What El Salvador’s Total Abortion Ban Means for Women and Girls

Portrait of Teodora Vasquez at her prison in El Salvador. She had been sentenced for 30 years after having an stillbirth out of suspicions of having had an abortion. In 2008, Teodora del Carmen Vásquez was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide” after suffering a still-birth at work. Teodora, mother of an 11-year-old boy, was expecting a new baby when she started experiencing increasingly severe pain. She called the emergency services but her waters broke soon afterwards. She went into labour, and was unconscious when she gave birth. When she came round, bleeding profusely, her baby was dead. Police at the scene handcuffed her and arrested her on suspicion of murder. Only then did they take her to hospital where she could get the urgent treatment she needed. In El Salvador, women who miscarry or suffer a still-birth during pregnancy are routinely suspected of having had an “abortion”. Abortion under any circumstance is a crime, even in cases of rape, incest, or where a woman’s life is at risk. This makes women afraid to seek help with pregnancy-related problems, leading inevitably to more preventable deaths.

Portrait of Teodora Vasquez at her prison in El Salvador. She had been sentenced for 30 years after having an stillbirth out of suspicions of having had an abortion.

By Linda Veazey, AIUSA Board Member 

In 1998, El Salvador outlawed abortion under any circumstances, including cases where the life or health of the woman is at risk; where pregnancies are the result of rape or incest; and in cases of severe fetal abnormalities. El Salvador’s total ban violates the human rights of thousands of women and girls.

In cases like Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, some women have even been sentenced to several decades in prison even though they did not have an abortion!  In 2008, Teodora was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide” after suffering a still-birth at work.  Amnesty found that Teodora was presumed guilty after she received an unfair trial in which her family could not afford effective legal representation. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

50 Ways You Changed Lives in 2015

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In 2015, millions of Amnesty supporters like you pushed decision-makers to make change happen worldwide.

You helped to release journalists and activists. Change discriminatory laws. Compensate victims of corporate crime. Pardon survivors of torture. And so much more. As governments continued to crack down on dissent and free speech, your pressure was critical to protect people’s human rights.

The list below is just a snapshot of some of the many success stories and bits of good news that you made happen in 2015. Thank you for all your support – together, we are standing up for people risking everything to speak out. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Women are more than victims: they are peacemakers

Members of a support group for survivors of sexual violence create a circle with their hands, Bogotá, Colombia, March 2011. The letters on the hands of the women in a circle form the words "No al abuso sexual" (No to sexual abuse). They are a group of women who have been victims of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Colombia who meet regularly.

Members of a support group for survivors of sexual violence create a circle with their hands, Bogotá, Colombia, March 2011.
The letters on the hands of the women in a circle form the words “No al abuso sexual” (No to sexual abuse). They are a group of women who have been victims of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Colombia who meet regularly.

By: Janine Aguilera, Identity and Discrimination Unit Intern

Rape and sexual violence against women have been used as a tactic of war in Colombia since the beginnings of the armed conflict, more than 50 years.

Colombian women have been systematically raped or sexually assaulted for variety of purposes, including intimidation, humiliation, forced-displacement, extracting information, and rewarding soldiers. Rape and sexual violence have been also used as a strategy to assert social control, and a weapon against women’s rights defenders who raise their voices in support of land restitution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Write for Rights: A Chance to Change Our World

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By Purva Khanapure, Amnesty USA Student Activist Coordinator, Central New Jersey

A few weeks ago, I found myself stressed as I drowned in hours of homework. After deciding to take a break, I began to check my email. I opened a message about Write for Rights, Amnesty International’s largest event, and clicked over to the website to read about this year’s twelve Write for Rights cases.

The case involving young women and girls in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, looked interesting, so I began to dive further in. I learned that in Burkina Faso, thousands of girls and young women are forced into early marriage and must suddenly and unwillingly dedicate their lives to another man. In order for families to collect financial returns by marrying off their daughters and sisters, safety, human rights, and happiness are compromised. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Girls Should be Students, not Brides

Shelter for survivors of forced marriage in Kaya city, northeast Burkina Faso.

By Naureen Shameem, Amnesty USA Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

What is it that enables you to make your life your own? Could you meaningfully choose your own life if your sphere of opportunity had been cut off as a child?

Globally, at least 25,000 children are married every day. 1 in 9 marry before the age of 15. Although the prevalence of child marriage worldwide has received more coverage in recent years, the rates remain staggering.

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How Toilets Can Make Schools Safer

This photo is of the Kobito / Kombito  2 settlement water source which shows there is household rubbish in it.  People drink the dirty water because the other option is to walk two kilometers to the next water source which is a broken pipe that has not been repaired by the Sol Is Water Authority (SIWA) for years.

Safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind for women’s rights advocates and activists, least of all during 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Yet they are undoubtedly huge barriers to safety, equality and education for women and girls worldwide.

One of the most insidious impacts of lack of WASH is on girls’ educational access, success, and sense of safety. One in three people worldwide doesn’t have access to a decent toilet. In low-income countries it is estimated that nearly half of all schools don’t have safe drinking water, decent toilets or hygiene facilities on the premises.

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When Educating Girls Means Putting Your Life on the Line

Fawzia Nawabi, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mazar-e-Sharif, gathers information in a local women's prison.

Fawzia Nawabi, investigator at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mazar-e-Sharif, gathers information in a local women’s prison.

By Elsie De Laere, Afghanistan country specialist

In Afghanistan, standing up for women’s rights means putting your life on the line—this includes the educators who “dare” to educate girls.

This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we are highlighting the critical role of access to education for girl children—as well as the barriers to this right. And in Afghanistan, the threat to women’s rights defenders—including educators—is a huge barrier to girl children accessing their fundamental right to education.

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How to Access a Safe Education as a Girl-Child of War

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By Christina V. Harris, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Three years ago, a tenacious student in Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai brought to the world’s attention the hardship faced by millions of girls living in conflict zones around the world when she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban on her bus ride home from school. The Taliban had targeted Malala because of her advocacy for something that many of us take for granted: her right, and the right of all girls and conflict-affected children, to a safe education.

According to a recent joint report by UNICEF and UNESCO, one-half (nearly 30 million) of the world’s out-of-school children are those from war torn nations—and most are girls.

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Will you stand with Teodora?

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Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, one of 12 cases in Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign this fall, has been in prison since 2008 because she suffered a still-birth.  

Teodora still has 23 more years to serve out of a 30-year prison sentence, which is supported by El Salvador’s draconian abortion law. El Salvador has a total ban on abortion, meaning that abortion is illegal even if a woman’s or girl’s life or health is at risk, if the fetus is not viable, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
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The Devastating Impact of Child Marriage on Girls Around the World

Shelter for survivors of forced marriage in Kaya city, northeast Burkina Faso.

October 11th marked the fifth year that the global community recognized International Day of the Girl Child, which the United Nations established to acknowledge girls’ rights and highlight the unique challenges girls face around the world. The list of challenges for girls is not short. Girls around the world are more likely to experience exclusion, discrimination, and gender-based violence than their male counterparts. They are also more likely to have unequal access to education and economic opportunities in the future.

The good news is that the world is paying closer attention to the rights of adolescent girls and, as a result, there have been some improvements over the decades. We have seen progress in girls’ education, and many countries have enacted laws to promote gender equality. At the same time, there are challenges for girls where change is insignificant or where progress is uneven: chief among them is early and forced child marriage. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST