|Abstract: ||El Salvador is a small, densely populated country in Central America, home to 6.3 million people in 21,041 square kilometres (British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC], 2018). The county’s official language is Spanish. El Salvador gained independence from the Spanish Empire in 1823 (Tarling, 2017). Today, approximately 10 percent of the Salvadoran population are Indigenous (National Salvadoran Indigenous Coordination Council [CCNIS] & National Council for Art and Culture at the Ministry of Education [CONCULTURA], n.d.; as cited in Minority Rights Group, n.d.); during Spanish rule, Indigenous populations were pushed off their land, assimilated, or killed during uprisings (Minority Rights Group, n.d.).
El Salvador’s civil war, fought between the state and alienated middle-class revolutionaries, lasted for twelve years from 1980 to 1992 (Negroponte, 2012). Since then, rates of violence against citizens have remained persistently high, making it difficult for the state to guarantee social rights, such as healthcare and education (Booth et al., 2020). This violence has exacerbated gender disparities and has further disrupted social services for women and girls. El Salvador has a long history of patriarchal systems and culture, and these were reinforced through these persistent rates of violence (Cosgrove & Lee, 2015), including through school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), child marriage, and violence in the home.
According to Booth et al. (2020), violence against women in El Salvador has reached epidemic levels, encouraging President Funes to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the public sector in 2010 and the government to implement the Law of Equality, Equity, and the Eradication of Violence against Women in 2011. Despite these measures and others, women and girls are still victims of discrimination, and 67 percent of women aged 15 and older reported being victims of violence in 2017, and El Salvador remained one of the worst countries in the world for femicide rates (Booth et al., 2020).
The years of civil war also had a strong impact on education in the country. As in many cases of armed conflict, formal education was difficult to guarantee in El Salvador due to the violence and displacement of people within the country (Edwards, 2018). During this time, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the “rebels” in this conflict, recognized the importance of having an educated base for organizational purposes. They adopted a strategy of popular education with the goal to “identify, understand, and take action against various forms of social, cultural, political, and economic oppression” (Edwards, 2018, p. 153). This education system was run by community councils and was widespread in areas under FMLN control. By the early 1990s, this system employed around 1000 teachers and reached over 13,500 students and influenced future developments in education reform in the country (Edwards, 2018), as will be discussed in another section of this paper.
El Salvador has ratified international agreements defining the rights of women and girls, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and has adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). CEDAW, adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and ratified by El Salvador in 1981 (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner [OHCHR], 2020), defines discrimination against women, which includes unequal rights in the field of education, and provides ways that countries can work to end discrimination based on gender (UNGA, 1979). The CRC, approved by the UNGA in 1989 and ratified by El Salvador in 1990 (OHCHR, 2020), defines the rights of children worldwide, including civil, social, and health rights, stating that:
Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status (UNGA, 1989).
Article 28 of the CRC outlines children’s educational rights, stating that all children should have equal rights to an education and that primary education must be mandatory and free for all. Article 29 explains that children’s education also has to prepare them to live a life “in the spirit of [...] equality of sexes” (UNGA, 1989). The SDGs, adopted by the UNGA in 2015, also call for equality between men and women and equal access to quality education for all (UNGA, 2015), particularly SDGs 4, 5, and 10.
Since the end of the civil war in 1992, there have been three education reforms in El Salvador, each reform reflecting the international education trends at the time to varying degrees. The Ten-Year Plan came into effect in 1995 and aimed to increase the quality of education while also getting children to school who were left out of the formal education system during the war (Edwards, Martin, & Flores, 2015). Plan 2021, adopted in 2005, focused on equity, special needs education, and teacher characteristics (Edwards, 2013). The Social Education Plan in 2009 aimed to create “full-time” schools that included the community and families in the education of children and pushed forward the idea of inclusive education (Edwards, Martin, & Flores, 2015).|