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Four out of five women say that El Salvador is not a safe country for women, girls and adolescents, reveals a survey conducted by the Centro de Investigaciones de Ciencias y Humanidades (CICH) of the Universidad Dr. José Matías Delgado (UJMD) with the support of GWL Voices for Change and Inclusion.

The survey focused on exploring domestic violence against women. It was conducted between 18 and 21 February 2022, through house-to-house interviews with a sample of 1,068 women aged 18 and older. Almost 80 per cent of those interviewed said that El Salvador is not safe for girls, young women and women: 78.2 per cent said the country is unsafe for girls, 79.5 per cent said it is unsafe for young women and 78.1 per cent said it is unsafe for women.

Oscar Picardo, coordinator of the survey, said that this is one of the “highest and most worrying” figures in the survey. “I think that public policies have to be designed to guarantee security, so that (women, girls and young people) can walk down the street without fear, in schools, at work, because this is widespread. I think we have to carry out campaigns for immediate denunciation and immediate reaction to all those acts that threaten the safety of girls, young women and women,” she added.

Feminist anthropologist Mariana Moisa stressed that this high percentage shows that women recognise El Salvador as a country that is unsafe for them, girls and adolescents. Moisa, who was not involved in the elaboration of the survey, added that this recognition is also reflected in the distrust expressed by respondents towards men. More than six out of seven women said they would not entrust the temporary care of a girl or adolescent to a teacher (83.9 per cent), policeman or soldier (88.5 per cent), pastor or priest (91.4 per cent), neighbour (93.6 per cent) or a partner other than their husband (89.6 per cent).

“This is shocking,” said Moisa. “It shows that violence exists, that violence is recognised and experienced all the time. It’s like we live in fear and then you see it when you ask about the sensations, the feelings, that acceptance of being brave, that stage of ‘I’m brave for living in this country’,” the anthropologist added. The majority – 38.8% – identify with the concept “brave”, while 20.5% said “free”, according to the survey.

No trust in PNC and FGR

The insecurity perceived by women is based on acts of gender violence such as murders and disappearances. Last year closed with 132 femicides, according to official figures gathered by the Observatorio de Violencia contra las Mujeres (Observatory of Violence against Women) of the Organisation of Women for Peace (ORMUSA).

Of the total number of victims, 57 were between the ages of 18 and 30, but two girls under the age of 12 and eight adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 were also reported murdered. In addition, the ORMUSA observatory recorded 707 missing women between January and September 2021, with teenage girls aged 13-17 being the age group with the highest number of reported disappearances.

According to the GWL and CICH survey, 40.5% of women said that femicides are due to the machista culture, 31.6% said they are due to women being undervalued and 12.1% said they are due to abuse by men. In addition, 42.8 % said they know of cases of women who have fled the country because of domestic violence and 28.4 % said they know of cases of abuse of female students in schools.

But women do not trust institutions. 66.3 per cent said that if they faced domestic violence they would report it to the National Civil Police (PNC) or the Attorney General’s Office (FGR), but 51.7 per cent said they had little confidence in these entities and 16 per cent said they had no confidence in them.

“This is another worrying fact, that you don’t know who to turn to, and if you do know who to turn to, you are already convinced that they are not going to help you very much”, said Picardo.

Domestic violence

Between 83 and 94% of women said they recognised the different types of domestic violence, but verbal and psychological violence reported the highest percentages of incidence: 28.2% and 22.2% said they had faced these abuses, while 19.4% mentioned economic violence, 19.2% emotional violence, 13% physical violence and 6.7% sexual violence.

However, 92.2% said that they are respected at home. In addition, women gave a score of 8.65 to their home environment, on a scale where 1 is difficult and 10 is pleasant.

Picardo considered that this contradiction is due to the fact that gender violence has been normalised. “It is something that has been normalised, unfortunately. Many of the patriarchal, sexist, rights-violating practices have been normalised,” he said.

“I have the impression that (domestic violence) continues to be a private matter, one that is little talked about, and although in more public terms violence against women is recognised, when we talk about it and assume that we face violence, it seems to be denied in some way”, said Moisa.

For the anthropologist, the idea of the perfect family has been reinforced in recent years, even by the executive branch. “Before, there was more talk, more recognition of violence”, she said, and for this reason she considered it important to support education with a gender focus.