador over the past decade.

Victims of femicide are murdered precisely because they are women, and targeted violence takes many forms, the most obvious being domestic abuse within an established relationship and sexual violence both in and outside of a relationship. But victims of female-targeted crime do not always know their victims. Often, their crimes are even motivated by circumstances outside of the victim’s direct control, such as family members’ gang involvement. Perhaps the most disturbing trend in violence against women is the targeting of young women in rural areas, who are prone to random attacks by strangers simply because they are vulnerable.

We’ve written about femicide on this blog in the past, and but the issue has received more attention recently due to a particularly disturbing court ruling in Mexico. The ruling of Campo Algodonero, is the first case in which a state has been found guilty of violating rights to “life, integrity, and personal liberty” by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In brief, the ruling addresses the violent deaths of eight women in Ciudad Juárez in 2001 and condemns as criminal the government’s complete lack of diligence in investigating the crimes. This ruling ought to have far-reaching consequences, as it solidifies the government’s role in ensuring a safe environment for all of its citizens as well as its responsibility to uphold justice, no matter the social status of the victim.

Currently, “there are a lot of murders because everyone knows that, if you kill a young girl, nothing will happen to you,” states Rosa Isela Pérez, a Mexican-born columnist now exiled in Spain, during an interview with El País. She goes on to explain that Mexico and other Central American countries are essentially lawless when it comes to protection against violence toward women. Further, despite appalling statistics in Mexico, the situation is even graver in El Salvador, the country with the highest rate of violent crime.

Some believe that the high rate of femicide is a far-reaching remnant of the violence of El Salvador’s civil war: exposure to extreme violence for so long increases the likelihood of this violence being continued, they claim. This is an overly simplistic explanation, as it doesn’t account for the specific targeting of women, which is very hard to account for. Some say that most femicides are motivated by “hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership over women” (Diana Russell), but that gives no explanation of the origin of these feelings. The only apparent answer, though a very unsatisfying and disturbing one, is the established system: men rank higher (socially, politically, economically) than women, and are determined to hold onto this power, no matter the cost.

Fear plays a large role in femicide, both in the perpetration of the crime and in the lack of justice following it. In El Salvador, as in many Central American countries, the atmosphere is rife with machismo – a culture in which the masculine, powerful man is the ideal. Unfortunately, when juxtaposed with the realities of Salvadoran life (poverty, lack of economic/ social opportunity), this ideal stretches out of reach, sometimes driving men to lash out. Determined to prove their manhood, some men turn to physical violence in order to inspire the fear necessary to maintain control and respect in a relationship.

This fear doesn’t stop when the relationship ends, however: at least 12% of ongoing cases of criminal violence against women are stopped because of the victim’s continuing fear of their aggressor. This statistic echoes larger structures of threats and intimidation throughout El Salvador and the rest of Central America, in which fear is employed as a means of obtaining power and control. Violence against women is only one of many devastating symptoms of the culture of impunity in Latin America, pointing to the necessity of an overhaul of the system, through education, political participation, and international solidarity and aid.


Advocacy, Equality, violence, Womens issues

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.

Equality, Public Health, Voices Developments, Womens issues

Continuing Virtual Delegation Calls on Women’s Rights Issues

In continuation of our Virtual Delegation series on Women’s Rights in El Salvador, we hosted Dr. Miriam Cremer from Basic Health El Salvador to discuss her more than 12 years experience addressing women’s health issues in El Salvador. Over the years, Dr. Cremer has initiated many programs around the country to provide cervical cancer screening, reproductive health education, and training of local health professionals. In addition, she has partnered with local doctors and organizations to conduct surveys on sexual behavior, knowledge and attitudes about reproductive health services and contraception, and other related topics.

Dr. Cremer and Basic Health El Salvador lead several delegations a year, many of which focus on screening women for cervical cancer and training local health workers to conduct screenings. Because cervical cancer is the leading causes of cancer mortality among women in El Salvador, Dr. Cremer’s team stresses the importance of screening and treating women in one visit, so to avoid barriers such as transportation or day care for children from interfering with follow-up visits.

