Forum “One Step to Equality”

Ambassador Jean Elizabeth Manes

March 9, 9:00 AM, Barceló Hotel

* This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish language text should be considered authoritative.

Throughout my career, I have had the most humbling pleasure of meeting women from all around the world. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that when you give a woman a chance, she is able to change her community. And when you give her a voice she can change the world.

I saw it when I was in Afghanistan where women went against repressive traditions, risking their own lives to achieve their goals — whether it was  owning their own trucking company, educating their daughter or founding a female soccer team. We saw this with Malala; a teenager advocating for her rights, first in her own country and for girls rights all over the world.  We are seeing it right now in my own country, with the “Me Too” movement, which has uncovered a web of abuse and harassment that has lasted for decades. And I have seen it here in El Salvador, where Salvadoran women achieve extraordinary things when given the smallest opportunity.

But it starts with giving them a voice.

Recently, I had the opportunity to host a performance of “Si tu no hubieras nacido” (If I would have never been born) play by La Cachada, a theater group formed by women who were market vendors. If you haven’t seen it yet, believe me when I say that you are missing out on a spectacular experience, but more importantly, you are missing out on an opportunity to listen to real stories told by real women. Women who have become the spokesperson for equality and progress for Salvadoran women. Their stories represent the reality of many Salvadoran women. The power that these actresses have to transmit their experiences, their struggles and hardships and aspirations, is undeniable. These women are not professional artists with 20 years experience under their belt and theater studies. When they started acting, they worked at the market, and now they dominate on an international stage.

This is but one of many examples that show what happens when you give a woman a voice, and this morning we have the opportunity to hear more of them. And we must listen, because women’s rights issues affect us all, regardless of whether we are women or not. Because overcoming the challenges this country faces can only be done when everyone — men and women — are equal before the law.

There has been considerable progress on behalf of public and non-profit institutions to support women and bring justice for victims. As is the case for the over 70 children rescued by the attorney general’s office, many of which had been forced into sexual exploitation, pornography, marriages, fraudulent adoptions, and much more.  

However, you know better than anybody else, that inequality is still a reality for many women in El Salvador and women disproportionately bear the burden of violence in their communities. Between January and December 2016, 3,947 people reported sex crimes to the PNC. 3,664 of these victims were women. 2,253 of these women were minors. That means that 61% of these women victimized were between the ages of 12 and 17 years old.

These are just numbers; violence statistics. But, behind each number is a girl. A girl who had dreams which have been now broken. Inequality is present everywhere. Based on the latest information available, the average income of a rural woman was only $48 a month. And even though many own informal micro-companies, only a few of the small and medium businesses are actually headed by women, in both the urban and rural areas.

There is, without a doubt, a long road ahead. We all share a responsibility in bridging the gap that inequality creates in communities. To achieve this objective, it is essential to work together with the private sector, the public sector, non-profit organizations, and with each citizen.

I am convinced we can face this challenge because I have seen inspiring examples amongst the Salvadoran women I have met. And because I have experienced firsthand what those women can do when we give them a voice.  So, we must listen. But more importantly, we must act. Because the future of Salvadoran women depends on what we do today. Every day there are opportunities to affect change. Big problems need big solutions. But big solutions are the result of consistent small actions by many people to reach a shared goal.

So let’s ask ourselves: What can I do today to change the reality of Salvadoran women?

And then go out and do it.


* This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish language text should be considered authoritative.