In El Salvador, women and girls have long lived with an accepted level of violence against them due to a culture of machismo that promotes male dominance in society. The country has one of the highest rates of femicide (the killing of a woman or girl because of her gender) in the world. According to UN figures, almost four out of five cases of femicide goes unpunished.
El Salvador struggles with poverty, inequality, unemployment and alarming rates of crime. Long-running gang wars have only exacerbated the situation and put women and girls in the crosshairs of violence. In many cases, female relatives of imprisoned gang members are targeted in revenge killings.
Girls and women face abuse at home, at work and in school. Poverty has forced girls to migrate to the capital to find domestic work where they are left vulnerable to exploitation. With little access to information and services on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), there is a high prevalence of teenage pregnancy.
Nahuizalco is the third most violent municipality in El Salvador, where girls and women are forced to stay home for fear of gang violence on the streets.
Mujeres de Xochilt is a collective of girls and young women of indigenous origin established in 2008 in El Salvador. It works to organise and empower girls and young women to de-normalise violence and to advocate for SRHR.
Based in Nahuizalco on the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range, the organisation works with communities on gender education campaigns through art, theatre and workshops in schools. It works mainly with girls and young women aged 12 to 28, most of whom are out of education, single mothers or live in rural areas with no access to sexual and reproductive services.
Mujeres de Xochilt has set up centres where women and girls can increase their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health. It also provides art and theatre coaching and runs film forums. At the centres, there are leadership and community management classes as well as training programmes for workers of the local maize mill.
Mujeres de Xochilt has a strong girl leadership aspect to its work and its programmes and activities are dictated by the girls’ needs. Thanks to its strong ties to the community, the organisation has gained the trust of those it works with. It has helped many girls and young women who had been facing violence to regain their self-esteem and self-confidence.