Honduras: “Neither Striking Down the State, Nor Striking Down Women”
FRIDAY FILE: On June 28, 2009 a civilian-military led coup d’état took place in Honduras, which led to the violent repression of social movements. This oppression has intensified over the past months.
By Gabriela De Cicco
Honduras is located in Central America and has a population of slightly more than eight million. In 2009 a political dispute over plans to rewrite the Honduran constitution resulted in the country's dominant forces - represented by military leaders, conservative politicians of the Liberal and National parties, the owners of the mainstream media, landlords and businessmen of the oligarchic upper class – ousting President Manuel Zelaya through a coup d’etat. Roberto Micheletti Bain was installed as interim president and in November of that same year, national elections were held. On January 27, 2010 the newly elected president, Porfirio Lobo Sosa was inaugurated. But this has not brought an end to the crisis in the country, and violence and repression continue unabated.
AWID spoke to Jessica Sánchez, an activist from Feminists in Resistance (FeR,), about the women’s movement’s resistance, and about the current state of women’s rights in Honduras.
AWID: What is the Popular Resistance Movement (MRP)?
Jessica Sánchez (JS): It is the social movement that was created following the coup d’état, and is made up of women, workers, rural and indigenous organizations, unions and trade associations and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) movement among others. It came about in response to the coup, to highlight the demands of the people who for decades have endured military coups, violence, poverty and exclusion brought about by the elite classes in the country. The military officials and elite leaders responsible for the coup d’état underestimated the reaction of the people. They did not expect that people would take to the streets to “resist” through peaceful demonstrations, day after day, in different cities across the country.
AWID: Has repression increased as a result of the continued resistance? Which groups have been targets of repression?
JS: Yes, faced with civil disobedience, the de-facto authorities issued a decree authorizing the police and the military to use force and this escalated as more and more people joined the resistance. The methods of force have also intensified over the past months and include arrests, different forms of torture (beatings, breaking of bones), rape, threats and harassment against social movement leaders, particularly youth and women.
Teachers were protesting against the repeal and lack of enforcement of the Teachers’ Statute and when activists from this unionized movement took to the streets to protest, they were violently repressed with toxic gas bombs and arrests. The government suspended more than 300 teachers as a repressive measure against this sector, and they are still fighting to be reinstated to their posts.
The rural movement in Aguán, in the North of the country is another group that is still being affected. Thirty murders[i] of rural activists fighting to defend their confiscated land have been documented in the last 15 months. The population of the Zacate Grande island face similar circumstances, being threatened with eviction, violence and even death for their struggle to defend their territory. Media personnel have also borne the brunt of the violence with an estimated 12 journalists having been murdered during the Porfirio Lobo administration[ii]. Organizations of indigenous and afro-descendant peoples have also been part of the violent repression and militarization landscape.
Up until now the State has not recognized the human rights violations that have been taking place since the start of the June 28, 2009 coup d’ état. It is for this reason that social movements in the country, including the feminist movement, are strongly opposing the reincorporation of Honduras into the Organisation of American States (OAS) and they protested during the recent meeting in El Salvador.
AWID: Is it true that violence against women has increased with the escalating repression?
JS: More than 400 acts of violence against women were documented, between 2009 and 2010, by the Committee of Families of the Arrested-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) and the FeR coalition. The report submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) describes these acts, which include torture, beatings, sexual abuse, arrests, threats of rape and harassment of MRP women leaders and members. In some instances the national police and army personnel perpetrated the violence. The repression in the barrios[iii] through police razzias (raids) resulted in women having to flee their homes to protect themselves and their families.
We are concerned that the Women’s Attorney Office, a body created to defend the rights of women under the Attorney General’s Office, did not produce any indictment related to the violations of women´s human rights during this period.
AWID: How have women´s rights been affected since the beginning of the coup d’état?
