SAN SALVADOR – A little past dawn, Alicia arrives in the Salvadoran capital with her 20 goats to sell full glasses of fresh milk to passersby for a dollar, an informal business that has helped her support her two children at home.
Before 6:00 am she has already traveled 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the municipality of San Luis Talpa to San Salvador in her old pick-up truck accompanied by her furry goats, her husband and two other assistants.
She repeats the same routine almost daily, from Monday to Saturday, almost like a sort spiritual ritual: Alicia chooses two goats from the herd, loads them onto the pick-up and begins her journey through the capital’s streets shouting “Milk here! Milk here!”
After she has sold 14 glasses, the traveling milk-sellers take a break, since each one of the animals can produce seven glasses a day.
On this occasion, the goats are Canela and Griselda, names carefully chosen by their owner since “they are part of the family” and are carefully looked after by Alicia, who tells EFE that thanks to them and “by selling their milk” she has been able to support her children.
The 35-year-old has been selling goat milk since 2010 as “an honest way of earning money,” she says proudly, although she is aware that the product she has chosen for her business is not something that is in high demand.
Cow’s milk is consumed daily in virtually all homes in El Salvador and is impossible to compete with since its price is much lower than other dairy products.
But Alicia isn’t competing against anything or anyone else, she is just focused on supporting her family of four in a country where “informal” business activities, along with remittances sent by relatives working in the United States, are how thousands of homes get by.
According to Alicia, she bring in about $200 in gross income each week from the milk sales, and that is enough to pay the two assistants who accompany her each day to transport and care for the goats.
From that total, Alicia sets aside money to pay for the truck’s fuel and to make any repairs that crop up unexpectedly, always – it seems – at the most inconvenient moments.
She says with visible pride that the animals are fed “with natural grass so that the milk does not harm the customers,” most of whom are elderly people, taxi drivers and private security guards who work at the shops in the area.
The remaining cash, although she did not specify how much that is, is money that Alicia uses to support her family and deal with the daily contingencies.
Like Alicia, thousands of Salvadoran women take on the role of household breadwinner, supporting their homes where up to four generations may live together.
All of this has a common denominator: the pride of seeing their families grow thanks to their efforts and their work in a country where it’s tough being a woman, given the prevailing macho-violent culture and patriarchal traditions.
El Salvador is considered by Amnesty International (AI) to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. In 2016 and 2017, it registered 16 and 12 femicides, respectively, per 100,000 inhabitants, rates higher than what is considered to be an “epidemic” at the international level.
The levels of sexual violence suffered by females, especially girls, are also alarming, according to civil society organizations.
According to the latest updates from the National Civil Police (PNC) on sexual violence, 1,128 girls and teens were raped between January and September 2018, 71 more than during the same period the year before.
A state survey released last May found that more than 67 percent of women in this country have been victims of macho violence at some point in their lives.