Content note – this post refers to sexual violence.
You might not have heard the name Imelda Cortez. In fact, you probably haven’t. But Imelda, a 20-year-old young woman from El Salvador, is currently facing the nightmare of her life.
From the ages of 12 through 18, she was repeatedly raped by her now 70 year-old-stepfather. These continuous, atrocious acts of sexual violence resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. In June last year – unaware that she was pregnant – Imelda found herself experiencing unusual and severe abdominal pain. Her mother found her unconscious in their family home and and brought her to the nearest hospital.
After examining Imelda, doctors ruled the incident as an abortion. Even though a newborn baby was soon found alive and healthy in her home, Imelda was charged with aggravated homicide. You are probably asking yourself, how could that possibly have happened?
El Salvador has some of the strictest and most radical abortion legislations in the world.
It is one of only 26 countries in the world where abortion is banned entirely. It is also the only country known to prosecute and imprison women on a regular basis for for a ‘crime’ of this nature. The country has no exceptions to abortions, whether the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape, if the foetus suffers a deformity, or even when the mother’s life at risk from the pregnancy. There is also no differentiation made between obstetric emergency and illegal abortion.
In contrast to this legislation, the health ministry states there were 19,290 illegal abortions between 2005 and 2008 in the El Salvador. Statistics from the government show that three out of every eight maternal deaths in the country are a result of suicide among pregnant girls under the age of nineteen.
This is not the first time something like this has reached the public eye. In 2012, Maria Teresa Rivera, now assailed in Sweden, was accused of aggravated homicide following a miscarriage, making her the first abortion refugee in the world.
Several global organizations – and advocates and campaigners across Latin America and the rest of the world – are speaking up and demanding justice for Imelda. But as far as I can see, Imelda’s Cortez’s case isn’t receiving anywhere close to the the global media attention it deserves and needs.
We need to raise our voices and stand up for Imelda, and we need to do it now.
What’s happening to Imelda and other women in El Salvador is representative of a misogynist justice system, a poor health care system, unfair social representation, and regulations that are not only unreasonable but cruel, too.
On 12 November, Imelda will face a hearing. There’s a chance she could be sent to prison. El Salvador needs to know that the world is watching. Every single person’s voice counts – we simply can’t stand by and watch as women who have suffered from sexual violence or obstetric emergency are criminalized in this way.
We can all help to determine how this story ends.
There are many things you can do: speak out about Imelda’s case, talk about it – ask the men and women in your lives if they’ve heard about what’s happening in El Salvador. Raise your voice on social media with the hashtags #EyesOnElSalvador, #SalvemosAImelda, and #BelieveWomen. Send tweets to El Salvador’s attorney general, Douglas Meléndez Ruíz, using @DouglasM_R and @FGR_SV. Sign the online petition. Whatever you do, don’t stay silent.
Imelda is each and every women who has ever been victimized, judged or prosecuted for a maternity related matter.