Saturday, November 12, 2016

An El Salvador success story: Ciudad Mujer

One of the most successful innovations of the FMLN governments in El Salvador has been Ciudad Mujer (Women's City).  At Ciudad Mujer, governmental resources are aggregated to uniquely serve women in an effort to combat domestic violence, to provide health services, and to provide the skills and training which can lead to economic independence and greater self esteem.   From an initial site founded in 2011, the program has expanded to six locations across the country serving thousands of women.

The program was the brainchild of current Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato who was First Lady during the first FMLN administration of Mauricio Funes.   It is safe to say that the Brazilian born Pignato is now one of the most popular political figures in El Salvador.   (Pignato has subsequently separated from Funes, and he has moved to Nicaragua and been granted political asylum to protect himself from corruption charges in El Salvador).  

A recent Buzzfeed article describes the program's focus on the rights of women to lives free from violence:
In recent years, however, a glimmer of hope has emerged in the figure of the former first lady, Vanda Pignato. She has led a campaign to bring women’s rights into the mainstream, and has built six centers — known as Ciudad Mujer (or Women’s City) — around the country, offering women a place where they can seek help. And most importantly, they can do so anonymously — essential in a country where speaking out against your male abusers can be fatal...
 Everything at the center is designed to educate girls and women about their rights: the coloring books at the daycare center contain illustrations of angry-looking men, below the caption: “The right to be protected from abuse”; the table mats at the cafeteria explain the Comprehensive Law for a Violence-Free Life for Women, passed in 2011.
The hallways connecting the various brick buildings were flanked by healthy, well-tended lawns. Even though each Ciudad Mujer site is visited by as many as 240 women every day, the public spaces were impeccably clean and tidy. They were quiet except for the chirping of birds and the low hum of conversation.
The BBC published an article this week highlighting some of the women entrepreneurs who benefited from Ciudad Mujer.   Giving women the tools to be financially independent is another way to help curb domestic violence:
[Ciudad Mujer] was set up in 2011 because if El Salvador's overall crime rates weren't enough for Salvadorean women to endure, the country also has one of the world's highest rates of domestic violence. 
In the first nine months of 2015, an average of five cases of domestic abuse against women were reported to the police every day, and that is said to be only the tip of the iceberg. 
A key pillar of the Woman's City programme includes advice and loans to help women set up their own businesses, to enable them to earn their own money and establish their independence.
This week Ciudad Mujer celebrated the graduation of more than 1900 women in the western part of the country who had finished courses ranging from Windows 10 and Microsoft Office to artisan cheese production.  As an example of the kind of training which women can receiver, this week Ciudad Mujer graduated 23 women as electricians who can install safe and reliable electrical wiring in homes.  

The Ciudad Mujer program has been so successful that officials from all over Latin America have come to observe the program as a model for their own countries.


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