Women in Central America face an overwhelming number of obstacles, from access to education and wage discrimination to gender-based violence and femicide. Nevertheless, women are fighting back and challenging the structures that perpetuate discrimination and abuse. To celebrate International Women’s Day, EcoViva is launching a new campaign that recognizes the grassroots women leaders who are standing up to gender inequality and organizing for positive change. Brilliant, courageous women are gathered on the frontlines to protect their communities and open doors for the women of tomorrow.
Young women and girls are forced to abandon their education at alarming rates because of poverty and gender inequality. Families choose to take girls out of school more often than boys, and they begin domestic or paid labor as early as 12 years old. Many girls are leaving school due to unplanned or forced pregnancy, inadequate sanitation, and fear of violence. Women represent roughly 53% of the population in El Salvador but only 41% of the paid workforce. Of the few jobs available to less-educated women, many are in large textile factories known for their unethical and discriminatory practices such as forced pregnancy testing, verbal and physical abuse, and extremely long workdays. While women have limited employment opportunities, those who do find work are significantly underpaid, with many women in the manufacturing industry making less than one dollar per hour – a wage that covers only a quarter of most families’ basic needs.
Low wages and narrow economic opportunities lock women into poverty at disproportionate rates, curtailing their agency. Women have fewer work options, forcing many to endure unsafe working conditions and dangerous, predatory relationships in order to survive and provide for their children. Over 25% of women experience domestic abuse at the hands of a partner or family member. In addition, an increasing number of women and girls are being targeted by gang members for sexual violence and exploitation, with more than 60% of sexual violence cases involving girls between 12 and 17 years old. This culture of violence against women – and the rampant impunity allowing it – is reflected in the disturbingly high rates of femicide in El Salvador and Honduras; both countries consistently rank in the top 5 countries worldwide with the highest rates of femicide.
History has shown us that women are resilient and continue to fight for their families and their communities. Women are beacons of hope and resistance, despite the dangers they face. Berta Caceres, a renowned indigenous leader and environmental activist from Honduras, was assassinated in 2016 for her vocal opposition of a hydroelectric dam built on indigenous land. Rufina Amaya, a woman who lost her entire family in the El Mozote Massacre, gave testimony that brought state-sponsored violence in El Salvador to the world stage.
While Berta and Rufina’s stories are well known, there are so many nameless women who work to protect and develop their communities every day, although their work goes unrecognized. Grassroots movements in Central America depend on strong women leaders. EcoViva works with women like Rosa Aguilar, who fought against social norms to create a conservation organization that protects the environment, supports sustainable livelihoods, and creates a safe space for women to become financially independent. Juana Hernández García created a women’s committee the Lower Lempa that brings together women from 28 women’s committees from different organizations. Her main goal is to create women-led spaces for establishing community, building leadership capacity, and confronting machismo.
Believing in and strengthening women’s leadership in Central America is essential to creating sustainable social and environmental change.
Join us in recognizing, celebrating, and supporting women who are building up their communities by donating to EcoViva today.