Justice for Evelyn in Landmark El Salvador Abortion Trial

Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez is 21 years old. She has spent almost 3 years in prison in El Salvador with 27 left on her sentence. Her crime? Suffering from a stillbirth after being raped.

Yesterday, in a landmark retrial that was the first of its kind in the country, Hernandez was declared innocent and cleared of all charges. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she walked out of the courtroom with her mother and lawyer into a crowd of cheering supporters.

In July 2017, Hernandez was convicted of aggravated homicide after falling unconscious and giving birth to a baby that was later found dead. Despite maintaining that she had not known she was pregnant, she was accused of deliberately killing her baby and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Due to lack of evidence, Hernandez’s conviction was overturned in February this year and a retrial was ordered. Despite ferocious pressure from prosecutors, the judge concluded “there was no way to prove a crime.”

In El Salvador, sexual and reproductive health legislation is harsh and inhumane. Abortion is illegal in all circumstances, including instances of rape, incest and risk to life. Women who suffer from obstetric emergencies like miscarriages or stillbirths are routinely suspected of intentionally ending their pregnancies and accused of murder. Convictions are pursued aggressively and sentences are severe.

It is estimated that since 1998, over 600 women have been imprisoned under El Salvador’s abortion laws, many serving up to 40 years in jail.

Paula Avila Guillen, human rights expert and Director of Latin America Initiatives at the Women’s Equality Center, explains: “El Salvador violates the human rights of women, not only because of the total prohibition of abortion but because of the arbitrary and erroneous application of the law that sends women to prison.”

Sentencing a teenage rape victim to 30 years in prison sends a direct message from those with all the power to those with very little: we set the laws, we decide what happens to you, we are in control.

But times are changing.

Last year, 20-year-old Imelda Cortez was released from prison after almost 2 years awaiting trial for attempted homicide. Like Hernandez, Cortez became pregnant as the result of rape. Like Hernandez, she hadn’t known she was pregnant. And like Hernandez, Cortez woke the world up to the reality of El Salvador’s absurd and cruel criminalization of vulnerable women and girls.


Miscarriage is not a crime. Still birth is not a crime. Abortion is not a crime. What is criminal is using the law to force women and girls to bear children against their will.

What better way to restrict women’s power and agency than to lock them into child bearing. And if they appear to resist, what better way to punish them than to simply lock them up.

In our current climate, where abortion rights continue to be denied and progress is not only slow but actively reversing, Evelyn Hernandez’s release is a welcome reminder that activism works. Her case offers hope to all those still imprisoned under heinous laws and to all those currently denied human rights. Hernandez’s retrial gives new hope for reform and for a deeper understanding of the catastrophic human and social impact of abortion bans.

Evelyn’s story, like Imelda’s, is about far more than a debate on the morality of abortion. It’s a story about systematic persecution by unjust justice systems that treat victims as perpetrators and women as less than human. And like recent stories of women in Argentina, Chile, Northern Ireland and Alabama, it’s a story about fighting to defend human rights.

Speaking outside the courtroom yesterday, 21-year-old Evelyn told the crowds of supporters: “My future is to keep studying and achieve my goals… There are many women who are still locked up and I call for them to be freed soon, too.”

Activism, social pressure, solidarity – they work. But we have to keep going, in every case, in every country. Evelyn finally has justice, who’s next?

#JusticiaParaEvelyn, #OjosEnElSalvador, #JusticeForEvelyn, #EyesOnElSalvador

Mexico’s ‘Gender Alert’ is Failing to Keep Women Safe

Mexico is among the 20 worst countries in the world to be a woman, according to the 2019 US News & World Report.

This says a lot about the country’s social dynamic. There’s a lack of justice, human rights, safety and equality. Truly, there’s a lot of work to do.

Most recent estimates warn that up to 9 women in Mexico are killed every day and many more suffer violence. The data is scary. What’s even scarier is that the Mexican justice system allows impunity. Safety and security in the country is not good enough for anyone, and for women it is particularly bad.

