Investing in strategic gender interests in the Central American context, would entail investing in education. Enrollment in secondary education is still low, with only 45 percent of girls and 41 percent of boys in El Salvador attending secondary school, which according to the Social Inclusion Index by the Americas Quarterly, "is a mere reflection of El Salvador's low national spending on education," or 3.2 percent of GDP. Gender mainstreaming in education policies - such as targeting particular underprivileged groups, and allocating resources and opportunities to eliminate social distortions - could transform communities, encouraging more students to complete high school and delay early marriages and pregnancies that can push young parents into poverty. Women who stay in school beyond the seventh grade have an average of 2.2 fewer children and are more likely to send their children to school, which could break the cycle of gangs, drugs, poverty and children growing up as orphans.
Gender mainstreaming in Central America would also entail investing in maternal and newborn health, as well as investing in family planning and reproductive health. Access to modern contraceptive methods in Central American nations is limited, as is access to safe and legal abortions. Central America is home to two of the seven countries in the world where abortion is banned in all cases, even when a woman's life is at risk: El Salvador and Honduras. The consequences of total criminalization of abortion are well known: high maternal mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe, clandestine abortions that disproportionately affect poor and young women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of sexually active young women in these two countries have an unmet need for contraception. By responding on this issue alone, Central American governments could reduce unintended pregnancies by more than 66 percent and give women the choice about when and whether to have children or not.
US partisan politics and aid policies have been complicit by discouraging family-planning resources for impoverished nations. The Mexico City Policy, also known as the "Global Gag Rule," sporadically applied since the 1980s by conservative administrations, prohibited foreign organizations receiving US economic aid the right to use non-US funding to provide information for legal abortion or advocate for the legalization of abortion in their country.
Gender mainstreaming would also entail investing in political equality. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, gaps in political representation remain wide: Women hold 20 percent of cabinet positions, and make up 23 percent of the representation in local governments. As a result, public policy does not reflect the conditions in which most women live. According to the Social Inclusion Index of 2014, the three nations post low scores in women's rights, women's personal empowerment and women's perception of government responsiveness. Including women in the policymaking would no doubt lead to policies that respond to specific needs of women in these countries.
Ultimately, policymakers in the United States as well as in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico should strive for a comprehensive solution with long-term vision rather than sticking to partisan allegiances or specific administration goals. If the United States wants to avoid facing an ongoing humanitarian crisis and address its real concerns about demographics and security, it must focus on investment in gender mainstreaming. If implementation of such policies is successful, the lessons could be applied to every other region in the world with treacherous influxes of immigration.
Economic resources are limited. Neither the world's wealthiest nor poorest nations can afford unchecked flows of migration. Countries with the economic capacity to attract large groups of immigrants must find the political will and courage to tackle root causes of inequality, by choosing the long-term approach incorporating gender mainstreaming as a process rather than a goal and taking women's interests seriously as an integral part of the solution.