Beyond the Bubble: Normalized violence against Salvadorian women and the military controlled government in Myanmar

Lily Yost, News Reporter

Content warning: This article contains discussion of intense violence and sexual assault.

The state of women in El Salvador

On Nov. 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported El Salvador as the most dangerous Latin American country for women. A nation-wide survey from 2017 found that 67 percent of Salvadoran women had experienced violence at some point in their lives, and only 6 percent reported it. Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, a grassroots feminist organization, documented more gender-based violence cases in the first six months of the pandemic than it did in all of 2019. Numbers are worse for Indigenous women and women of African descent—according to the study, 0 percent report their abuse. 

El Salvador has one of the highest rates of femicide, the intentional killing of a woman or girl based on their gender. When President Nayib Bukele imposed a strict lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, women were trapped inside with potentially abusive housemates. In response to this threat, a collective of women’s organizations set up a hotline to support women locked inside with their abusers. 

Women tend to keep quiet about any abuse they experience out of fear of consequences, for a lack of resources or a general belief that what they’re experiencing is normal. If women are left unaware that they deserve better and the national government turns a blind eye, then reporting it feels useless. 

If a woman does report the abuse, she or her family could face violent repercussions from her abuser and potentially death. 

“IACHR warns that the violent deaths of women show signs of special hatred and cruelty, such as cases of suffocation, hanging and machete attacks,” the report noted. 

Some women seek relief by fleeing to the United States, but with the pandemic and immigration restrictions, achieving refugee status is difficult. Other women resort to what is called femicide suicide, when a woman commits suicide which has been caused by the violence experienced at the hands of her abuser. 

Under Salvadoran law, abortion is illegal in all cases, including rape, incest and when the woman’s health is at risk. Some women have been incarcerated for child-birth complications, serving 40 years in prison for aggravated homicide based on the suspicion of an attempted abortion. 

The IACHR found a “case of a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide after she had an out-of-hospital birth when the 9-1-1 emergency service failed to come to her assistance following her emergency call.”

Women in El Salvador experience a disproportionate amount of violence compared to women in other countries, and are penalized for the tragedies they experience, such as in the case the IACHR cited. 

Protests spark violent response from the Myanmar junta

On Friday, Nov. 5, the head of a United Nations committee investigating Myanmar, said they have collected evidence “amounting to crimes against humanity” carried out by the military.

The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar has been gathering evidence since the Feb. 1 2021 military coup, led by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. Internet and TV services were cut and a year-long state of emergency was declared. 

Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia that shares borders with Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India. After 124 years of British rule, Myanmar gained independence in 1948 and was ruled by the armed forces until 2011. Since then, the new government moved toward a civilian-ruled government. 

In 2015, Myanmar held their first free and open elections. In a landslide victory, the National League for Democracy (NLD) replaced the military-led government, a political party started by Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and political advocate. She became Myanmar’s State Counsellor, but the military maintained control of the judiciary, blocking reforms in parliament.

On Feb. 1 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi was among those detained by the military. Her location remains unknown. Ever since the coup, public opposition has led to mass protests, to which the military responds with harsh crackdowns. Water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition have been used to dispel protesters. Thousands have been killed, including children. 

In addition to the violence against dissenters, the Myanmar military and Min Aung Hlaing face international condemnation for their ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority that the government refuses to recognize as citizens. Thousands have been killed and raped, and over 200 of Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground. Many have fled to neighboring countries.

Although Aung San Suu Kyi has been a democratic figure for Myanmar, her reaction to the accusations of the systematic killing of the Rohingya people has tarnished her reputation. In December 2019, she appeared in front of the International Court of Justice, denying the genocide. She asked the United Nations to stay out of Myanmar’s affairs.

“If war crimes have been committed by members of Myanmar’s Defence Services, they will be prosecuted through our military justice system,” said Suu Kyi.

Considering the military runs the justice system, prosecuting its own members is unlikely.

On Thursday, Nov. 4, Human Rights Watch released a statement on behalf of over 500 civil rights groups calling for a UN security council meeting to address the escalating violence in Myanmar’s western Chin State. In late October, the Myanmar military began shelling the region, and up to 200 homes have been set ablaze. 

“Many of those who have been displaced have been unable to access humanitarian aid as the junta weaponizes aid for their own political benefit, often blocking access or destroying it in an effort to weaken the resistance,” the report reads.

A junta refers to a political group that seizes power, typically through a coup. 

The organizations are pressuring the United Nations to respond swiftly and harshly to the junta:

“The UN must not continue to fail the people of Myanmar.”