When asked about conducting surveys in El Salvador, Dr. Cremer responded that the women in the communities where they have conducted surveys are more than willing to participate, though the more sensitive the question the more conservative the answer.  For example, when women are asked how many sexual partners they have had, the most common answer is one, and when women answer two they are quick to add that their first husband was killed in the war, or something of the nature. This suggests that the participants either have very few partners, or that some are not completely honest about their sexual behaviors, despite their willingness to participate. Younger women are the exception, and are beginning to report more sexual partners, either suggesting that they indeed have more partners than women of previous generations, or that they are more comfortable discussing such issues with their health care providers.

Dr. Cremer also discussed her experience with promoting methods of family planning. In El Salvador the most common form of birth control is Depro Prevara injections, though many women choose tubal ligation, even among young women under 30. In focus groups in the United States, most of the women who have a tubal ligation before the age of 30 express regret about their choice. The same is true in El Salvador, though its reliability and accessibility make it a popular option.  Dr. Cremer suggested that the relative high rate of tubal ligations is also due to a lack of alternatives being offered by health care providers.

Dr. Cremer also explained that other forms of birth control, particularly oral contraceptives and injections, are used with frequency but are often less than ideal for most women because they must make frequent visits to their doctor for injections or pills, which is often difficult for women who work or have children. Given the MInistry of Health’s small budget, sometimes these forms of contraception are unavailable, meaning that women who use them are often unprotected. Considering all of these factors, Dr. Cremer has found that intra-uterine devices (IUD) are one of the most effective forms of long-term contraception. IUD insertion requires only a single visit to a health provider and is effective for a long period of time, in most cases 5-12 years. The main obstacles to greater IUD use are cultural myths and misconceptions, which could be dispelled with greater education and outreach.

Please join us next week – our panelists will include two rural health workers who will talk about their experiences providing health care to women and families in the Lower Lempa region of El Salvador. For the call in numbers and more information, please drop us a note at


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

El Salvador Government, Elections 2009, Equality, Mauricio Funes, News Highlights, Womens issues

New Government Launches Ciudad Mujer

Groundbreaking  for Ciudad Mujer at UsultánFour months ago, in the midst of an intense electoral campaigning, President-elect Mauricio Funes announced his ambitious plan to provide health and social services to women throughout El Salvador. The project, Ciudad Mujer, would offer childcare, health programs, prenatal support through the program Madre Feliz, social support for domestic violence, legal advice, economic assistance through microcredit and workshops, and religious activities.

The FMLN presented this project as an initial step towards addressing gender equality and familial well-being. Although these issues are mentioned in Funes’s platform, specific plans to overcome them are not included. If fully implemented, Ciudad Mujer would be an important step in the struggle to find gender equality and family support for Salvadoran women. The project calls for fourteen centers, one for each departmental captial in the country. Initially the government will contribute about 1.5 million dollars, an ambitious investment considering the current economic climate.

According to news sources, Vanda Pignato, Funes’s wife, will coordinate many aspects of Ciudad Mujer. In early March, Pignato attended the ground-breaking of the Ciudad Mujer to be indigena-ciudad-mujerconstructed in Usulután. Other departments such as La Unión, Santa Ana, and La Libertad have already set aside plots of land for Ciudad Mujer as well.

Women in El Salvador have high expectations for the project. When Funes announced his plans for Ciudad Mujer in February, around two thousand women of diverse economic sectors and professions attended. About a thousand people attended the ground-breaking in Usulután. As one of the first steps to act on campaign promises, the progress of Ciudad Mujer could be an important indicator of an effective Funes’s administration capable of social investment despite serious fiscal challenges.

first photo from the official website of Mauricio Funes.

second photo from the website of Movimiento Amigos de Mauricio option=com_content&view=article&id=109:general-noticias&catid=35:noticias-noticias&Itemid=63