by Julia Evelyn Martinez. Source: Gara; Translated by CAWN
Julia Evelyn Martinez is a professor and researcher in the Department of Economics at the UCA (El Salvador), where she has worked intensively to incorporate a gender perspective in the training of economists and in economic research. She is an economist and feminist and participated in Bilbo at the conference on “Global Crisis and Transnational Corporations. Debates on Development for a Change of Model”, organized by the Observatory of Multinationals in Latin America (OMAL) with Hegoa, from the UPV-EHU and Peace with Dignity groups, members of the “Platform 2015 and beyond”. Between June 2009 and December 2010 she was the Executive Director of the Institute for the Development for Women.
Martinez was dismissed by the President of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, from her role as Executive Director of the Institute for the Development for Women, for her advocacy of abortion rights. Martinez claims Funes is a “sold candidate (who) serves the interests of the powerful, not for change and transformation for which he was elected by the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) and the people.”
What do you remember of your experience in a government agency in defense of women?
I try to be consistent in my belief in the struggle for women and equal rights for men and women. I was a member of Funes’ government for 18 months where I was chosen for my defense of women’s rights, both academically and socially. I began with high expectations of the government, believing it would look for the change and transformation natural to a leftist movement such as the FMLN.
Eighteen months later I realized that one thing is the electoral campaign and another the implementation of public policies when it comes to women’s rights. One thing is what is said and another what is done. El Salvador is very much governed under the influence of the “real powers”.
What are you referring to as the “real powers”?
My big lesson in politics is that those who ultimately make the decisions are not even the diputados (members of parliament), or the Ministers, of whom only one is a women. The decision makers are outsiders of the formal, elected, power.
They are a combination of the business sector, the political right wing, and part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. These powers oppose the expansion of women’s rights, specifically the rights that Salvadoran women are denied: sexual and reproductive rights. In my country, abortion is punishable by years in prison no matter the reason, including rape, medical reasons (both maternal health or foetal malformation). A woman may be sentenced from three to 12 years in prison for an abortion. The sentence can be up to 30 years if there’s suspicion that foetus was six months, or more, at the time of the termination.
That is terrible.
Yes, it is. The UN Committee Against Torture has determined that this is a cruel practice that tortures Salvadoran women, and called upon the Government to rectify the health legislation and judicial practices.
Has Funes’ government acted on the pressure of the UN?
No. That’s one of the reasons why I left the Women’s Institute. I didn’t quit, I was dismissed because I backed the recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture. I demanded a national dialogue, a review of the laws, and to consider at least the decriminalization of abortion cases in certain cases.
There are women in hospital who are chained to their beds and then taken to prison on a stretcher. An amnesty has been asked for these women. However, the judicial system did not yield due to pressure from religious fundamentalists and the political right. The President dismissed my authority in front of the Institute and said that during his government there would be no changes. So I was dismissed.
Is he from the FMLN party?
Yes, but he is a sold candidate. He was a very popular TV presenter and was chosen as candidate because of his popularity with the public, and the likelihood of him getting to power. He didn’t come alone, but with a group of friends, the movement that supports him called “Friends of Mauricio Funes”.
That group took control of the government apparatus, the ministries and the decision-making process. They are important businessmen, linked to transnational interests, who financed the campaign. The existing FMLN party members stayed in the government, but in other, less important, departments.
What is the situation for women at work?
Women are very discriminated against at work. The law say one thing, but business and institutional practice is another. Womens wages are between 25% and 35% lower than those of men. Jobs are created around maquilas and the manufacture of textiles for export.
There are almost 90,000 women in extremely precarious conditions. Often they aren’t even paid the minimum wage of $200 dollars or for overtime, and they aren’t entitled to medical care. There are many violations of labour rights, but the government, doesn’t act for fear of losing investment and jobs. They become complicit in the loss of social and economic rights of women.
What is your assessment of the two decades since the Peace Agreements?
It would be unfair not to recognize progress. There has been progress on the recognition of human rights, there is a civil public police,instead of a military police for civilians. There have been important advances. There are transparent election processes, something that didn’t happened in the 80s.
However, in terms of human development, there’s still a lot to do on human rights and recognition of women. In the five years Funes’ has been in power we have not made progress, instead we’ve gone back on sexual and reproductive rights of women.
Do transnationals get more support than people and women’s rights?
We have peace, but we apply neoliberal and very sexist policies. Even when having a discourse against neoliberalism and another on gender equity, in practice nothing is done about public policies, which is what ultimately matters. El Salvador now ranks first in femicides at a global level. Rapes and other forms of violence against women are increasing. Neither the institutions nor the policies respond to this problem.
Has the country overcome the conditions that led to the armed conflict?
They remain the same. The structural conditions that led to the conflict were the levels of economic and social inequality, and the gap between a minority that controls the property, the banking system, the production and the wealth, and a majority which remains marginalized from all this wealth.
The concentration of wealth in El Salvador shows that 20% of the richest people control 54% of the national wealth. That is inequality. This is generating structural conditions for social conflict, expressed in the phenomenon of gangs. Young people who have no chance to succeed in school, to get a dignified job or earn a decent living and are forced to join these criminal groups that are linked to drug trafficking and extortion.
There is a generation that is being lost. The State responds with more repression, instead of giving more real opportunities. It can lead to greater confrontation. While governments and elites don’t recognize the source of this social violence, they will be postponing peace and democracy for this country.
You put it so hard.
This week marks 21 years since the murder of the Jesuits, most of them Basques. I worked closely with father Ellacuría. Why were they killed? It wasn’t the action of a madman, but a combined action of the political, business and economic elites who knew what would happen. These Jesuits were raising awareness from the University, saying that there could be no lasting peace unless the structural causes that generated the conflict were changed.
The peace process took place. Unfortunately, during the peace process nobody addressed something fundamental: the privileges of the minority that excludes the majority. In the week of commemoration of the martyrdom, injustice was denounced and it was remembered the need of a fairer society to eliminate all forms of violence. If there is no justice there can be no peace in El Salvador.
Do you see changes relating to the February 2014 elections?
Yes. The FMLN is recognizing the errors of previous legislatures of using a “borrowed” candidate who doesn’t respond to a leftist, democratic and pluralistic vision.
Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a guerrilla commander of Chalatenango, and Óscar Ortiz, mayor of Santa Tecla, a guerrilla member, people who have been tested and are very close to people. They are the ones leading the change. They will have another chance, but will have to compromise with women and social movements.