Manuela: Inspiration, Resistance and Hope

A group of women artists makes a movie about Manuela’s story and brings her back to life

by Saúl Hernández Alfaro, HJN Member, Founder and Codirector of FOCOS TV

On August 11, 2008, a Salvadorian court sentenced Manuela to 30 years in prison for the alleged homicide of the child she was carrying in her wound. Manuela’s claim that she suffered from an obstetric complication was disregarded.

Thirteen years later, after Manuela died of lymphatic cancer while incarcerated, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the government of El Salvador’s decision to sentence her. According to the verdict, the Government of El Salvador did not give this young woman a fair and impartial trial.

The international court said that gender stereotypes and prejudices affected the objectivity of the investigation and violated Manuela’s principle of presumed innocence. Furthermore, the court stated that her imprisonment was arbitrary and prevented the young woman from accessing the health care she required while ill with cancer.

The Inter-American Court ordered the Government of El Salvador to publicly acknowledge the injustice committed against Manuela and to compensate her family for the psychological trauma they suffered.

The international court is also requiring the Government of El Salvador to develop a protocol that guarantees access to health care and the non-criminalization of women who suffer from obstetric emergencies. They are also being told to roll out far reaching sexual and reproductive health programs.

Feminist organizations that supported this case, consider the resolution of the international court to be a step forward in the fight against the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador and the legal framework that has enabled the imprisonment of more than 17 women who, like Manuela, have suffered from complications during pregnancy.

Manuela’s life has been a source of inspiration for those who see in her as a reflection of the injustices that the patriarchal system imposes on the lives and bodies of women and girls.

In 2016, a group of women artists decided to tell Manuela’s story through a film. This is how Violeta Productions was started. Over the next couple of years, this team of performing artists will develop a story based on an in-depth investigation of Manuela’s case.

This story was originally published on January 4, 2022 on the FOCOS platform. [Translation from Spanish by HJN staff].