In February 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador modified the Comprehensive Special Law for a Life Free of Violence for Women (Ley Especial Integral para una Vida Libre de Violencia para las Mujeres, LEIV) to codify violence against women in politics (VAW-P). The law defined VAW-P as a unique form of violence that must be eradicated to guarantee women’s political rights and open pathways for more women to compete for and hold elected office. This landmark reform was the result of the commitment of women political leaders and civil society organizations working together over many years to raise awareness of this important issue and support a more inclusive and democratic El Salvador.
Despite this achievement, as is the case globally, VAW-P remains a significant barrier to women’s political participation in El Salvador. Official data on VAW-P is limited: over a six-month period from January to June 2021 – a time of increased political tension and activity around the February 2021 legislative and municipal elections – Salvadoran analysts recorded 13,348 acts of violence against women in politics. This included 3,113 cases of sexual violence, 3,606 incidents of physical violence and 607 accounts of psychological violence, such as verbal threats, statements intended to disparage or discriminate against women. When women in El Salvador report these incidents of violence, authorities typically do not recognize their experiences as gender-based and fail to provide an adequate response. In the 2021 legislative and municipal elections, for example, one woman candidate said of her experience:
“I faced violence, including vandalism of my campaign advertising materials and the dissemination of false information about me on social media that came from a male candidate who harassed me online, saying I have low self-esteem and am conformist, questioning my abilities and demanding that I withdraw my candidacy in the elections. I reported this under Article 55, parts a), c) and d) of the LEIV, but I never received a response.”
As an active ally of Salvadoran women in politics, NDI is supporting public institutions, women political leaders and civic groups to build on their prior achievements by strengthening regulatory frameworks to prevent and respond to VAW-P and building public support for women’s equitable participation in politics.
In the lead up to the February 2021 legislative and municipal elections, NDI collaborated with Salvadoran partners to monitor VAW-P in 49 municipalities across the country throughout the electoral process. One NDI partner developed a comprehensive dataset and evidence-based recommendations for legal reforms, institutional protocols and public advocacy approaches. As a result, decision-makers in public institutions, political parties and civic groups have systematic and reliable information to inform their approaches to preventing and addressing VAW-P in El Salvador.
Building on the findings from the monitoring exercise, NDI partnered with the Network for a Parity Democracy, a network of national and international organizations: including Hanns Seidel Stiftung, the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), Oxfam International and UN Women in El Salvador, and Salvadoran partner organizations (Red para una Democracia Paritaria, RED) to draft a protocol to protect women from political violence. As with previous reform attempts, the efforts of civic groups to eliminate VAW-P and reduce barriers to women’s equitable political participation played a fundamental role in building demand for stronger mechanisms to address VAW-P in accordance with the LEIV. However, civil society support is not sufficient to ensure implementation and compliance. To this end, NDI drafted the proposed protocol using inputs from the key public institutions that would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the LEIV, including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s (Tribunal Supremo Electoral, TSE) Gender Unit and the Salvadoran Institute for Women’s Development (Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo de la Mujer, ISDEMU). During the presentation of this protocol, the TSE publicly committed to its approval prior to the February 2024 general elections. When implemented, this protocol will support public institutions such as the TSE and ISDEMU to meet their responsibilities outlined in the LEIV using procedures that respect the rights of women and ensure allegations are investigated and addressed appropriately. If properly adopted and implemented, the procedures and tools developed will provide women in politics with greater recourse to seek justice for acts of violence committed against them.
In parallel to these efforts to strengthen the capacity of public institutions to respond effectively, NDI also supports political parties to prevent incidents of VAW-P which drive women out of the parties. For example, NDI provided technical assistance to five political parties to assess members’ perceptions of violence against women within their party. Issues discussed included: barriers to women’s leadership; personal experiences with violence; establishing codes of conduct and internal mechanisms to prevent violence against women party members; and future legal or institutional mechanisms that could be implemented. As a result of this assessment, parties increased their understanding of the issue and the potential for gender-informed internal reforms to open new avenues for women's full and equal participation in politics. Addressing the violence women experience within political parties is not only an issue of women's individual rights. Increasing the number of women candidates and having a stronger position on issues of interest to women can make parties more competitive during elections.
The results of the political party studies were presented to the public on November 1, 2022, as part of NDI’s launch of the public awareness #NotTheCost (#NoEsElCosto) campaign, which continued throughout the month until the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25. This campaign helped to raise awareness of the many forms of VAW in the political sphere and reinforce the message that violence is not the cost of women’s engagement in politics.
As El Salvador prepares for general elections early in 2024, preventing VAW-P and strengthening the institutional and legal guarantees so that women in politics will receive a timely and adequate response to incidents that occur in person and online are more important than ever. The progress made by NDI’s partners, political parties and civic groups, as well as public institutions, will serve as a foundation to make politics safer and more inclusive for Salvadoran women in the 2024 elections and beyond. In working with women and partners to support women's equal and active political participation, NDI aims to contribute to a more resilient and sustainable democracy in El Salvador.
This project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and is implemented by NDI through the Consortium for Electoral and Political Processes (CEPPS).
Author: NDI El Salvador Team
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.