JS: The institutions created for the development and administration of justice for women[iv] have been weakened. This is alarming, because in the climate of impunity femicides grew by just over 60%, according to official data from the Public Ministry, from 252 femicides in 2008 to 407 in 2009. In 2010 the trend continued with more than 350 cases, and by early March 2011, 55 murders considered to be femicides had already been reported.
In terms of public policies there was a serious setback when the marketing and use of emergency contraception (EC) pills was prohibited. The Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy has also stagnated. In addition to this, the consultation process towards passing a Second Gender Equality and Equity Plan (II PIEGH), which was developed through a large consultation process with women at the national level, was stopped. The current version of the II PIEGH was passed by the Porfirio Lobo administration without the review and approval by the feminist and women’s movements that participated in the initial stages of its development.
AWID: Why and in what ways are feminists and other social movements resisting the de-facto government?
JS: As feminists we continue resisting because we believe in genuine democracy with equity, and the recognition of our rights as human beings and builders of citizenship, and we need to fight for it. We are building a social anti-patriarchal movement that operates outside the neoliberal and military logic; a movement for dialogue and change in which women are represented. Besides FeR, there are feminists in the different social movements – rural, indigenous, unions – and we all want to start rebuilding and recreating a new Honduras. At least those are our dreams and aspirations.
We resist through art, Contra el Golpe, contra todos los golpes, poesía “Poetry against striking down in all its forms” was an activity that Francesca Gargallo and Karina Ochoa initiated. Loaded with books, they came to read for groups of maquila[v] and rural women during the months when the repression was the harshest in 2009. A similar activity was organized in El Salvador with Honduran and Salvadorian women poets, as part of the activities to oppose the reincorporation of Honduras into the OAS.
We are exposing the State’s unwillingness to address the flagrant violations of human and women’s rights. We oppose what the Porfirio Lobo administration said recently: “We need to forgive ourselves and start from scratch,” because the victim and the perpetrator, the torturer and the woman who was tortured cannot be placed at the same level. We demand that the police and military bodies as well as those responsible for carrying out the coup d’état admit to the human rights violations and that they be held accountable.
AWID: What are some of the consequences of this resistance?
JS: They have manifested in the personal and political lives of all the women who are part of this resistance movement. On the one hand, there is the violence that many of us have experienced as individuals and collectively, with our relatives, friends and children. On the other hand, there is the political persecution that other compañeras have experienced and that still persists. For instance, there is one women’s organization that is still under police surveillance and there are activists who had to leave the country because of threats to their physical integrity and life, and they are still living in exile.
We have worked tirelessly and have been living in ‘emergency mode’, exposing, sending information to the media and providing support with such intensity that we are exhausted. This has really impacted negatively on our physical and emotional health. We need healing spaces but this cannot happen while we are still dealing with emergency human rights situations.
International funding has been limited for the feminist and women’s movement and organizations since the coup d’état. It is difficult to reconcile our agendas, which now include militarization and democracy building, with those of international cooperation. How can the State and civil society work together without an acknowledgement of the violations that took place after the coup? We are grappling with these questions and recreating our movement from a model of resistance that includes feminist claims. Our slogan is “If women aren’t there, the Constitution goes nowhere”.
On the positive side, the resistance has led to proactive proposals coming from within our own movement, like the articulation of several feminist organizations and individual feminists who converged in FeR or the Forum of Women for Life in the North of the country. There are also young feminist movements that have emerged as a product of this resistance.
It has been a difficult process but we appreciate the international and regional solidarity from the compañeras[vi] sharing our struggle from the different corners of the globe. We have felt that we are not alone in our dream, that we are part of a global struggle, of a large collective dream that allows us all to grow and go on.
[iii] Lower and middle class neighbourhoods
[iv] These include the special prosecutor for women's issues in the Public Ministry. In the Supreme Court of justice they have the domestic violence courts and criminal courts. In the police there is a gender unit and a feminicide unit
[v] Textile factory workers