The Program to Prevent Gender Violence (PPGV) has been working in El Salvador since 2005 to eliminate gender-based violence in public and private spheres. Oxfam joined forces with six other development and women’s rights organizations in 2005 to start a Campaign for the Prevention of Gender Violence, which evolved into the current program. The program engages men, women, and youth as active agents by involving them in teaching and training programs, media and arts campaigns, councils, and networks. The program also raises awareness among politicians and public officials so that they can be advocates for the prevention of gender-based violence and can help bring change to policies and practices. The campaign has worked at both municipal and national levels to position gender-based violence as a nonpartisan issue.
At the level of policy in El Salvador, the program has contributed to the draft of a gender-based violence (GBV) prevention law in 2008 and the Supreme Court of Justice approval of a protocol for the enforcement of the existing domestic violence legislation in 2008. One hundred and sixty-five public officials, judges, and police officers were trained how to be aware of gender-based violence, how to apply the relevant laws, and how to address gender violence effectively and compassionately. Women representatives in the Salvadoran National Parliament, after trainings and advocacy on human rights, developed a draft of what became the Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Eradication Law, which punishes GBV in both the private and the public spheres (including in the media). This bill was passed as law in November 2010.
The campaign has also established agreements with the Ministry of Education to develop and incorporate modules in the curriculum on dealing with or preventing gender-based violence. The curriculum and other violence prevention measures were pilot-tested in 54 schools. The program has prioritized trainings in the school system because youth are more-easily influenced to make an impact. They are also particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence: this is often the age where patterns of interpersonal and partner violence are beginning. Through various arts-based campaigns, students and faculty were sensitized and exposed to in-depth training so they could serve as leaders.
Finally, the program has created the Ventanas Ciudadanas (Citizens’ Windows), a national network of 360 women community leaders trained to accompany victims of violence as they attempt to navigate the justice and health systems. Ventanas Ciudadanas has also helped women seek assistance instead of retreating to private spaces to cope with violence on their own.
The way forward
As the program continues to grow, expanding into neighboring Guatemala, it must re-examine its processes and address certain challenges.
First, because El Salvador lacks official statistics documenting gender violence and suffers from poor record keeping in the court systems, it will be important for the program to establish better methods of attaining statistics and improving record-keeping practices. Documentation will serve to combat the invisibility of gender-based violence in the country, which the program has been trying to address.
Second, the program must make the effort equally engage men and women in the process of preventing and combating gender-based violence. Trainings with men on alternatives to hegemonic masculinity and machismo should be an essential part of the work, along with trainings empowering women to stand up for themselves. Working with women and men within their own cultural context is crucial to the continuation and success of the program.
Third, because women’s assertiveness often triggers backlash effects, the risk of violence that members of the Ventanas Ciudadanas face in their communities is a major concern. The PPVG must assess these risks and put formal measures in place to deal with them.
Finally, as the program intensifies its intervention at the municipal level, it must confront three key challenges: a high level of criminal violence, a dearth of community organizations, and a lack of government capacity or political input. PPVG may need to work outside the system, focusing on safety nets and education rather than on officials and laws.