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El Salvador: The lives of women in danger
Tomás Andréu
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Progress in women’s rights is halted because of high rate of adolescent pregnancies and penalization of abortion.

With the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992, a new era began for Salvadoran society and for women. The signing of the Peace Accords ended more than a decade of armed conflict between the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the government of the right-wing National Republican Alliance, ARENA.

“I think that women’s voices and our struggles began to be heard after 1992 because of the strength of the organized feminist movement. I also think that with the change of government [in 2009 with the coming to power of FMLN] some of those demands of social organizations have been put into concrete forms, which can be linked to the acceptance of feminists in the government of [President] Mauricio Funes,”, affirms Mariana Moisa, from the Feminist Collective for Local Development (CFDL), to Latinamerica Press.

Despite seeing changes in different areas in the country, such as politics, employment, or even the military sector in which women are allowed to participate, Moisa considers that there are topics which are still kept in the dark.

“El Salvador does not have sexual education programs that are free of prejudice”, exposes the feminist. She adds that the Central American country “penalizes abortion in any circumstance, even if the life of the mother is or could be in danger”.

American anthropologist and feminist Ellen Moodie, professor at the University of Illinois, who has investigated the transition to democracy in El Salvador after the signing of the Peace Accords was consulted by Latinamerica Press on women’s reproductive rights.

“There is no freedom for women to make their own reproductive health decisions,” said Moodie. “Women live in a suspecting environment. If a woman miscarries, she is suspected to have illegally aborted her fetus. The abortion laws in El Salvador are some of the most restrictive on the continent.”

Adolescent pregnancies
Last May the Ministry of Health (MINSAL), became alarmed by the number of adolescent pregnancies despite the decline in the last few years. The head of MINSAL, María Isabel Rodríguez, told the press that “the rate is very high. We have a [pregnancy] rate among adolescents of 89 out of 1,000 women between 15 and 19 years of age. It is high because the average in Latin America is 77.”

According to what the newspaper La Prensa Grafica recorded, the minister called on “both men and women, for sexual and reproductive health education to spread, to start it in schools and [to eliminate] any taboos against this type of education because the problems that adolescent pregnancies cause are very serious.”

According to the MINSAL 2012-2013 Work Report 63.7 percent of the population is younger than 30 and women represent 52.8 percent of the total population of the country. “In Central America, we have the second lowest rate of adolescent pregnancies. Costa Rica has the lowest. It is a number we have been reducing gradually over the last 20 years, yet the numbers are still alarming,” said Sofía Villalta, Coordinator of MINSAL’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Unit, to Latinamerica Press.

According to Villalta, in 2012 12 cases of pregnant adolescents who died because of complications were documented. For that same year, MINSAL totaled 82,586 births attended by qualified personnel, 24,190 of which were of adolescent mothers.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) detailed in the report “The State of World Population 2013”, published on Oct. 30, that “about 19 percent of young women in developing countries become pregnant before age of 18,” and that “around 70,000 adolescents in developing countries die annually of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.” Worldwide, “7.3 million underage, adolescent girls give birth in developing countries every year.”

The report points to gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, national policies that restrict access to birth control and lack of age-appropriate sexual health education policies, as well as lack of access to education and reproductive health services as underlying causes.

“At this age they should be studying, transitioning from high school to college, but instead they are becoming mothers,” pointed out Elena Zúñiga, representative of the UNFPA in El Salvador, in a press conference. “In the case of adolescents younger than 18 years old, and particularly those under 15, pregnancy is not a result of a deliberate decision. On the contrary, pregnancy is generally a result of the ‘lack of power of decision’ and circumstances that are beyond the control of the girl. Pregnancy at a young age reflects poverty, and pressure from classmates, partners, families, and communities”.

“Adolescent pregnancy is a worrisome phenomenon in El Salvador that requires comprehensive attention. One out of four women will become a mother before the age of 18,” said Zúñiga as she called on “all key actors of society to face the issue of adolescent pregnancies.”

To eradicate pregnancies among girls and adolescents, the UNFPA recommends a preventive intervention among young adolescents, a ban on marriage among those younger than 18 years of age as well as protection of the right to health, education, safety and right to a life without poverty, the call on men and boys, and to ensure that girls go to school and stay there longer.

Ciudad Mujer
In 2011 the comprehensive care center Ciudad Mujer opened. The center is an ambitious and unprecedented project that was part of Funes’s campaign promise. The program is carried out by the Secretary of Social Inclusion, and the head of this initiative is First Lady Vanda Pignato.

Among the services that are offered are sexual and reproductive health, help for gender violence, economic empowerment and promotion of rights. There is also a designated area for the children of women who receive care. There are a total of four Ciudad Mujer headquarters in the departments of San Salvador, San Miguel, Usultan, and La Libertad.

“We welcome the Ciudad Mujer project. It is able to find quick answers, yet these policies still represent welfare services. They don’t have elements that allow women to question their condition. It treats women as victims and does not [allow] another element that serves to empower women”, observes Moisa.

 “Another element that is not in favor of it (Ciudad Mujer) is infrastructure and maintenance of the site. This is economically expensive and at political level there is no law ensuring that if there is a change of government this project will continue,” she adds.

The feminist activist points out that it is necessary to address without taboos the important issues and problems that affect the Salvadoran woman.

“The issue of sexual and reproductive health is not being address as it should be,” Moisa observes.
—Latinamerica Press.


In 2012, almost 30% of attended births in El Salvador involved adolescent mothers (Photo: Secretary of Social Inclusion)
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