Content note – this post refers to sexual violence.
I hope that by now you might have heard the name Imelda Cortez. On Monday, the 20-year-old from El Salvador was found innocent and released from prison following almost 2 years in custody awaiting trial.
Imelda was repeatedly raped by her stepfather for 6 years. She became pregnant without realising, suffered an obstetric emergency but delivered a healthy baby. Despite no evidence indicating that she had attempted to end the pregnancy or harm her baby, she was charged with attempted homicide and faced up to 20 years in prison.
Yesterday, a judge dismissed all charges against Imelda and she was allowed to return to her family.
This is an amazing victory in a country widely considered to have the most extreme abortion ban in the world. But Imelda’s story is a reminder of the misogynistic justice systems we live in.
This joyful news deserves to be celebrated. But we must also continue to fight for justice – for the dozens of women who remain in prison in El Salvador, and for all of the women around the world facing death, imprisonment and irreversible psychological damage as a result of extreme abortion laws.
Imelda’s attorney, Ana Martínez, said: “This vulnerable young woman survived sexual violence only to be pursued for a crime she did not commit. Imelda goes home to her family today and will finally be able to meet her daughter and attempt to rebuild her life. We wish the same, and soon, for the women still jailed for obstetric emergencies. The women of El Salvador deserve better.”
And they do. There are at least 20 women currently imprisoned in El Salvador, accused of attempting an abortion. But what I want to share with all of you is that these outrageous cases are not exclusive to one country, this is happening all around the globe.
I live in Mexico, and every day one woman is reported to the authorities for having an abortion. Every single day! In the past 10 years there have been 228 women sentenced, 83 in pre-trial detention and 53 in formal imprisonment. Mexico’s sanctions for having an abortion depend on the state penal code but vary from 15 days up to 6 years in jail and fines that go from 20 up to 300 times the national minimum wage.
Sometimes people ask me, how will one blog post make a difference? This week, Imelda Cortez’s victory answers that question.
Our voices matter, our voices have an impact on society, and our voices really can help to change the world. I invite you to join me in using yours!
On Monday, standing outside the courtroom in Usulután, Imelda’s grandmother Julia had a message for all those who helped to put pressure on the government of El Salvador: “I give thanks to everyone, every single person, who has fought for Imelda’s freedom today. When I was visiting Imelda in prison she would tell me how grateful she was for the many, many women fighting on her behalf, even though they didn’t know her personally.”
We need to keep speaking out against injustice to help every woman who has been deprived of her human rights. We won’t stop fighting for girls and women’s freedom. We are not going anywhere.