The Mexican government ‘try’ not to ignore this issue. Thanks to international attention and efforts, Mexico has shown growing commitment to preventing violence against women. We do have some laws in place, such as Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a una Vida Libre de Violencia (General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence). This law includes an interesting and unique mechanism – referred to as the ‘gender alert’.

What is Mexico’s gender alert?

In the translated words of the Mexican government:

“The gender alert is a mechanism for the protection of women’s human rights, unique in the world (…) It consists in a set of emergency governmental actions to confront and eradicate feminicide violence and / or the existence of a comparative grievance that limits the full exercise of the human rights of women, in a given territory.”

The goal is to guarantee safety for women in areas where violence is particularly pervasive. The problem? It’s not a preventive policy. There are multiple risks facing women and girls every day and yet our authorities wait until things are out of control to activate the alert.

The ‘gender alert’ could do so much more if it were used differently.

Things are not getting better. Femicides continue. Violence continues. Women and society at large are begging authorities to take real action.

There is no way to pretend the ‘gender alert’ is effective. It has now been activated in more than 13 states. We continue to activate this policy in more and more states, while ignoring the causes and reasons. We must innovate and commit to finding solutions to gender violence in Mexico.

The risk and fear must stop.

We have to address the roots of the problem. Even thought Mexico’s gender alert mechanism is not enough to eliminate violence against women, it is a foundation to build on.

The Mexican government need to look beyond ‘covering up’ the situation and truly put in the hard work required to stop violence. It’s never too late.

Gender is at the Heart of Spain’s 2019 Election

Spain’s 2019 general election will take place on 28 April. This year, a range of political alternatives have emerged across the ideological spectrum, creating an extremely heated electoral debate. And gender seems to be at the heart of the conversations.

In 2018, a passionate feminist movement was sparked in Spain. It was a reaction to the most high-profile rape case in the country, known as the ‘Manada’ or ‘Wolf Pack’ case. Five men were accused of gang raping an 18-year-old girl. They were sentenced to 9 years in jail for “sexual abuse”, but acquitted of rape. Such a verdict was made possible because the Spanish law requires rape cases to include proof of “resistance” from a victim. In this case, the young woman was deemed to have shown “passive” behaviour.

Public reaction to the ‘Wold Pack’ verdict was unprecedented.

Thousands of (mostly) women stormed the streets of Spain’s main cities. They called on leaders to change the current legislation and reverse a patriarchal justice system. They also offered support to all sexual abuse victims – voicing “yo te creo” (I believe you). However, a ‘macho movement’ has grown in backlash to this feminist renaissance. Spain has heard narratives of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and excusal of “boys will be boys” behaviour.

Conversations around gender and feminism have dominated Spanish news, TV shows and social media. And now, in the run-up to the elections, gender is being used ruthlessly as a political tool.

Right-wing and extreme-right-wing parties seem to be on a race towards backwardness and misogyny. In a recent electoral debate, one of Partido Popular’s regional leaders – Cayetena Álvarez de Toledo – made a very alarming remark on consent. She stated that during sex, “no one says yes, yes, yes until the end”, and that “silence doesn’t mean no”. Cayetana is well-known for her anti-feminist views. In the past, she has has been vocal about her beliefs that equality was achieved long ago, and that today’s feminism is unrealistic.

Vox, a newly acclaimed far-right party, has gained voters’ favour with straight-up misogynistic discourse. They have repeatedly described feminism as “supremacist”. The party has publicly questioned official data on violence against women, alleging that “many women unjustly report their partners”.

The third party in the conservative game is Ciudadanos. They have become quite popular due to their ‘liberal feminism’. Inés Arrimadas, regional leader for Ciudadanos, has stated that every woman should be free to reclaim equality on her own terms. The issue with liberal feminism is that while it acknowledges gender inequalities, it dramatically fails to see the sexist structures that allow them, in favour of market self-regulatory rules.

In contrast, Spain’s left-wing parties are doing exactly the opposite and intensifying their pro-feminism discourses. The Socialist Workers’ Party has been vocal about gender quotas in the private and public sectors, and fight against the gender wage gap.

