Martha Owen on Women in El Salvador

This story clip can be aligned to the following Ohio Department of Education Social Studies Standards:

  • Contemporary World Issues Content Statement 8: Beliefs about civil and human rights vary among social and governmental systems.
  • Modern World History Content Statement 2: The use of primary and secondary sources of information includes an examination of the credibility of each source.



Sister Martha Owen was a member of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland and worked as a missionary in El Salvador to aid civilians in the nation’s brutal civil war during the later part of the 20th century. According to Owen, women in El Salvador were not able to speak in public; they were resigned to duties in the home, such as “making tortillas” and “cleaning.” Additionally, these women were not able to go to and therefore were unable to read. As part of her missionary work, Owen held classes to help women make a transition into taking a larger part in their society. One exercise was having the women state their names in front of other people, which had not been allowed before. Owen describes the empowerment and pride women felt as they performed actions that were previously forbidden to them.

Potential Classroom Uses:

This clip could be used to learn about women’s rights in cultures around the world. Teachers might assign a role-playing activity or a journal writing exercise as a way to have the students develop an understanding of women in a different culture. The students could compare women’s rights in their own culture with those of the women in El Salvador. To further drive the lesson home, teachers might consider seeking permission from the principal, or other authority, to bring an otherwise prohibited item into the classroom such as chewing gum, candy, or electronic devices. Students could then write a short essay about how they felt doing something they normally were not permitted to do as a way of empathizing with the women in El Salvador.