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Challenges and Successes in Ending Violence Against Women in El Salvador

Tue, June 18, 10:30am to 12:00pm, 1440 Multiversity, Outlook 204

Short Description

El Salvador has the highest rate of homicides of women in the world, along with the highest rate of homicides overall. This presentation will offer the results of research on the impact of women organizing, justice reform, and new masculinities on reducing gender violence in El Salvador. The approaches Salvadoran women leaders employ to obtain success will be highlighted as well as lessons regarding successful approaches to reducing gender violence globally.

Detailed Abstract

El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world with 81 per 100,000 inhabitants reported in 2017 (Dennis, 2018; Hernandez, 2018). The country also has the highest rate of homicides of women in the world, with over 500 in 2017. Intimate partner femicide makes up the majority of homicides against women. Violence against women manifests in other forms also, in terms of domestic abuse, required sexual favors, and sexual harassment in school and on the job. Further, gang violence rocks El Salvador with an estimated 60,000 gang members and an additional 500,000 people connected to gangs in a country of only 6.1 million inhabitants (Brigada, 2018a; Hernandez, 2018; Lobo-Guerrero, 2017). Gang violence also impacts violence against women with women regularly targeted by gangs for rapes and murders. Women recruited to join gangs also encounter inter-gang gender violence (O’Toole, 2018, Webber, 2017). With extremely high levels of impunity, the justice system rarely punishes violence against women, including homicides.

• Women in El Salvador have been organizing to raise awareness of violence against women, to help raise the consciousness of women and strengthen their power to resist violence; to lobby for laws to better protect women and convict their violators; and to work more closely with men who have started a new masculinities movement in the country. Women leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), women leaders in government, women community leaders, university students, and male leaders of new masculinities NGOs work together to change a highly paternalistic system, steeped in a long history of machismo and violence, as manifested in several massacres that have occurred throughout the history of the country as well as a 12 year-long civil war. The work being done to end violence against women in El Salvador is in pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDF) #5 “Gender Equality” Target: “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” Ending violence against women will serve as one important solution to create the greater good in the world.
My research consists of measuring the impact of the organizing efforts of women and their leadership approaches, the reforms in the justice system, and the new masculinities movement in El Salvador on the incidence of violence against women. Through measuring the impact of all these efforts, I am identifying the most effective approaches to ending this violence. I am using a mixed-method research approach including extensive literature review, followed by key informant interviews, focus groups, and an on-line survey seek to measure the results of all these efforts. The final results of my research will be ready in April 2019, in time to present them at WLAG 2019.

Several key groups are working to end violence against women in El Salvador. The Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women (ISDEMU) is a major organization which oversees women’s rights and equality in El Salvador and which runs a nation-wide program “Integral Program for a Life Free of Violence for Women.” Ciudad Mujer is a program of the Government of El Salvador led by the Secretariat of Social Inclusion through which comprehensive care is provided to women through specialized services, with the aim of improving their quality of life. This program works within 18 State Institutions to train women leaders to promote gender issues including ending violence against women within the government and society. Many women’s NGOs continue to work to end violence. My research is tracking these programs to measure their actual impact on reducing violence. Unfortunately, in some locations in the country, women are afraid to access services such as shelters, psychologists, police, lawyers because the gangs monitor the services and threaten women who use them.

Women leaders have lobbied for laws to protect but the justice system has been reluctant and slow to implement them. In 2010, the Salvadoran legislature passed a set of framework laws —constitutional provisions that lay out general obligations for governmental institutions— known as the Comprehensive Special Law for a Life without Violence for Women. Civil society groups drafted this legislation to address violence against women through “prevention, special attention, prosecution and punishment.” However, to date, less than half of all Salvadoran institutions have worked to implement the law (Albaladejo, 2016, Brigada, 2018b; Guardian, 2018). Some judges, for example, have deemed the law as "unconstitutional" and "deliberately" refuse to implement it because they claim that it "unequally protects women with respect to men." The Vice-minister of Justice and Public Security indicated that the Special Comprehensive Law "faced many obstacles of a cultural nature because some judges are not aware and updated on these rights, and cultural issues such as machismo persist and that became a bulwark in its implementation." (UNHCR, 2016.) There are several donor-funded projects in El Salvador working to strengthen the justice sector and reduce impunity and my research is tracking their success to help increase the application of laws relevant to women’s safety and wellbeing.

Some men have joined the fight to end violence against women and have begun to host training in new masculinities. New Masculinities is attempting to break many of the male stereotypes and to lessen the negative impact of machismo on women. This effort is aimed at cultural change, one of biggest challenges Salvadoran women face. My research is investigating the extent to which El Salvadoran men understand the negative aspect s of machismo and are willing to soften their male self-image without losing their position in male society (Friedman, 2017; Parpart, 2015; . The relationship between machismo and gang violence also creates a violent environment for women (Markham, 2017), and my research includes assessing the programs in schools and communities to prevent gang violence and prevent youth from joining gangs.

For my WLAG 2019 presentation, I will present findings and recommendations that emerge regarding what approaches are the most successful in reducing violence against women in El Salvador (Clements, et. al, 2015).


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