In fact, Spain’s current president – Pedro Sánchez – recently became the first world leader to appoint women to almost two-thirds of cabinet positions.

Further along the progressive spectrum, there’s Podemos. Irene Montero, the party’s spokesperson, is a long-term feminist activist. Her gender narrative has intensified with the introduction of gender-neutral language and the proposal of feminism as a subject in school.

Across the political spectrum, gender is receiving huge attention in this year’s Spanish elections.

It’s the guest star at every political rally, sparking both outrage and admiration. And while some still fight to safeguard traditional patriarchal values and try to destabilise feminism, the truth is that gender has never been so high on the political agenda.

Our Spanish sisters must be doing something right.

Cyntoia Brown: 15 Years On – Free At Last?

In 2006, Cyntoia Brown was convicted of shooting and killing Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old man who had “bought her for sex” for $150. She was sentenced to 51 years in prison.

Earlier this month, Governor Haslam granted her clemency as one of his final acts in office. She has survived 15 years of her sentence already but will now be released to parole supervision in August this year.

Cyntoia Brown has received a lot of media attention due to the specifics of her case. She was only 16-years-old when sentenced yet she was tried as an adult. She argued against her sentence by citing a 2012 ruling which stated that to give a child a life sentence without parole is unconstitutional.

The case raised an enormous number of questions and issues – why was a young girl so scared for her life that she shot a man dead? Why was she tried as an adult when she was only 16? And most uncomfortable of all – would this sort of sentencing have happened to a 16-year-old white girl?

There is no point hiding from these questions anymore. Silence on these horrific issues allows for them to continue.

It could be argued that the high profile celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Ashely Judd who shared messages of support for Cyntoia Brown on social media brought her case into the public eye. Of course, this did help, but in reality there has been a huge amount of grassroots support and momentum – raised predominantly by women of colour.

Democrat Stacey Abrams tweeted: “Justice has finally been served … This victory belongs to Cyntoia Brown & to the Tennessee human trafficking activists, especially Black women, who refused to concede to injustice & instead organized to create change.”

Although this change took 15 years to push through, cases like Brown’s show the influence the general public can have when they refuse to be silent on an issue.

But what happens when people do stay silent on an uncomfortable issue, such as race? Black women and girls are not being kept safe, and not only that, their voices are not valued as highly as their white counterparts’.

To put this into perspective, the docuseries ‘Surviving R Kelly’ aired in the US this month, documenting the life and alleged abuses of the global megastar. (Another documentary, ‘R Kelly: Sexy, Girls & Videotapes’, was broadcast in the UK in 2018).

Why have this man’s actions been allowed to continue for so long? Is it merely because of his money and influence, or it is because his victims have all been young black women? Had R. Kelly been abusing and violating young white women, would this have been allowed to go on for so long, with the same ‘out of sight out of mind’ attitude?

It’s vital, although massively depressing, to remember that Cyntoia’s story is not unique. Since 2007, a national hotline for sex trafficking operated by Polaris has received reports of 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States.

The Washington Post describes research showing that “black girls accused of crimes find less leniency in the criminal justice system.” A study by Georgetown University found that prosecutors dismissed an average of three out of every 10 cases involving black girls, but seven of 10 cases involving white girls. 

Now a 30-year-old woman, Cyntoia Brown is still not ‘free’. She won’t be able to vote, or apply for many jobs. She will be on parole for the next 10 years, and she will have to live with the horrors of what has happened to her.

But, she is one module away from completing a bachelor’s degree, and plans to set up an organisation to help stop other young girls ending up in her situation. Essentially, Cyntoia Brown is freeing herself, and hopefully she will feel some of the love that is pouring her way from all over the world.

If you’re interested in learning more about Cyontia Brown’s case, there is a documentary called ‘Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story’. If you want write to Cyntoia, you can send letters to “Miss Cyntoia Brown #410593, Tennessee Prison for Women, Unit 1 West, D- 49, 3881 Stewarts Lane Nashville, TN 37218.