By Shiromi Pinto ; translated  by CAWN

Interview of Morena Herrera, the ex guerrillera, the feminist, and the defender of women’s rights in El Salvador

Recently, the Salvadoran authorities have denied a pardon to Guadalupe, a young incarcerated woman that has been sentenced to 30 years of prison for having an abortion. Morena Herrera is one of her greatest defenders. The ex-combatant for freedom, an ardent feminist, activist and defender of sexual and reproductive rights, tells us here why the ban on abortion in El Salvador needs to end.

‘’I was a guerrillera. I have been an activist for social change since I was young’’, says Morena Herrera. When the civil war ended in 1992 and the Peace Agreements were signed, she knew that her fight was far from over.

‘’Those agreements left a huge empty space when it comes to women’s rights’’, she explains. ‘’I realized that I had to fight differently. Women’s rights are human rights and have to be a priority’’.

Since 2009, Morena has been fighting in a different manner through the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico, a group she is currently the leader of.

Among the women she has defended, the case of Beatriz is sadly famous. Beatriz almost died because she was denied an abortion to a life threatening pregnancy with an anencephalic foetus. Also well known is the case of the 17 women, including Guadalupe, who are currently launching appeals against convictions for ‘’crimes’’ related to a pregnancy and to obstetric complications.

All those women have seen their lives destroyed by the brutal ban on abortion in El Salvador.


Photo: Amnesty International

Acids and Hooks

 It was not always this way. Before 1997, abortion was permitted in three exceptional cases: if a woman’s life was at risk, in case of rape, and in the case of a fatal abnormality.

Continue Reading »


By Quimy De Leon; translated and adapted by Virginia López Calvo

Miguel Ángel Gálvez Judge presides over the court of First Instance located on the 14th floor of the Tower of Courts in the center of Guatemala City.

On Tuesday October 14, 2014, after three hearings with the Public Affairs Ministry, the prosecutor, the plaintiffs and the defense of two accused military officers, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez decided, following an analysis of the law in light of the evidence, testimony and arguments, that army colonel Esteelmer Giron Reyes and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij will have to attend an oral and public trial.

Esteelmer Reyes Francisco Girón is accused of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery, murder and humiliating treatment. Heriberto Valdes Asij is accused of forced disappearances and sexual violence.

The historical truth will be heard at a trial in October 29. Until then, both accused remain in preventative prison.

Justice for victims of rape and sexual slavery

Sepur Zarco is a community in the municipality of El Curtain in Izabal. There, a military detachment was built during the hardest years of war and genocide, in 1982 [1]. There, crimes against humanity were committed, rape and sexual slavery of about 20 women amongst them. Some of these women had their husbands and relatives killed or disappeared too.

Women who dared not to allow these crimes to go unpunished, who dared to speak and go through a series of difficult moments and cumbersome procedures, encourage us to reflect and defend truth and memory.

From the first hearing, the women covered themselves in colourful fabrics to face their perpetrators. They did not come alone, but accompanied by several people, by community women, by women’s organizations that make up the Alliance Breaking the Silence and Impunity. In the last three hearings only their representative arrived to court.

While justice arrives

To get into the Tower of Courts is not a nice experience. Whenever I’ve done it, it has always been to accompany a high-impact case, related to human rights violations.

Knowing and understanding how power operates is creepy. Not less than understanding how the justice system and its laws work. Most times I could see beyond the discourse that works to the benefit of the powerful, and through the patriarchal structures in politics, the military, society, religion and the economy. These hearings are landmarks in Guatemalan collective memory and feminist struggles.

[1] The detachment was closed in 1988.

Read previous articles about the Sepur Zarco case here and here.

By Helen Porter

Helen completed her PhD in Latin American Studies at the University of Liverpool. She has spent extended periods researching young peoples’ lives in Nicaragua and Bolivia and currently works researching projects working with young people involved in gangs in London.

