El Salvador: Women in parliament unite on new law against violence

21 Mar 2011

imageSalvadorian parliamentarians celebrate the approval of the new law that addresses violence against women (Photo: El Salvador Legislative Assembly)

A groundbreaking law aimed at halting high levels of violence against women in El Salvador, the Central American country with the world’s highest rates for murder of women, was officially made public last week following approval five months ago by the overwhelming majority of members of the national legislative assembly.

The First Comprehensive Law for a Life Free of Violence against Women contains 61 articles to uphold the rights of women through policies on detection and prevention of violence, and victim assistance and protection, among other measures.

The law will come into force next year and was endorsed after 4,000 women marched to the national assembly building to demand the Bill’s approval on 25 November 2010—‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’.

“We have seen women parliamentarians from different parties arguing among each other about other issues, but on this occasion we united to pursue a common aim: that the rights of women be granted—and respected,” said Carmen Elena de Escalón, an assembly member and secretary of the Salvadorian Women’s Parliamentary Group.

The law punishes all forms of violence against women: from female murders (with 20-35 years of imprisonment for those convicted), to mocking, disparaging or isolation of women in their workplaces, communities or schools (with fines of between 2-25 times the national monthly minimum wage or through community work).

Less than six percent of the 477 women who were murdered between January and October 2010 resulted in convictions and of nearly 7,000 reported cases of sexual crimes, only 436 resulted in convictions between 2008 and 2009.

The El Salvador Institute for Women's Development dealt with more than 6,000 cases of violence against women from January to November, 2010, including domestic violence, child abuse, assault and harassment, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

“Women’s rights—and violence against women—are huge challenges for international cooperation in Central America,” said Nidia Hidalgo, an El Salvador-based gender expert for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which convened meetings on the issue with women parliamentarians, including at international forums.

“This new law has a special significance because it includes, in a comprehensive manner, various responsibilities: from the municipal, to the state and national levels, while forging an institutional system to support women victims of violence,” Hidalgo added.

When the law comes into force next year, the Government of El Salvador will also develop a National Policy for Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence, to guide national and sub-national measures for victims of violence, which is usually perpetrated by a male partner or acquaintance.

In the meantime, UNDP continues to work with the Women’s Parliamentary Group to create a specialized unit to address women’s rights in the El Salvador legislative assembly and help ensure that the national budget’s expenditure reflects different needs and priorities for women and girls.

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