The women (chicas) of Tacachico are leading the charge with five Salvadoran organizations to promote public policies that will build gender equality in the municipality. San Pablo Tacachico in La Libertad, is one of the four municipalities where SHARE partner UCRES strengthens community organizing. Currently, UCRES is coordinating with CORDES, Plan International El Salvador, the Mayor's office in Tacachico, and the Feminist Collective to formulate a municipal gender policy. The first step is to meet with all of the communities in the municipality, starting with the most remote ones like El Once, to map out current gender relations and needs in the communities.
The visit to El Once on Tuesday June 11th involved nearly three hours of travel: 1 hour and 15 minutes to Tacachico from San Salvador, then another hour's drive from Tacachico and a half hour on a wooden platform with wheels on the old train tracks, pulled by mule. This form of cart, walking, and biking are the only forms of transportation in and out of the community. Representatives of all 5 participating organizations participated in the meeting, as well as the consultant hired to coordinate the process – which meant we were quite a crowd for the mule to pull.
At the beginning of the meeting Silvia, UCRES' women's coordinator emphasized that the meeting was not political in the sense of being tied to any of the political parties, but an effort to coordinate with grassroots leaders and assess community needs.
María Julia, member of the municipal women's association and the Feminist Collective shared the roots of the initiative. The Feminist Collective realized an initial poll in 400 Salvadoran communities, and then this year coordinated with other local NGOs and the mayor's office to create a consulting team to collect further information and construct a gender policy through a grassroots process that reflects the true reality in the communities. Part of this process includes visits to every single community in Tacachico. The intent of the policy is to contribute to human development in Tacachico, ensuring the equal opportunity of men and women to participate in society, from access to education to involvement in community and municipal leadership.
Following the introduction of the process and a summary of what a policy is and what it is for, everyone introduced themselves with a dinámica, introducing the person next to them as a fruit or vegetable. That person would then share his/her name and community involvement saying (for example), “I am not a squash, my name is Dinora and I am the president of the women's committee.”
Following this ice-breaker, which brought on many giggles and smiles of embarrassment, the group split into two to create a map of the community reflecting which spaces were frequented by women or men or both, and answer a questionnaire. One of the groups had a long discussion about whether the soccer field should be identified as frequented by both genders since only the men have a formal soccer team in the community and thus dominate use of the field. The questionnaire included questions about equality of opportunities for women, men and youth in the municipality, what things they appreciate about their municipality, and what laws and institutions support women's rights.
The second activity split the group along gender lines, and the men and women each drew a clock representing how they use their time during the day. The hours of the women's days were filled with constant housework and caring for the members of their families – preparing meals, washing and ironing clothes, seeing the children off to school, sending meals to the field, sweeping, etc. Even time of rest also included looking after the children. The women's clock also included attending church with their children and husbands. The men's clock reflected a more leisurely schedule. While the men rise early and put in a long morning of intense physical labor in the fields, their afternoon time was relatively free, with time to rest, shower, and “ir a distraerse” or spend time on distractions, and watch t.v. after dinner.
While creating the clocks the groups also completed a second questionnaire, about the participation of women in leadership structures, cases of gender violence, who in the families manages the money, who works, and access to healthcare and jobs. The men perceived the women as having higher up leadership roles because they included the women's committee, in which of course the women hold all the positions, whereas the women looked specifically at the community council, the central authority in the community. The women also knew of cases of gender violence that the men were unaware of. Many of the women answered that the men handle the money in their families, while the men said that the money was jointly handled.
This is a glimpse into the first step in creating policy. A whole calendar of visits continues through the following weeks.