How do you break down the barriers?
Cecibel Roldan is the coordinator of a women’s organisation from Santa Tecla in El Salvador. They work on violence against women, rape and economic growth. This women’s group is just one of 1200 organisations who represent the 13 local municipalities in El Salvador. The groups meet nationally as a congress to make decisions on future strategy. Incentive for Social Democracy (ISD), a Christian Aid partner, supports them with whatever training the committee feel is needed to become active citizens. In Cecibel’s group they have started small income generating projects, such as jewellery and handicrafts, to raise money for travel to these meetings as many can’t afford to go but want to participate. The people of El Salvador are keen to have a voice in their own future and are beginning to understand the need to make their local and national government accountable to the people they serve.
Cecibel is 43, married with a son, 23, and daughter, 16. Much of her work is with the Catholic Church but she finds raising the issues surrounding gender inequality and violence very difficult.
Central America, of which El Salvador is a part, has become the most violent region in Latin America and the Caribbean. ‘Femicide’ (the intentional killing of women because they are female) is prevalent. Violence towards women is increasing and is often alcohol fuelled. El Salvador is a male dominated society where machismo, or the sense of power or the right to dominate, is held by men. Boys are encouraged to see themselves as better than women so girls grow up being subservient. Women feel voiceless and less educated, with their role in the home as little more than baby-making machines. There is much resistance to women’s groups, especially when they want to change things and it can also cause friction in the home. Although change is beginning to happen (mostly in the middle and upper classes) it is far harder in rural society and in some church communities.
Cecibel knows that talking about gender issues means breaking down long held traditions. She has asked the church to reflect on these issues and finds it hard when they object. It makes it difficult for change to happen when many are fearful about such issues.
She is outspoken on the issue, a rarity amongst El Salvadoran women.
“Women are scrutinised in all they do. Our lives are controlled through many pregnancies. If a girl is raped, it is considered her sin. She is not allowed an abortion even if there is danger to her life. The law on femicide is hard to enforce and there are those who want it repealed. So how do you break down these barriers?
“You need to empower women to take leadership roles. They need to have a vision. Gender is mentioned in schools but only a minimum. I believe change needs to happen there and within the family. “I believe that the violence can be changed.”
Cecibel was just one of many who praised the excellent support from ISD to help make change. Using the training she received from ISD, she was able to speak honestly to her own daughter, as well as her group, about the many dangers they could face as women in a machismo society and give them strategies to deal with situations. This preparation came in very useful when someone attempted to rape her daughter. The training on social health, gender and leadership had enabled her to talk to her daughter and provide the right support when it happened. Cecibel had a heartfelt thanks to those that support Commitment for Life which has enabled ISD to give the training they do.
“Thank you, because you supported me through this training. I was able to stop my daughter being raped. You have created a woman’s rights defender.”