Even in 2015, when great strides have been made towards gender equality, machismo culture provides a framework by which Salvadoran women navigate their lives.
One of the most terrifying ways machismo manifests, however, is in alarmingly high rates of violence against women.
“Violence against women,” of course, is a vague term that necessitates exact definition.
Sexual attacks, which include rapes and aggressive sexual offences, are one form of violence against women. According to an Al Jazeera article by Nina Lakhani, “More than seven sexual attacks were reported every day in the first three months of 2013 - a 17 percent rise in 12 months. Two thirds of the reported 636 rapes and sexual offences were committed against children under the age of 18.”
Also in 2013, the National Civil Police registered a total of 1,346 rapes of women and girls. In 967 of these rapes, the victim was classified as “unable to give consent because of their mental health or because they were unconscious” or “unable to give consent because they were under 18.”
Violence against women is not only sexual assault. It can also be death. Femicide, or the killing of women by men because they are women (a gender-based hate crime), is endemic in El Salvador. According to a 2011 study done for the Geneva Declaration, “El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide in the world. In El Salvador, the rate of femicide has increased from fewer than 200 reported cases in the year 2000 to over 600 cases in 2011.” This is 129.46 assassinations for every 1 million women. The femicides are often accompanied by rape and torture, resulting in the mangling of the woman’s body.
In response to this knowledge, the government passed the Special Holistic Law for a Life Free of Violence for Women in 2011. The law, which is expansive, encourages institutions “to take concrete steps to achieve gender equality, such as enshrine equality in their constitutions, abolish laws customs and practices that result in discrimination against women, establish legal protections against discrimination, create mechanisms for reporting, etc.,” according to feminist group Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollar de la Mujer.
There is widespread reluctance to accept the law’s proposals.
Although the incidence of femicide declined by about 76% between 2011 and 2013, the Feminist Network on Violence Against Women (RED-FEM) has noted that the statistics continue to show high levels of impunity because judges do not usually follow the law’s prescribed procedures.
In El Salvador, women do not have much incentive to report sexual violence. There are cultural stigmas that encourage women to stay silent on the matters of crime against women—these matters are seen as “private.” And even if a woman does report the crime, what if she is financially dependent on her husband (as millions of women in El Salvador are)? She literally cannot afford to bring her issues to court. If she does, whether because she is financially independent or simply cannot take the abuse, judges do not tend to treat crimes against women seriously. The United Nations Development Project reported that “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.”
While international coverage of El Salvador tends to be saturated with information on general gang violence and poverty, it is important to be conscious of how these conditions disproportionately affect women. Machismo culture is toxic for both the men and women of El Salvador.