Towards a gender-diverse leadership in El Salvador


3 persons sitting at a table covered with black tissue are talking to an audience (unseen) in front of three big flags and a large banner from the organization and the project supported by the UN Trust Fund
Country engagement event facilitated by the UN Trust Fund and UN Women El Salvador with UN Trust Fund grantee organizations in El Salvador. Credit: UN Trust Fund

When Claudia,* a bisexual woman, sought support from the Asociación Comunicando y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans con VIH en El Salvador (COMCAVIS TRANS),[1] a constituent-led, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) activist organization, she was evicted from her home and denounced by her family because of her sexual orientation. Fortunately, she was able to turn to the Karla Avelar Shelter House, a partner of COMCAVIS TRANS, where she received psychosocial and legal assistance during a business skills training workshop. She then received seed funding to open a dessert business, which has since expanded and now provides jobs for other LBTQ women.  

In 2022, COMCAVIS TRANS received a grant and support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) to empower LBTQ women and provide comprehensive services to survivors of violence.  

Violence against LGBTI people 

In the Latin America and Caribbean region, at least 3,599 LGBTI people were killed between 2014 and 2020, 1,401 of them (39 per cent) for reasons related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.[2] Bianka Rodríguez, Executive Director and President of COMCAVIS TRANS, said that in El Salvador “there is a social, structural and symbolic system of male domination in which different types of violence are exercised against LBTQ girls and women, preventing them from fully knowing and defending their rights.” 

She added that forms of violence range from “bullying, verbal or physical abuse, … inappropriate use of language … to the lack of specialized protocols for caring for LBTQ women survivors of violence in state institutions.” 

Provision of training 

A vibrant component of the COMCAVIS TRANS project is providing training for gender-diverse women and service providers. In particular, the organization engages with duty bearers so they can: 

  • improve the quality of services to LBTQ women survivors of violence; 
  • adopt appropriate terminology; 
  • overcome discrimination and stigma based on sexual orientation and diverse gender identity; and 
  • provide tools for advocacy.  

The training has included: 

  • a programme for LBTQ women in digital activism and leadership to tackle misinformation and hatred that targets trans women online and offline; and
  • a “transformative leadership” programme that has empowered 77 LBTQ women, increased their visibility and helped create a safer environment for LGBTIQ+ people in general. 

Fiona Dalmier, Portfolio Manager at the UN Trust Fund, said, “Organizations like COMCAVIS TRANS are by essence political, and their leadership is necessarily transformative: just by simply existing they already are challenging the harmful gender norms that perpetuate stigma, discrimination and violence.”  

Innovative and diverse activities 

While the increasingly shrinking of civic spaces has continued to impede political participation by the LGBTIQ+ community in El Salvador, COMCAVIS TRANS has introduced innovative and more diverse activities for the community it serves. These include: 

  • community learning; 
  • collective care for survivors; and
  • visibility forums where LBTQ women’s voices are amplified. 

UN Trust Fund support has also enabled COMCAVIS TRANS to respond to the needs of survivors of violence for legal assistance, urgent housing and food.  

Claudia is now passing on her new skills and confidence to others, and is advocating for the rights of LBTQ women. 

* Name changed to protect her identity.

[1] In English: Association Communicating with and Training Trans Women with HIV in El Salvador.

[2] Daniela Beltrame and María del Pilar Medina, “Towards Gender Equality and Women’s Leadership for Resilience to Disaster Risks in Latin America and the Caribbean”, Regional Consultation prior to the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.