Friday, January 22, 2010

Remembering El Salvador for Martin Luther King Day, Part 2

This past summer, students from Eastern Michigan University travelled to El Salvador on a delegation with SHARE. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, they gave presentations on their trip to El Salvador in connecting the experience to the human rights that Dr. King advocated for. This is the second part of the talk.

Women's Issues, presented by Jillian:

El Salvador has always been a sexist society. Woman were finally given the right to vote in 1950 but even today it is very difficult for women to attain high positions in society, especially in politics and government; only until the last election was a woman allowed to run for Vice President. The issues of sexism in El Salvador were escalated during the war and still remain quite high today. Women are subjected to beatings, rape, young pregnancy, and a lack of support from the government and other institutions.

It is very common for the work of a woman in El Salvador to be overlooked or claimed to be done by men. For example, in many local communities it is the women who work to get electricity, running water, and schools but when those goals are achieved men are given the recognition rather than the women. Women are responsible for maintaining the home and taking care of the children in El Salvador, on top of this many women work long hours in the factories. Many men in El Salvador do not appreciate or understand women or the amount of work they do in the home and in the community. It is common for women to be beaten by their husbands to the point of needing medical attention, because of this policies have been created that make it the doctors responsibility to report such cases, however, with the situation of the health care system it is difficult for proper attention to be given to situations of battery.

Rape is also common in El Salvador, unfortunately, there is not enough trust in public institutions for these crimes to be reported. There has been a history of the police and the institute for the development of women to be negligent and slow to respond. Many women who report their rapes have felt reviolated by the police either physically or mentally. When a women reports that she has been raped it is common that they have to retell what happened, in detail, up to 15x to complete strangers; this has added to the mistrust of the institutions. It is not uncommon for young children to be raped by family members, 40% of women who give birth in El Salvador are between the ages of 12 and 16 years old as a result of rape or a lack of sex education. Due to strict abortion laws in El Salvador a woman is unable to have an abortion for any reason what-so-ever; even in the case of a 12 year old girl being raped.

After hearing about all these terrible things that women experience at home, one may ask why the women don't leave. In El Salvador, women are very dependent financially on their husbands. Work options for women are limited, especially once they get older. In order for a woman to get a job at a bank in El Salvador she must be at least 1.65 meters tall, the average height in El Salvador is 1.55 meters, she must also be thin, attractive, and younger than 25 years old. Women who are in the 30s and on have a very difficult time finding work and will end up working as a street vendor or in the sweatshops. In the sweatshops women are forced to work under terrible conditions; generally they have 12 hour days, many without food or water breaks, and it would not be uncommon for a woman to be denied a bathroom break. Sweat shops pay a minimum of $176 dollars a month; the factories may be moved to the country side so they can pay less.

There are women's groups in El Salvador that are working very hard to help educate women on their rights and to support them in their endeavors. International assistance allow these groups to have mobile units to move around the country so that women who are unable to come to the main city of San Salvador can get help too. Examples of what women's organizations do are: educate women on violence, health, sex, human rights, and they also provide support to local development projects. Some groups will work directly with women who are victims through utilizing teams of lawyers, psychologists, and community advocates. One group has begun holding masculinity workshops to teach men healthy masculine values, however. these workshops generally have a small turn out.

Currently the Italian government is funding media ads to promote equality to help end sexism in El Salvador. This was done after there was a rise in violence against women. There is a term “femicide” in El Salvador because of the rates of women being killed; also, if a husband kills his wife it is written off as a crime of passion and is not punished. There has also been a recent rise in violence against the transgender and homosexual community; the Roman Catholic Church and fundamental organizations in El Salvador have started a campaign of intense homophobia. Hopefully, the international community will be able to continue their aid for organizations who are trying to change the mindsets of many Salvadorans who currently do not understand the true value of the Salvadoran woman.

Mining Issues, presented by Crystal

During our time in El Salvador it became clear that corporations do not value the lives, or the land of the people who live in poor regions around the world. This is due to the fact that in the logic scheme of capitalism human life and the environment have no monetary value. Sadly, the market is the only measure of worth, even to the human beings running these corporations. About a month before we left for El Salvador the brutally tortured body of Marcelo Rivera was found at the bottom of a dry well-- in the department of Cabanas in northern El Salvador. Marcelo Rivera was one of the leading anti-mining activists in Cabanas. He was targeted, tortured and murdered to send a message to all those who opposed the mining. Marcelo fought against Pacific Rim's plans to mine in the northern El Salvador because of the human and environmental costs. Pacific Rim's mining method pumps a mixture of water and cyanide into the ground to separate the gold from the other minerals. Not only does this poison the ground and the water, it kills livestock and people.

During our trip we traveled to Cabanas and visited the town where Marcelo lived and worked. We met with a handful of people who had recently received death threats, most of whom were affiliated with a public radio station primarily run by the local youth, called Radio Victoria. Radio Victoria provides residents in this poor, rural area with their own means of communication. One of the youth workers was an 18 year old journalist whose grandmother had been beaten a few days prior. Her attackers told her that they would be back to kill her grandson. He was forced into hiding and only returned to tell us his story. We also met with Miguel Rivera the brother and activist partner of Marcelo. As we walked around the town with them we were followed and watched by men that worked for the Mayor. The mayor is pro-mining and also a member of the ARENA party, the party of the death squads during the civil war. It is believed that in an attempt to keep this mayor in power Pacific Rim has given substantial amounts of money to his election campaign.

After witnessing the situation in Cabanas for ourselves we turned to the US Embassy in El Salvador to express what we had observed. We presented our point of view as to how U.S aid and foreign policy could be used to make a positive difference instead of contributing to the problems in El Salvador. We assumed that one of the largest embassies in the world would be making great efforts to support the Salvadorans' in their efforts to build peace and to protect the rights of the Salvadoran people, especially after the U.S. spent $6 billion dollars to support the repressive military that caused so much suffering in El Salvador during their 12-year civil war, that lasted from 1980-1992. Sadly it did not take long for us to realize that there are mechanisms in place that protect corporate interests over human rights and human life. Although this realization is deeply disturbing, there is a bright side. The U.S. embassy and the Salvadoran Government do have the capacity to do something and will if they receive pressure from us. The fact is that there are people dying for corporate interests. We as U.S. Citizens have a voice and I feel it is our responsibility to use it. It is easier than you think to get involved. We must fight against transnational corporations' unchecked power and hold them accountable for their actions. Help us and all Salvadorans in our fight for justice today by filling out this request for action.

1) Women in rural El Salvador
2) Marcelo Rivera

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