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Education forms foundation for equality in El Salvador

Canadian youth, CoCoSI, PWRDF staff and project participants meet on Zoom during a project development process.

July 19, 2023

By Jacqueline Tucci

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All around the world, members of the LGBTIQA+ community face discrimination, threats, harassment, and violence, just because of their identity. In many areas, hateful views and attitudes are on the rise. Many things are to blame for this, but one of the major contributing factors is a lack of education and awareness of LGBTQIA+ identities and experiences. UNESCO suggests the inclusion of sexual diversity in educational programming as one method to prevent hateful attitudes and attacks on LGBTQIA+ people.

To combat discrimination and attempt to secure safer futures for LGBTQIA+ communities, PWRDF has partnered with long-time partner, Association CoCoSI, on a project to promote education and awareness surrounding sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in El Salvador. PWRDF will support this year-long project with $30,000. It will seek to reduce violence, harassment and prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people in six rural communities within three El Salvadorian municipalities.

In Central America, many countries lack political will to recognize and include LGBTQIA+ issues in their educational framework. Many governments also resist enacting protections for the LGBTQIA+ community into law. In El Salvador, levels of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people are high, and there is no formal government legislation which covers the teaching of SRHR with an authentic gender framework to include transgender and non-binary identities.

The municipalities of Victoria, Guacotecti and San Isidro are impacted by significant poverty, insecurity and a lack of education and employment. Many young people leave these areas in search of work in bigger cities or abroad. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community in these municipalities suffer from high rates of discrimination due to a lack of political protection and a lack of awareness and education from other citizens.

Earlier this year, PWRDF staff had the opportunity to participate in a project development process with CoCoSi and several Canadian youth. The process was led by CoCoSI staff and program participants (primarily LGBTQIA+ youth) and involved a series of four participatory Zoom sessions with the aim of creating a platform for the sharing of ideas and the elicitation of constructive feedback on the proposed project.

One of the Canadian youth participants in this process was Duncan Chalmers. Duncan wrote about his experience in the June 2023 issue of Under the Sun.

“This process – a new approach for PWRDF – served as an amazing mechanism to connect the voices, perspectives, and experiences of youth in El Salvador with those of young people here in Canada.” Duncan said.

“In addition to strengthening CoCoSI’s case for project funding, this intentional creation of space for connection, dialogue, and cross-cultural engagement was an amazing learning experience for all parties involved. While we as Canadians were very interested to hear about the stories of youth in El Salvador, they were equally excited to learn about our lives as well,” he added.

CoCoSi will carry out this project in six schools within six rural communities in the three selected municipalities. This project will work directly with adolescents, teens, parents, teachers, local organizations and local government authorities to encourage participation and activism amongst youth. CoCoSI seeks to create awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues and to advocate for the protection of the human rights of LGBTQIA+ community members, with the overall aim of fostering a culture of peace in these municipalities.

Project participants will attend workshops to build their interpersonal skills so they may be better prepared to advocate for themselves and their LGBTQIA+ peers. The workshops will also improve upon their communications capabilities as they create a proposal of demands to improve protections for LGBTQIA+ people in their communities. By extension, this project seeks to empower youth to take control of their life plan, escape the cycle of poverty and insecurity, and increase their quality of life.

CoCoSI has been working in rural communities for 23 years, focussing on gender justice for underserved communities.