The women in El Salvador starting businesses to escape domestic abuse

Claudia Aguillon and a dozen other women in aprons are learning how to make an aubergine and brown sugar pastry at a cookery class in Santa Ana, the second-largest city in El Salvador.

When Claudia, 26, masters the recipe she will add it to the menu of Tastes of Coatepeque, the bakery and catering company she co-owns with her sister Iliana.

Being business owners in the small Central American country comes against a difficult backdrop – engulfed by gang violence it is the world’s most dangerous nation outside of a warzone, with 6,657 murders in 2015 – but Claudia says that the enterprise enables her and Iliana to earn a stable income.

“Our business is our own,” say Claudia. “No-one gives us a paycheque, but no-one exploits us either.”

The cookery class Claudia recently attended was organised by Woman’s City (Ciudad Mujer), a government initiative to help women who have been victims of domestic violence.

The scheme was set up in 2011 because if El Salvador’s overall crime rates weren’t enough for Salvadorean women to endure, the country also has one of the world’s highest rates of domestic violence.

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In the first nine months of 2015, an average of five cases of domestic abuse against women were reported to the police every day, and that is said to be only the tip of the iceberg.

A key pillar of the Woman’s City programme includes advice and loans to help women set up their own businesses, to enable them to earn their own money and establish their independence.

Iliana has two daughters to support, aged four and nine. While she does get some money from their father, who visits every few months, she says she would rather not need any funds from the man she says hit her.

“It has been one of my greatest limitations as a mother to have to depend on what he gives,” she says.

Currently Iliana and her sister both earn about $250 (£200) from Tastes of Coatepeque during a quiet month, around the level of the country’s minimum wage. However, in a good month, when they cater for more events, they can each earn as much as $600.

 

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