Thirty years ago, Morena Herrera was launching guerrilla attacks against a military-led government in El Salvador. She and her leftist comrades were incensed by an autocratic leadership that had ushered in sweeping inequality and a crackdown on civil liberties. As a commander and top military strategist, Herrera risked everything in a twelve-year war that left an estimated 70,000 dead.
Now the 60-year-old titan is fighting another war as the matriarch of the women’s movement in El Salvador. She is the founder of the country’s first feminist organization and the president of the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion. “I didn’t think I’d still be fighting for equality in 2016…I feel like my time is running out,” the curly-haired titan said with a sigh.
Plagued by inequality and poverty, El Salvador is the most dangerous peacetime country in the world, per capita. The small Central American country has the highest rate of femicide in the world and one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Latin America. In 1998, abortion became illegal and criminalized in all cases including rape, incest, and those in which a mother’s life is at risk (it had previously been legal if a woman’s life was at risk as well as in cases of rape and of fetal abnormality). The country’s powerful Catholic Church and pro-life lobby enthusiastically backed the new law and still wield significant influence among a vastly conservative population. On October 11, left-wing party FMLN (the former coalition group that revolted against the government) introduced a bill in congress that would bring the abortion law back to its 1998 provisions. But without support from minority parties — many of which are conservative — the bill is unlikely to pass.
Herrera has been a perennial target for the country’s misogynistic vitriol. Over the years, she has received countless death threats and is vilified almost weekly in local media. “They can try to hurt me all they want,” she said while walking to a local women’s center that she helped establish, the first of its kind. “Nothing scares me anymore.” [@lennyletter link in bio] : @laurenontheroad