By Shiromi Pinto
Yoshi Garcia is a Salvadoran activist and self-styled “DJ with a conscience”. Aged 24, her interest in gender equality issues started when she was around 14. Since then, she has joined numerous campaigning organizations, including Agrupaçion (the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) and Jovenes Voceras y Voceros en los DS y DR (Youth Voices for Sexual and Reproductive Rights). Here, she tells us how she became a passionate advocate against El Salvador’s total abortion ban.
When I was growing up, I was told that abortion was illegal. In school, you were taught about abortion from a religious perspective – that abortion is wrong. At first, I believed this.
But I’ve had friends who got pregnant after they were raped by their fathers or by other men. I’ve had friends who wanted an abortion because they didn’t feel ready to have children. In all these cases, their families forced them to have the baby.
Then there was the solidarity campaign for Karina in 2009. Seven years earlier, she had had a miscarriage and went to the hospital for emergency care. But the health professionals denounced her to the police, assuming she had had an abortion. She was condemned to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide. Her case affected me a lot.
Theatre and radio
That same year, I joined Radioactividad Joven, a youth group that uses theatre and radio to spread the word about sexual and reproductive rights. Radio provides a vital space for young people to have their say, and to raise awareness about these issues. It’s been a great personal achievement for me to be a part of that as a radio presenter and DJ.
Through Radioactividad Joven, I was exposed to a lot of information about the different circumstances that push women to have an abortion. I also realized how much the total ban affects women’s lives.
I discovered information about abortion and the ban that I hadn’t known before or that had been hidden from the public. I became convinced that this issue was much more about the fact that women should be free to make decisions about their own bodies. It was at this time that I really started campaigning for the decriminalization of abortion.
One of the biggest challenges we face is how to change things – how to change the status quo. The government is closed and it doesn’t value young people. How can we reach those in power – the State? They don’t believe in young people. They won’t give us opportunities and they won’t listen to us.
It’s not just the government. I have sometimes felt discriminated against in certain spaces or groups. People call you names like “abortista” or say “you are wasting your time”, “nothing is going to change”, or “you’re too young”.
You get more hassle if your activism is visible, for example, if you wear a campaign t-shirt at university or in the street. But you get used to it with time.
When I first started doing street theatre on the criminalization of abortion, it was very hard. People were shocked and couldn’t believe we were talking about this issue in public. It even made the newspapers.
But things have changed a little. I can see that people are now more informed. I think they have more information from social media, and the Beatriz case last year also helped to change attitudes. Change is happening bit by bit.
I have seen changes in attitudes in my family and among my friends. The case of “Las 17” has had a huge impact on many of my friends. At first they thought these women deserved to be in prison, but when I told them the women’s stories they changed their minds.
I am a Tallerista – I see myself as an educator. Through the workshops that I give I try to plant a seed of change. I am the present, trying to make a change for the future. Even if I won’t be able to enjoy this change, I know that future generations will.
I met lots of youth activists in September at an Amnesty human rights education training programme for young people in Argentina. We shared different ways of mobilizing others to protect and promote sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America. I realized we are not alone. It filled me with positive energy and made me more determined to continue with the fight.
Help Yoshi keep up the fight to decriminalize abortion in El Salvador. Write a letter today.
Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. My Body My Rights is Amnesty International’s global campaign to defend these rights. Find out more.
Originally published Oct 13 in Livewire, Amnesty International’s global blog.