Women Who Inspire Change: Doña Esperanza

Carmen Barroso, Regional Director

During my many years of advocating for sexual and reproductive rights, I've been fortunate to meet and learn from numerous role models. I could tell hundreds of stories about inspirational women whose daily struggle to provide quality health services to the world's most vulnerable people makes me proud to be a part of the global health movement. One such person is Doña Esperanza, a woman with whom I had just one encounter, but she made a very strong impact at a crucial point in my career.

When I was leaving my position at the MacArthur Foundation to work at IPPF/WHR, I was given a generous farewell gift from MacArthur that allowed me to visit Asociación Demográfica Salvadoreña (ADS) the Member Association in El Salvador. My hosts at ADS took me to one of their remote outposts, where Doña Esperanza had built a small room next to her house to provide counseling and distribute contraceptives. After braving impossible roads in mountainous terrain for several hours, Doña Esperanza greeted us with a warm smile and an enthusiastic description of her daily routine.

Everything around her revealed why Doña Esperanza is extraordinary. The pleasant room was decorated with posters about contraception and also images of saints. Doña Esperanza explained that she defends her clients’ privacy by carefully patching any hole that makes its way through the adobe walls, and that the decorations helped to hide the unsightly plaster. She continued by giving a vivid description of the challenges she faces every day.

Doña Esperanza's commitment to her clients goes beyond the call of duty. She escorts women who are victims of domestic violence to the police stations to demand protection, and she teaches her neighbors that violence against women is a crime because 150 nations signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Proud of her local actions to keep women safe from harm being represented in the demands of a global human rights treaty, she excitedly shows me her worn copy of CEDAW on her desk.

I left Doña Esperanza's house feeling moved and inspired. And I have carried her memory with me through the past nine years as IPPF/WHR's Regional Director.


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