Women helping to rebuild El Salvador
El Salvador is still haunted by the violent 12-year civil war that left 75,000 people dead, 8,000 missing, one million homeless and a further one million exiled. Women participated in the civil war at a high level; women served as armed combatants and provided domestic aid to soldiers. However, when the civil war concluded in the 1990s, women experienced a backlash: they were criticized for leaving their traditional family roles to fight and found it difficult to re-integrate into Salvadoran society.
It was out this that the organization IMU was born. IMU (in Spanish: Instituto de Investigación, Capacitación y Desarrollo de la Mujer) was founded in 1986 to address that intersection of gender and civil strife in post-conflict El Salvador. One of IMU’s pioneering projects is its women’s studies circles. The study circles, composed mostly of single women raising children, gather together regularly to discuss how human rights pertain to their lives. The participants are trained in community advocacy, parliamentary procedure and gender issues. From these study circles, two community-based organizations have bloomed – one focusing on domestic violence, the other on economic opportunities.
IMU is now moving in two important and complementary directions: pursuing and ensuring democracy and human rights for El Salvador through its women’s movement, and addressing how El Salvador can handle future natural disasters through advocacy and disaster preparedness. At the same time, IMU continues its vital and comprehensive network of women’s training circles, including a new project about the Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), educating women on trade and globalization.