María is a 35-year old Salvadorian woman with three young children. Growing up, Maria knew her mother but never met her father. When Maria was six, she started working in the Central Market of San Salvador and at the age of 12 she was raped and became pregnant for the first time. Later, Maria was expelled from her home after her mother’s second marriage My stepfather did not want to take care of me, even less with a son," she told the research representative for "Resilient Youth, The Opportunity for Central America," a study developed by the Regional Project Infosegura, a UN Development Programme-USAID joint initiative.
Maria lived in many different places until she met the father of her second daughter- who was then killed years later. After his passing, Maria had a third child with a third partner who she soon separated from, due to domestic violence. Currently, Maria’s teenage son lives with her father, uncle, and grandmother since she simply could not take care of him while also working full time.
Women all across El Salvador, women just like María have a life expectancy of around 75 years. It is safe to say that about half of Maria's life has been deeply marked by the violence that women experience in northern Central America, a region that for the past two decades has seen chronic violence despite Central America not having a regional war in decades.
When speaking of violence in the northern zone of Central America, it is assumed to be a problem concerning young men, since "only" 11 percent of the victims of violent deaths are women. However, the story of Maria is more common than is realized. Maria is just another example of how women of this region live surrounded by a violence that affects them differently and specifically just because they are women. This violence is not necessarily lethal, and victims often survive, but these women continue to be subjected to the same cycle of violence throughout their whole lives, impacting families and communities through generations, affecting their economy and sustainability, and distorting their capacities for development.
The data shows that in María's home country 93 percent of the victims of sexual crimes are women. Over two in every five the victims are under the age of 18. We also know that domestic violence is present throughout the adulthood of a woman and that a woman between 12 and 50 years old is at high risk of “disappearing”. Over 3,500 women have been killed between the years 2010-2017, while nearly 2,700 were reported as missing around the same period (201-2016) with 43 percent of them being minors. We know this because the Salvadoran State has made progress in the management of information on citizen security with a focus on gender and has oriented public policies to guarantee evidence-based analysis.
Migration is a phenomenon that also characterizes this region, and data indicates that violence against women is an important factor to be considered. Our initiative also analyzed the data of returnees: migrants detained in transit who were sent back to their place of origin. 26 percent of these ‘returnees’ are women and 30 percent of all women say they have migrated due to violence, compared to only 18 percent of men who say violence is the main reason for leaving their country.
Every November, national, regional, and global actors campaign to eradicate violence against women. It is crucial to recognize violence against women as an essential element of citizen security: tackling it is a key step to build more cohesive and peaceful societies. Addressing general societal violence with a special focus on violence against women must be at the foundation of comprehensive public policies on citizen security, aiming to eradicate all types of violence.
No nation will be safe unless women can live safely and develop their full potentials.
In this line, the ambitious and holistic 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide a model of approach to ensure women a life free from all types of violence. All of society thrives with firm steps towards development when no one is left behind.
At the UNDP we are systematizing good practices and success stories of work done in Central America within the framework of the UNDP-USAID Infosegura Regional Project, dedicated to the development of capacities for the formulation of public policies based on evidence and with a gender approach. We are, thus, establishing standards, methodologies and scalable processes. An essential part of the process has been to build trust and coordinate our work with national institutions producing and analyzing the data, making use of new technologies, national experts and innovation. This coordination has produced regional milestones in information management with a gender focus, such as specialized surveys and standardized reports on acts of violence against women.
In El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, understanding the context of Mary's story as accurately as possible will allow us to efficiently eradicate violence against women as well as all other types of violence. If countries are to achieve the 2030 Agenda, boosting gains in the economic, social and environmental realms, this can only be done if we ensure that no “Marias” are left behind.