Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Women's Health


Raúl Gutiérrez

SAN SALVADOR, Nov 23 2006 (IPS) - The man attacked his wife, as he had done many times in the past, but this time he went further than ever before: he beat her almost to death, then killed their son, and finally committed suicide. No matter how tragic, it was just another everyday case of domestic violence, which claims the lives of nearly 300 Salvadoran women every year.

It happened at a home in an upper middle income neighbourhood in San Salvador, confirming the fact that no social group is free of the scourge of violence against women and children at the hands of a relative or acquaintance, as human rights organisations have amply reported.

However, women in the lowest income brackets are more vulnerable, make easier targets and, to cap it all, “they are of less concern,” according to non-governmental organisations. El Salvador is ranked the second country in Central America, behind Guatemala, for its number of femicides, a specific term for misogynist killings of women.

Between January and August, 286 murders of women were reported in this country, indicating an increase in the annual average. From 2001 to the end of 2005, 1,320 women were killed, according to a study by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (PDDH).. (These figures do not distinguish between femicides and other murders of women, nor do they take account of unreported crimes.)

El Salvador is fertile soil for domestic violence, according to women’s groups, because recently adopted laws to protect women are not enforced, and the judicial system is ineffective.

An estimated 60 percent of murders go unpunished, said civil society groups that are engaged in campaigns in preparation for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day, celebrated on Nov. 25.

The system’s shortcomings were illustrated by the tragedy described in the upper middle income family, as the wife had repeatedly reported her husband for domestic abuse, but the restraining order issued by a judge failed to save her life. The administration of President Antonio Saca is taking measures in favour of gender equality, and says women’s civil and political rights are a priority. Activists acknowledge that this is partly true, although they view the measures as being purely commitments on paper, a matter of legal form.

The PDDH said that among the contributing factors that contribute to femicide is “the legal, and real, inequality between men and women” which reflects “male supremacy (‘machismo’).”

Discriminatory legislation, “specifically on the issue of violence, leads to generalised impunity,” the ombudsperson’s office said.

Women’s organisations acknowledge that the State has taken steps to protect women’s rights, by signing international conventions and passing laws to prevent and combat domestic violence, but they claim that these measures are only partly enforced.

Ima Rocío Guirola, of the non-governmental Women’s Studies Institute (CEMUJER), accepted that the government has made efforts on behalf of women, but pointed out that she lives “in a country where women are murdered daily and where sexual exploitation for profit entraps girls and young women.”

“There isn’t a clear, forceful State policy for preventing, punishing and eradicating violence against women in these cases,” she said.

International instruments, such as the Convention of Belem do Pará, suffer from grave defects in their implementation in El Salvador, Guirola told IPS.

The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, approved by the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1994 at Belem do Pará, Brazil, precisely defined violence against women, specifying the spheres in which it occurs and the potential perpetrators, and committing the signatory states to to fight against it.

Compliance with this instrument was assessed at the 33rd Assembly of Delegates of the Inter-American Commission of Women in San Salvador, Nov. 13-15, where representatives of OAS governments also discussed the fight against HIV/AIDS across the continent.

In their closing statement, delegates expressed concern about “the prevalence of the pandemic, particularly among women victims of sexual violence,” and called on the States to redouble their efforts to prevent infection and provide healthcare for HIV-positive persons.

“Public policies in El Salvador are not imbued with a comprehensive gender perspective; we are still seeing State policies that are extremely discriminatory in gender terms,” Guirola said.

In CEMUJER’s opinion, the Institute for Women’s Development (ISDEMU), a state agency in charge of ensuring all gender policies are enforced, lacks the necessary funds to exert proper oversight and monitoring.

However, the executive director of ISDEMU, Zoila González de Innocenti, defended the Institute’s implementation of women’s policies in an interview with IPS.

The creation of ISDEMU in 1996 led to the development of programmes for preventing and combating gender-based violence, she said.

“The most important aspect is prevention, which we are carrying out all over the country, by giving talks and organising meetings about violence against women,” she added.

ISDEMU offers a crisis intervention programme for women and families, and has a “shelter for battered women, who can take refuge there with their children for a period of time. They are assisted until restraining orders have been issued against their aggressors,” she said.

The director of ISDEMU acknowledged that levels of violence against women are extremely high in this country. But she was also hopeful, because reporting of such cases has increased by nearly 1,000 a year since 2002, which has enabled the courts to act.

Hugo Ramírez, chief of the Juvenile and Family Services Division of the National Civilian Police, said that a specialised unit for attending cases of domestic violence had been created, which also carries out “awareness building and training for police officers on the issue.”

Ramírez added that the police are up against “a serious cultural problem,” that is, “‘machista’ employers who consider this reality (violence against women) to be normal.” This is why he urged women to report aggression against them to the police.

Meanwhile, human rights watchdogs like the London-based Amnesty International remain on the alert over the persistent domestic violence in El Salvador. In their view, the authorities are still well behind in fulfilling their commitment to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women.

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