‘Dale con todo Helen!’ or ‘Give it everything’, they shouted as I took my run up to the ball and struck with all the power I could muster. More often than not it dribbled harmlessly wide, but the cries of encouragement from my team mates and compañeras del equipo never failed to motivate, and once in a long while I was even rewarded with a ‘Golaazoo’. I had joined a women’s football team whilst researching my PhD in Leon, Nicaragua. To put it more accurately, researching the lives of the young women on the team had become my PhD, while training four times a week with matches on a Sunday followed by sun burn and sore muscles had become my daily routine as I played out the season with UNAN Leon during 2008.newsletter pic

Organised women’s football has existed in Nicaragua since 1960, but it is only more recently that the game has become the number one sport for women and girls, and the total number of registered players has grown from 800 in 2000 to over 7000 in 2006. Since 1998 the national championship has averaged around eight to ten teams from around the country. Popularity is growing but development is slow and limited largely by economic and cultural barriers. Continue Reading »

By Ninha Silva 

Wartime sexual violence is a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of victims across the world. Patterns of this occurrence led scholars to believe that women represent the highest risk of sexual violence as they are “targeted more often in ways that are directly linked to their gender and sexual identity and to their identity as the bearers and protectors of a community’s culture and future generations” (L.Leiby, 2009). In Guatemala, where indigenous people form 51% of the Guatemalan population, during the thirty six years of civil war that wiped the country, from over 200,000 assassinations and disappearances that were accounted, 83% were committed against the indigenous Maya Ixil population (Freedom House). For these figures, might contribute the fact that, the first years of the armed conflict were intense in the Maya’s territory, but also the fact that, compared to the national population, these communities were out casted and disadvantaged in many ways, specifically in political and economic areas.

State officials’ claim unawareness on the numbers and cases of sexual violence, which are extremely common and forces one to question how widespread violence and violation of human rights can occur without being noticed. As in Guatemala, countries such as Peru, Aghanistan and Central African Republic, allow a culture of anonymity and permissiveness that benefits the perpetrator, giving them confidence to carry on with their crimes without fear of being caught and brought to justice.

From the 10th to the 13th of June, London was stage for the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict. A very well intentioned agenda emphasized the active participation of women in maintaining peace and security; as well as the involvement of civil society in engaging their communities in the prevention and response to sexual violence; and the commitment of faith groups providing care, treatment and support for survivors. Continue Reading »

By  · Red Light Rio 

The Observatory of Prostitution is pleased to announce the publication of our preliminary report of findings on the World Cup’s effect on sex commerce and sex tourism in Rio de Janeiro.

The vast majority of sex workers we spoke with in Rio de Janeiro considered the World Cup to be bad for business. Despite the presence of significant numbers of Brazilian and foreign tourists in Rio, there was a general decline in sexual commerce during the 32 days of the event. Of the 83 points of prostitution we visited, only six maintained a normal flow of customers during the games. Another 17 experienced an increase in business. Sixty points, including Vila Mimosa, where some 1,000 women work, experienced an estimated decline of 30-50%, in terms of the number of clients frequenting these points, during the 32 days of the games from June 12 to July 13.

We attribute this decline to six factors:

1.     The closure of commerce in downtown Rio due to a series of government-declared holidays during the World Cup.

2.     The dependence of prostitution in downtown Rio (home to the largest concentration of prostitutes and sex work venues in the city) and Vila Mimosa (the city’s only concentrated red light district) on local clients who work in city center and who did not circulate through downtown Rio during these holidays.

3.     The absence of foreign clients, who did not replace local clients at these venues. Foreign tourists largely restricted their movements in Rio to the South Zone neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, to Lapa and to the Maracanã Stadium, avoiding downtown and Vila Mimosa all together.

4.     The fact that many foreign tourists who visited Rio were from Latin American countries that are as poor or poorer than Brazil. These tourists had little money to spend in Rio.

5.     The high prices throughout Rio and particularly in the South Zone, which prohibited many tourists from spending their money on non-essentials.

6.     Many of the single men who visited Rio during the World Cup were much more interested in spending their time and money conversing and drinking with male friends than in purchasing sexual services.

Please read on in our full report, which you can download in English and Portuguese:

http://bit.ly/ObservatoriodaProstituicao_RelatorioCopadoMundo (Portuguese)

For any inquiries about our work over World Cup, please send an email observatoriodaprostituicao@gmail.com.

(photo courtesy of  Matias Maxx)