It was the first meeting of 2017 for the CIS Community Network with Wendy Castillo with Asociación Solidaria para Impulsar el Desarrollo Humano (ASPIDH), a tall, short-haired woman with a booming voice and a wicked sense of humor. She whirled, demonstrated, danced, and illustrated ways that sexual diversity is met here in El Salvador. Wendy’s rapid-fire questions teased out the hypocrisy and injustice embedded in language, expectations, and opportunity based on gender stereotypes. As an example, in El Salvador it is common for positive words to be associated with masculinity and negative ones with femininity. Wendy asks to the group, “And what is the most degrading thing you can call a man? If you want to make him feel his very core is worthless, that he is a total and complete failure?” It’s easy, you just pick a word that is used to describe a woman! “Little girl, woman, princess, a hen with eggs…” the participants of the Community Network supply.
Many young men and women were allowed to comment on the strong social pressure to fit a cookie-cutter definition of what it means to be feminine or masculine. In particular, both genders openly discussed of catcalls as a form of intimidation and objectification of women. A volunteer was encouraged to get out of his seat and walk the length of the room. Women, shyly at first, and then with more determination, called out to him things that men catcall in the streets everyday. Young men admitted that in a group of their peers, it is taboo to speak out against sexist speech or behavior. A generational divide made itself present with a comment from an older man that as maturity and responsibility sets in in older age, sexism and stereotypes aren’t as relevant.
Many women who are part of the initiatives supported by Salvadoran Enterprises for Women participated in the meeting as well as CIS School for Solidarity and Social Transformation, recently focused on Gender. The participants of the Gender School received their diplomas at the Community Network Meeting.
Many of the members of women-run businesses comment that they have felt resistance from men in their families, namely spouses, to working outside the home. Meetings like this provide a valuable and rare opportunity to openly air these injustices and more faced by women and the LGBT community in El Salvador.