Women's Stories  |  ESPERA

Founded in Rebellion: Women Organizing for their Rights

The featured image shows ASMUR’s leadership team. The woman in the image on the left is Cristina. 

This history of ASMUR was written by Cristina Bernabe. Cristina was a founding member of ASMUR, and was the leader of the group for many years. Currently Christina is serving as the coordinator of ESPERA for ASMUR, providing support to the women for their small businesses and managing the lending pool.

ASMUR joined the ESPERA program in 2011, but it was founded in 1995 by women seeking a life free of violence and a voice in their homes and communities. ASMUR is in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador.

WHO WE ARE

The Rural Association of Women Working in Farming – Olga Estela Moreno (ASMUR) is a grassroots nonprofit organization that was started in 1995 by ex-combatant women and women who had been displaced to other states/departments within El Salvador.

WHY WE STARTED

In El Salvador, too many women live with violence in their homes and a culture of machismo that does not allow them to participate in the decision-making spaces and organizational processes of the community. There is a commonly-held belief that women do not have the ability to think and make correct decisions. Women should just stay at home to take care of the kids, the animals and household chores: those are the roles imposed on women. Likewise, when couples fight or have a confrontation, men don’t want others to get involved. They threaten the women if they tell someone else about the difficulties. Some of the women having been ex-combatants, they asked themselves, why, having fought together with men in the war, do they not want us participating today in decision-making spaces? And so some of the women started to rebel.

Rural women organized to address the problem of violence in a macho society that violated their rights. They were afraid and knew that the endeavor would not be easy. The women began working together in this decisive struggle for their rights. So as not to retreat, women began to organize themselves internally, finding their voice in local decisions and requesting organizational and economic skills training to empower themselves.

The organizers faced the very real threat of violence, yet they held meetings with other women in the communities to engage their opinions about organizing, participating in decision-making spaces, supporting one another when a woman is suffering violence, learning how to read and write and managing projects that benefit women. More and more women joined the group.

In 1995, the organizers invited other rural women willing to fight for their rights to ASMUR’s first meeting. They elected a coordinator team of four women representing different rural communities which held assemblies to report their work to the entire group. The women chose a name and acquired the proper paperwork through various government channels. They decided to form a board of directors and seven women were selected with the agreement to start the process to become a legal organization.

At this meeting it was noticed that one woman from Santa Martha who had been regularly attending was absent for unknown reasons. They later learned the woman, Lorna, was unable to continue because she had been attacked; tied and stabbed in her legs and arms. She managed to escape for help and left for Nicaragua. The women were shocked but only grew more determined.

GAINING LEGAL STATUS AS AN ORGANIZATION

In 2003, the organization officially obtained legal status with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) as a rural organization of women. This gave them eligibility for grants and resources through the government.

The organization is named in honor of Olga Estela Moreno. She was a 16 year-old teacher brutally murdered in 1995 after she had received training from the literacy circles taught by CIDEP.

OUR FOCUS

  • Citizen participation
  • Violence prevention
  • Organizational development
  • Economic initiatives

Work started with seven communities but the work has since spread to fifteen communities.  In each, there is a committee of between five and eight women. This committee is autonomous. Each community has an organizer assigned by ASMUR who provides support and guidance to the communities.

The ESPERA program began in 2011 with an amount of $5,000 and an additional $1,000 monthly stipend to cover coordinator travel expenses for one year. In 2012 we requested an additional $5,000 and currently we have $10,000 in the lending pool and have worked with 100 women.

FIRST PROJECTS

CIDEP (Intersectorial Association for Economic Development and Progress): Using a “train the trainer” model, CIDEP equipped women to form circles in the community to teach other women to read and write. Young women cared for the children so their mothers could attend classes.

Cattle project: Cattle herds were given to the communities of Sabana, San Bartolo, Porvenir, Santa Marta and El Naranjo.

Pigs and chicken project: Pigs and chickens were given to the communities of Las Anonas, San Carlos, Taura, Rancho and Pacún.

CORDES (Association for Cooperation and Development of El Salvador) and ASMUR: In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated communities, destroyed houses made with bajareque (cane and clay), latrines, and caused loss of crops and livestock. CORDES and ASMUR presented a housing project to the agency Paz y Tercer Mundo (PTM) and the European Union, for the women who lost their houses. The beneficiaries were single mothers of the communities La Pita, El Coyol and San Carlos. This program was significant because women had traditionally not been the owners of their homes or their land.

PAST PROJECTS

  • FCAM (Central American Women’s Fund): Sexual and reproductive health projects.
  • CIDEP: Training modules on raising chickens and building or using cooking griddles.
  • City Hall Office: Infrastructure projects.
  • Colectiva: Women’s project For a life free of violence.”
  • ANDRYSAS : Project of promotion and implementation of women’s human rights.

CURRENT FOCUS AREAS

  • Organizational Capacity-Building
  • Mobilization and Participation (Community Engagement)
  • Economic Initiatives
  • Violence Prevention and Women’s Accompaniment
  • Developing Fundraising Proposal
  • Consulting to benefit related organizations and the women they serve
  • Public policy and lobbying around women’s rights

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