On Monday March 3, during a celebration to commemorate International Women’s Day hosted by the first Lady and Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato, FMLN presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén signed the “Defense of Women’s Civil and Political Rights Agreement.” Sánchez Cerén committed to continuing and further developing the programs started under the Funes government which benefit the rights of women and their full participation in politics.
Neither Norman Quijano nor his running mate René Portillo Cuadra were present at the event. Quijano justified the ARENA presidential ticket’s absence by saying many of the agreement’s components violate the party’s Christian principles. “When it mentions [in the agreement] that a woman’s body is her own, […] it’s saying that she can dispose of the fetus in her body, and that’s giving abortion the green light,” stated Quijano. He additionally cited a section that gives people “the right to marry whom they choose” as a potential pro-gay marriage statement, one which he could not support.
Two days later on March 5, Norman Quijano, ARENA candidate, held his own press conference detailing how his government intends to “benefit” women should he win the second round of elections this Sunday. The press conference, given four days before the elections, is the most recent example of ARENA’s last-minute ad-hoc efforts to garner votes and reveals the party’s deep-rooted sexism and lack of commitment to improving gender equality in El Salvador.
ARENA’s plan includes the creation of the “Ministry for Women and Their Families,” a name which squarely places child-rearing and domestic work on women by disassociating men from such responsibilities. The proposed ministry would watch over the Salvadoran Institute for Women (ISDEMU), the Women’s City program (Ciudad Mujer), the Salvadoran Institute for Childhood and Adolescence (ISNA), the Youth Institute (INJUVE), among other independent institutions. Many of these institutions were created or dramatically strengthened by Mauricio Funes’ government, and had often been the subject of attack by Quijano, calling them “a waste of resources.”
This sudden if inept switch in discourse to attract women’s votes on Sunday is of some political importance to the ARENA party: women make up 52.7% of registered voters, and ARENA continues to lag anywhere from 8 to 18 points behind the FMLN in the polls. Part of the FMLN’s success has been in fact due to its commitment to women as integral political agents both within the party and within society at large. The party had a 30% quota for women legislators at both a local and national level, long before the Political Parties Law mandated that all parties include women in their candidate lists. In addition, the internationally-recognized Women’s City program, headed by Pignato, was first created under the current FMLN government.