A Salvadoran reality of gender-based violence ignored by Jeff Sessions

Women, bringing their children, are fleeing gender-based violence in El Salvador and seeking asylum in the United States.   Yet, in the case of a woman from El Salvador, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is re-writing asylum law to eliminate the possibility of protection for these women.

From the American Immigration Council:
In the latest attack on asylum seekers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions single-handedly overturned years of immigration precedent to find that many victims of violence will not qualify for asylum. His strongly-worded opinion strikes an especially devastating blow to Central American asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom seek protection in the United States after fleeing gang violence, domestic violence, or both.
Sessions certified to himself a 2016 decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Matter of A-B-, a case involving a woman from El Salvador who was granted asylum based on severe domestic violence she experienced. In his decision, he targets and overturns the BIA caselaw on which her successful case relied: Matter of A-R-C-G-. That 2014 case had clarified years of uncertainty to firmly establish that survivors of domestic violence can be eligible for asylum under U.S. law.
Sessions' decision ignores the harsh reality of gender-based violence in El Salvador and other Central American countries.  Women are too often subject to sexual and physical abuse, to domestic violence, and even killed because of their gender.   The government in El Salvador, despite laws on the books, has been incapable of stopping the violence, and 2018, in particular, has seen a worrying increase in killings of women.

Between 2015 and April 2018 1003 feminicides were reported in El Salvador, despite a special law aimed at violence against women going into effect in 2011.  The country's Human Rights Advocate, Raquel de Guevara expressed her concern this week with the high level of homicides perpetrated against women so far in 2018 with a rate of almost 13 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.  The level of murders of women is up almost 20% over the same period in 2017.
Feminicide is just one part of broader societal violence suffered by women across the country.   In April, the government released the results of a wide-ranging 2017 survey of violence against women. In the survey of more than 4000 women across the country,
  • 67.4% indicated they had suffered from some sort of violence during their lives.    33.8% had suffered some sort of violence in the previous 12 months.
  • 50% had suffered from psychological violence at some tine in their life while 20% had suffered from psychological violence in the past 12 months.
  • 25.5% had suffered from physical violence at some time in their life, while 5.7% had suffered physical violence in the previous 12 months
  • 40% had suffered from sexual abuse in their life, while 10% had been sexually abused in the previous 12 months.
  • Rural Morazán department in northeastern El Salvador had the highest level of gender based violence, while generally rates of violence against women were higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

See all the results here with more breakdowns of the data.

Despite these high rates of violence, however, only 6% of women who have suffered abuse indicate that they reported the abuse to authorities.

Two emblematic cases this year have put the issue squarely in front of the Salvadoran public.   One is the case of Carla Ayala.  Ayala was a female employee of the National Civilian Police (PNC).   She was invited to a year end celebration by members of an elite tactical unit of the PNC known as the GRP.   Agents of the GRP agreed to take her home after the party, but she was never seen again.   GRP agents have been charged with aggravated feminicide and cover-up, and the GRP has now been disbanded

The other high profile feminicide of 2018 was the murder of Karla Turcios, who worked for a sister publication of the newspaper La Prensa Grafica.  Original thoughts that her murder might have been related to her work, were removed when her husband was arrested for the killing. 

Another key element element of gender based violence in El Salvador is the terror meted out by the country's violent gangs.  A CNN report this month highlights the issue:
In this tiny Latin American country, women bear the brunt of a brutal gang culture. They are the drug mules and forced foster parents of children of gang members who are either in jail or dead. 
Sometimes women are forced into the gangs themselves, subjected to violent initiations that can comprise rape, beatings and murder.... 
The United Nations' special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, told CNN that women's "bodies are treated as a territory for revenge and control. Gangs are male-dominated and girls and women parts of the territories they control." 
Callamard also noted that about one in 10 murders of women results in convictions.
In May, the government announced it would launch an strategy for prevention of feminicides and violence against women.  The government indicated that this would be an integrated approach across many units of government, but details were scarce and the effort seems to be primarily an awareness campaign.   The effort would be lead by the Salvadoran Institute for Development of Women, led by Vanda Pignato, Secretary of Social Inclusion.   (Pignato is now under arrest as part of the corruption investigation involving her ex-husband, former president Mauricio Funes).

The actions of the US Attorney General show a complete lack of appreciation of the dire situation faced by women who flee El Salvador seeking asylum.   Their desperation, as seen in their willingness to undertake an incredibly perilous journey towards an uncertain future, is proof of the failures of El Salvador when it comes to protecting women from persecution on account of their gender and the roles society gives them.   Slamming the door shut on their claims for asylum was a shameful act.