Confronting Inequalities and Injustice with Conviction: Morena Herrera

To commemorate Hispanics in Philanthropy’s 33rd year, we honored 33 Latino leaders who inspire as our 2017 HIPGivers. Read HIPGiver Morena Herrera’s story below.

Morena Herrera, a leader of  the Salvadoran women’s human rights and feminist movements, knows what it’s like to stand up for women in a country with some of the most draconian laws regarding female sexual and reproductive decisions.  

Whether in El Salvador or beyond, Herrera advocates global acceptance for human rights. And, in doing so, she gives tirelessly.  

There are lots of fatalistic and individualistic outlooks nowadays. But I come from a generation that doesn’t have that mentality. From a young age, the conviction that we can change things, by joining with others, and overcome injustices has given my life meaning.’

In her current work and in each of her past activist roles—as a leftist guerrilla in El Salvador´s civil war, a National Assembly Alternate, a San Salvador Municipal Board Member, and various civil society posts—Herrera has dedicated her life to promoting gender equality and social justice in El Salvador, as well as Central America.

I critically look at the inequality between men and women, within the greater context of social injustice and inequality.

That, in turn, has led Herrera to fight against overly restrictive abortion laws, which disproportionately affect underserved women in El Salvador, including those living in poverty. In 1998, El Salvador removed exceptions that had allowed abortions in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life is at risk, and when the fetus did not develop properly. Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Suriname, Andorra, Malta and the Vatican also have total abortion bans.

Nowadays in El Salvador, women who miscarry or have a stillbirth after having obstetric complications fear that they might risk prosecution under the total abortion ban. Last July, the Spanish news agency EFE reported that there were 18 women serving time in El Salvador for alleged abortions. Other reports have placed the total number of prosecutions at about 600.

As the head of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion, Herrera and her team help defend at-risk women and girls and to highlight the government’s failure to comply with U.N. conventions and international treaties that recognize reproductive rights as human rights. A UN Population Fund Adolescent Pregnancy map of El Salvador found that 1,444 girls younger than 15 became pregnant in 2015. Those pregnancies would be considered to have resulted from rape, yet the mothers were legally required to give birth.

Instead of increasing criminal penalties for women to 30- to 50-year sentences, as the opposition Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party proposed in 2016, the Citizens’ Coalition wants abortions to be allowed when the mother’s life is at risk, when the pregnancy has resulted from rape, incest or other crimes, and when the fetus is seriously damaged.

It’s important to acknowledge our connection to the community . . . When we share and demonstrate solidarity, when we walk in others’ shoes and perceive their suffering, we also grow individually as people.

Feeling inspired? Read fellow HIPGiver José M. Hernández’s story and let the uplifting vibes continue!

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