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Working to End Gender-based Violence: An Interview with ORMUSA

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Between 2004 and 2009, El Salvador had the highest rates of femicide globally.[1]  To mark the International Day of Violence against Women in November 2013, Horizons’ partner the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) organized a regional workshop to discuss regional strategies on how to prevent femicide. 

Horizons spoke to Vilma Vaquerano Cruz, Communications Coordinator for ORMUSA, shortly after this event to discuss the challenges and successes of their work to reduce violence against women in El Salvador.

[1]Small Arms Survey. (2012) “Femicide: A Global Problem.” Research Note 14,  p. 3

Seeing that ORMUSA’s work focuses on violence against women could you give us an overview of the situation in El Salvador, and also, from your point of view, why is this work so important?

Violence against women has been a persistent problem in El Salvador. Unfortunately, until recently we have had neither the institutional, nor the legal framework, to protect a women’s right to live without violence. 

For ORMUSA, and other organizations, it is a matter of making information public.  ORMUSA’s National Observatory on Gender-based Violence against Women began in 2005.  The purpose was to demonstrate that the government must share responsibility in the problem of violence against women.

Initially we highlighted the issue of femicide—a woman’s death as the result of her subordinate and unequal position in comparison to men.

Later, with the collaboration of other organizations in El Salvador, we set in motion the creation of a special and comprehensive law which focused on a woman’s right to a life free from violence.   This Special Law came into effect in 2012 and includes several measures that aim to prevent, punish, and eradicate of violence against women.

Above all, one of the Observatory’s most useful contributions has been the pressure; the sustained demand on the institutions of the government.

There has been an attempt by the government to measure the degree of gender-based violence solely by the number of murders that occur in El Salvador.  The number of femicides decreased slightly in 2013, but this does not mean that violence against women has been eliminated.

There are still high rates of family violence in El Salvador, and at least 30 cases of sexual violence each day. There has also been an increase in the number of missing women. The issue of missing persons has become a growing issue, particularly in the past two years.

This is why it was so important that the new law view the issue in a more comprehensive, and holistic manner. 

How do you see the impact of your work on the daily lives of women? What changes have you seen as a result?

For example, because of the work we have done to raise awareness, there have been improvements to policy and legal frameworks and protocols.  The National Police has even agreed to conduct training in the area of gender violence.

From this point of view, there has clearly been an impact on women’s lives.

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For women, this means: “I am a citizen. I have access to institutions that are obligated to better serve me, and I have a law that I can invoke to ensure that my rights are respected.”

There are also centres, like ORMUSA’s Centre for Legal Attention, which provide consulting services to victims of both gender and labour violence.

If the biggest issue pertaining to gender inequality is that, as women, we do not have a political presence, and we are not permitted to take part in decision making at all levels.  It is logical that if you give me a voice and a space to participate—it is going to affect my quality of life.

How do you see the role of citizens or people in other parts of the world? What is Horizons role? Why is this support important?

The problem in Central America is not only due to a lack of attention on the parts of the governments involved, but also due to a lack of resources.

All efforts that are taking place to combat violence against women in Central America are taking place, above all, through international cooperation.

The role of Canadian organizations, in addition to the citizens of Canada, has been fundamental.

In this case, Horizons has played an integral role: they focus their attention on concrete actions, they have been fundamental in public awareness campaigns, they have assisted with the Observatory on Gender –based Violence, and they were instrumental to the international seminar that just took place.

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