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Building personal and collective empowerment for women’s rights and action

 Building on the JASS’ Mar de Cambios (Sea Change) region-wide gathering in July and the accompanying Wings of the Butterfly-sponsored play, Salvadoran Petateras by September had launched Rios de Cambios (Rivers of Change), a country level process to strengthen women’s movements and engage government in supporting and advancing women’s human rights. To pull off this amazing feat that brought together women from across society, they worked in collaboration with the Salvadoran Women’s Association (AMS), the Women’s Collective of El Salvador, the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women (ISDEMU), and other regional colleagues and supporters. Mar de Cambios evolved and spilled over into Rios de Cambios rippling out from the region to San Salvador, the nation’s capital, and on to provincial towns across the country. Theatre performances that highlighted women’s stories of courage followed by dialogues that involved key government officials took center stage in a political context that is changing, in some ways rather dramatically.

Women in El Salvador are coming together in a new political moment – one that offers the promise of more effective governance and collaboration between civil society and government. The June inauguration of a reform administration made up of a mix of revolutionary, activist and business leaders has begun to put in place more participatory structures and responsive government programs aimed at reducing poverty and violence and promoting human rights for all. Yet from experience, we know that to keep women’s issues and concerns on the agenda, strong movements and voices for change are crucial for holding government accountable and keeping it honest.

The Rivers of Change process is designed to do just that. By surfacing the concerns of women at national and local levels, acquainting them with unsung heroines from daily life, and engaging them in dialogues with strategic government representatives, JASS and allies have launched an education and advocacy effort that supports women’s empowerment and sustained political engagement and action. Calling their initial effort, On the Threshold of Democracy, it brings together major women’s groups, feminists, and others in collaboration with the Wings of the Butterfly initiative. Inspired by the butterfly effect potential and the power of art and activism, it combines theatre performances that showcase the experience of women from El Salvador and around the world — women who have challenged violence and discrimination and provided alternative visions of society based on human rights, solidarity, equality and harmony with humanity and nature. UNIFEM has supported the effort as part of an upcoming interagency campaign to eliminate violence against women sponsored by the UN Secretary General.

Valerie’s reflections on Rios de Cambios and Mar de Cambios can be read on Facebook.

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