On our first day in El Salvador, the entire IWMF team met with abortion activists, who explained to us the social and political context in their fight to decriminalize abortion. That evening we learned that 60% of the heads of household in El Salvador were women. The parallels exist in Guatemala, too. Much of this is a result of violent civil wars and an economic crisis throughout the 1980s and 90s.
As my reporting partner Monica and I explored feminist stories of resistance during our trip, it became more apparent to me how the Western idea of feminism modernizes it. We accept it as a notion cluttered with theory and clad in pantsuits. But feminism is rooted in tradition and circumstance as much as it is in contemporary politics. And it’s more nuanced than our assumptions.
While we were in San Salvador we covered the march to decriminalize abortion. Even though I work hard to dispel the stereotypes mentioned above, I was still surprised to meet Susana, 70 (pictured on the left) who told me at the march that she was there to support alleviating the ban to “save women’s lives.” This shouldn’t have surprised me—74% of women in El Salvador are in favor of decriminalization if it saves a woman’s life. And when you’re fighting for your right to live, you can be Susana or you can be a feminist rapper like Mai, 24 (pictured on the right), who was raised in a rough, gang-controlled neighborhood in Guatemala City. She moved out of her house and took up rapping and kickboxing after her father was shot and killed, claiming her own space and voice in a culture set up against her.
Parsing through my interviews now and rediscovering the amazing stories of feminism in each conversation—some more self-evident than others—I’m reminded of what author Zadie Smith wrote in an essay published earlier this year: “what sounds like a revolution to others is simple common sense to you.” Resistance can be subtle, but every woman feels it.