El Salvador - A Peace Worse than War: Violence, Gender, and a Failed Legal Response


Musalo, Karen. 2018. "El Salvador - A Peace Worse than War: Violence, Gender, and a Failed Legal Response." Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 30 (3): 3-97. 

Author: Karen Musalo


After twelve years of violent conflict, the bloody civil war in El Salvador came to an end in January 1992 with the signing of peace agreements and, ultimately, comprehensive Peace Accords. During the conflict between the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberaci6n Nacional (FMLN) [Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front] and the government, at least seventy-five thousand people were killed, seven thousand were "disappeared," and five hundred thousand were displaced. The great majority of these abuses were committed by the Salvadoran government, which received more than $5 billion in assistance from the United States.


"This article explores explanations for the high levels of violence, including gender violence and femicides, in El Salvador. It examines how the conditions that preceded, accompanied, and have followed the civil war may explain the violence that has engulfed contemporary El Salvador. Within that context, this article focuses particularly on violence against women; it looks at the response to gendered violence in the forms of laws and governmental institutions and evaluates their impact - if any - in reducing the multiple types of violence against women, including gender-motivated killings. The article draws not only on an extensive review of the literature analyzing the situation in El Salvador prior to and following the armed conflict, but also on information gathered from in-depth interviews of Salvadoran experts. 25 Given the dearth and unreliability of published information regarding violence against women in El Salvador, discussed infra, the insights and analyses from in-country experts are essential to presenting a fuller picture of the reality. Part I provides an overview of the historical context relevant to the current situation in El Salvador, looking principally at significant events in the twentieth century. It examines how a confluence of factors - including structural violence, economic inequalities, social exclusion, the proliferation of gangs and organized crime, and a culture of patriarchy dating from the Spanish Conquest - have given rise to contemporary levels of violence, including gender-based violence. Part II presents information on the societal levels of violence, including violence against women and girls, drawing connections between historical and socio-political factors and the contemporary explosion of violence. Part III discusses the legal framework addressing violence against women that has been under development in El Salvador since 1996. It details the inadequacy of the laws, as well as the significant barriers to implementation arising from deeply entrenched institutional resistance to gender equality, which has led to, among other problems, insufficient funding for the laws' implementation and virtual impunity for the failure of governmental officials to carry out their responsibilities under the laws. An objective and key contribution of this article is to substantiate the links between the historical origins of violence and the magnitude of gender violence in El Salvador today. Finally, the Conclusion offers some overarching observations and recommendations drawn from the many Salvadoran activists who have committed themselves to a long struggle to achieve justice and equality for women" (Musalo 2018, 7-8).

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Economies, Economic Inequality, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Justice, Impunity, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, Violence Regions: Americas, Central America Countries: El Salvador

Year: 2018

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.