Tuesday 26 September 2017
The women in El Salvador starting businesses to escape domestic abuse
Wednesday 29 March 2017

“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 (£۲۰۰) 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.

‘Going to show him’

Nina Flores exudes confidence as she instructs her workers on proper tie-dye techniques.

Nina Flores says that remembering her bad marriage was motivation to succeed

The 37-year-old is the founder of Blue Moon, a company that designs clothes, bags and trinkets with locally produced indigo dye.

She credits Woman’s City with enabling her to overcome both her self doubt and the societal barriers put in the way of women setting up their own companies in the country.

“There are more obstacles for female business owners in El Salvador because they are expected to be at home and take care of their kids,” says Nina.

“Women also face more difficulties because many people think that they can’t accomplish anything. They say, ‘How is a woman going to do that?'”

That was the message Nina says she internalised after hearing it for many years from her ex-husband.

Now separated, she says that looking back on what she says was an abusive marriage makes her work harder.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m going to show him that I really can do it.’ And I achieved it.”


El Salvador facts

Map of El Salvador

A small country on the Pacific coast of Central America, with a population of 6.3 million

The most densely populated country in the whole of the Americas

It was ravaged by civil war from 1979 to 1992 between the military government and left-wing guerrilla groups

An estimated 75,000 people were killed before the 13-year conflict ended after a peace deal

Due to the persistent problem of violent street gangs it has the world’s highest murder rate outside of a warzone

It was ruled by Spain for 300 years until independence was achieved in 1821


In just three years, Blue Moon has grown from a one-woman show to a 12-person business with products sold in boutiques all over the country.

After production costs, Nina makes $1,000 a month, a borderline middle-class income, which she says allows her a comfortable lifestyle.

She employs only women, giving them time off to be with their kids, and letting them work from home as long as they meet production goals.

‘Became more confident’

Mabel Drejo, 66, had always earned her own money, first working as an architect and later as the administrator of an apartment complex after her husband died.

When she remarried, her second husband encouraged her to stay at home and she reluctantly agreed.

Mabel Drejo says she is leading a charge for El Salvadorean women

After her second marriage ended, Mabel had to quickly find a way to start making money again.

It was the social worker who handled her domestic violence case that gave Ms Drejo the idea to turn her sewing hobby into a business.

With help from Woman’s City, Mabel set up Mab Fashion Design, and now earns $500 a month selling dresses for $12.

“I became more confident because I never thought that my designs were good enough to sell,” says Mabel. “Now I like having my own business. Every time I put a new dress on the mannequin people tell me how pretty it is and I’ve sold a lot of my designs.”

Lorena Saca, president of the Committee of Female Entrepreneurs for El Salvador’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says that while the country’s female business owners are helping each other, the nation’s mostly male politicians needed to offer more assistance.

“Women lack confidence in their leaders, who are mainly men,” Ms Saca says. “Among women we’ve started to support each other, but we also need male leaders to support us.”

Meanwhile, Mabel doesn’t have any plans to retire. For the seamstress and business owner, Mab Fashion Designs is about more than just earning a living.

She says she is making a political statement for all Salvadorean women.

“Men have treated us badly because we depended on them economically,” says Mabel. “Now they can see that we are more independent and that we can be successful.”


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