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Hurricane kills 124, displaces thousands in El Salvador

November 9, 2009

El Salvador experienced massive flooding and mudslides on its eastern coast on Sunday, leaving 124 people dead and at least 60 others missing. Shelters are housing 7,000 people displaced by the storm. I imagine it will take years and incredible amounts of money to rebuild after this disaster, but for many, the damage that has been done is irreparable.Aerial view of flooding in El Salvador

Earlier this year, I wrote a feminist critique of Sobrino’s liberation theology for a Theology class, Church and Society in El Salvador. In one section, I used Sobrino’s analysis of the 2001 earthquake, in which he showed the vulnerabilities of the poor as revealed by a natural disaster. I added a gendered level of analysis, pointing out how women would be even more susceptible to violence and suffering as a result of the earthquake, ultimately seeking to point out what liberation theology misses when it overlooks women. Although every natural disaster is different, I expect that the tolls of these storms will be similar to those of the earthquake, and so I believe that Sobrino’s writing, as well as my “corrective complement” (a term borrowed from Dean Brackley), are relevant to these circumstances:

Even in the context of extreme economic poverty, women and men suffer in distinct ways, a fact that Sobrino tends to neglect. One example of this can be found in his treatment of the vulnerabilities revealed and exacerbated by the earthquake in El Salvador.  Sobrino first speaks of physical vulnerability from the earthquake that left 1,159 dead, 7,538 injured, and nearly 1.5 million people with material losses.[1] But he makes no mention of greater physical vulnerability that surely took place in families throughout the country. In times of instability and economic uncertainty, rates of domestic violence tend to skyrocket, which unsurprisingly affects women disproportionately. Further, when houses collapse, extended families and neighbors are forced to move in together, offering more opportunities for rape or sexual assault. Men and women suffer as their loved ones die or are injured and when they lose property and homes, but a feminist perspective reveals that there is an added dimension of personal and sexual vulnerability that faces women.

Next, Sobrino describes the psychological vulnerability, demonstrated by the growing suicide rate, aggression and violence, increased alcoholism, and a heightened awareness of personal insecurity.[2] In a culture wrought with insecurity and violence, again, the threat of rape and domestic violence increase dramatically, but these are realities that do not threaten men nearly as much as they threaten women.

Economic vulnerability was also heightened by the earthquake. The country’s financial problems worsened as the costs of the disaster reached over a billion dollars.[3] It is not hard to imagine the ways that an economic downturn hurts women more than men. Although statistics are not available, it is not unrealistic to think that women were the first to lose their jobs, that many were forced into prostitution, and that girls were the first to be denied the opportunity to go to school when families had less income.

Finally, Sobrino discusses the socio-cultural vulnerability that accompanied the earthquake: the questions that natural disasters raise about guilt, truth, and God. In this respect especially, listening to the voices of women would have enhanced Sobrino’s grasp of the situation, since women tend to be blamed for situations that they did not cause.[4] Going back to the story of Adam and Eve, women have been held responsible for the sin of the world and “even [used as] a degrading symbol of evil.”[5] As Ivone Gebara explains in her work about women’s experience of evil, this sense of guilt pervades women’s psyches across cultural lines: “it is an existential guilt with religious overtones, a feeling, a profound experience of a personal burden, added like a surplus to certain events.”[6]

There is much to be gained by adding a feminist viewpoint to this analysis of the vulnerabilities suffered by the poor of El Salvador after the earthquake in 2001. Further, this reinforces the fact that adding “women” as a category of oppressed social groups is not enough; a feminist critique must be employed to understand the unique forms of suffering that women undergo at the hands of patriarchy and institutionalized misogyny. [7] It speaks to the fact that when each factor wielded as a tool of discrimination, gender, race, sexuality, etc., is treated on its own at first, their synthesized analyses create a stronger understanding of systemic oppression.

My prayers are with the Salvadorans today, especially those who have lost loved ones and those who are most vulnerable to structural and personal violence. References are after the jump.

[1] Jon Sobrino, Where is God?: Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006), 54


[2] Ibid., 54-55.

[3] Ibid., 55.

[4] Ibid., 55-56.

[5] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of the God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), 26.

[6] Ivone Gebara, Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation, trans. Ann Patrick Ware (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002) 90-91.

[7] Elina Vuola, Limits of Liberation: Feminist Theology and the Ethics of Poverty and Reproduction, (New York: Sheffield Academic Print, 2002), 185.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jackie permalink
    November 9, 2009 1:53 pm

    Thanks for posting this news. I need to start checking other news sources besides the NY Times more often. What I did find there today:


  1. “We feel we have to keep reminding ourselves of that generosity” « Planning the Day

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