The Shocking Case of Imelda Cortez: #EyesOnElSalvador

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_SVSign 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.

The world is watching. We need all eyes on El Salvador. 

Día de Muertos: Remembering the Unborn

Día de Muertos, or ‘Day of the Dead’, is one of Mexico’s greatest traditions. Starting on the last day of October and ending on 2 November, the Day of the Dead stands as an ancient tradition to celebrate death and the return of the dead – which our ancestors understood to be part of the duality of life. When the Spaniards colonized our lands, existing celebrations of death fused with Catholisism and created what we know today as Día de Muertos.

We celebrate those who have left this world, but, somehow, still feel as if they are here with us. We honor them with an altar, at which we place photographs of our beloved ones who have passed away along with things they used to enjoy in life. From their favorite drink, to their hobbies, food or music of choice; we celebrate their life and share a night of fun with them in both the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Less well-known is the process to set the altar in line with indigenous traditions. The dates vary from region to region, but from October 28th, specific days are set to honor:

  • Those who died in an accident or very suddenly
  • The drowned
  • The forgotten souls – those without family to remember them
  • Those who were never born or were never baptized
  • Children
  • Adults

On October 31st, my group of friends and I gathered as we do every Tuesday. However, this time it was with the purpose of sharing energies at the end of one month, welcoming the new one, and setting the altar for our dead.

In my family’s history there have been several miscarriages, so I don’t have pictures or anything to set in front of the altar. No favorite food, no favorite music, no favorite blanket. My family and I never knew the babies, but we remind them with love that we count them as part of the family. Without consciously knowing, I dedicated my altar to them, and the next day I found out that October 31st was the day for ‘the ones who were never born’. I felt a chill run down my spine.

I told my friends about this, and we shared stories of women who have had miscarriages or abortions. We talked about how often miscarriages and abortions happen and yet how little we talk about the women affected and their processes for dealing with it. We acknowledged the many different forms the process might take; some women don’t want to share their story, some carry sorrow, some see it as a part of nature, some seek support groups to cope, to name just a few.

One of our friends is an anthropologist, and she always has incredible stories about women from different contexts and cultures. She told us one that I want to share:

The Nahua people – indigenous people from the central region of Mexico – have a vision of the human being as part of the cosmos. They believe that pain, suffering, death and sickness are all consequences of the cosmos. They have different gods, and one of them is Apanchaneh or Chalchiuhtlicue – ‘Woman of the Water’ or ‘Mermaid’ (Sirena in Spanish). Nahua women who have miscarried or decided to ‘secretly’ end their pregnancy throw their foetuses into the river, believing them to become ‘mermaid children’ – sons and daughters of the Mermaid who wanted them for herself. With this belief, Nahua women’s understanding of miscarriage or abortion is different to those of other cultures. Nahua woman know that what happened wasn’t their fault, or their bodies’ fault: it was the Woman of the Water who asked for those children.

These past few days have been magical for me. My friends and I have created rituals to reconnect with ourselves and everything that surround us: the dead and the living. We shared stories, music and new traditions. We have taught each other things that have helped each other grow. Our sorority has become stronger during the festivities as we have shared in knowledge and love.