While Women’s History Month has come to an end, women around the world work every day of the year to have their rights recognized. As such, it is both crucial and necessary to remember this continued struggle beyond thirty days of the year.
During the month of March, Honduran women commemorated the life of Berta Cáceres, as March 2nd marked the three year anniversary of her murder. Cáceres was an indigenous activist who was one of the most prominent human rights and environmental rights figures in Honduras. Honduran women also protested on March 8th, as part of a larger feminist movement around the world. During these protests, some women were met with force from police officers.
Marcela Arias, a lawyer from the Center for the Rights of Women (CDM) in Honduras is an expert on the current situation of women’s rights in Honduras. She has indicated that “While Honduras is a country that has ratified many international and regional conventions and treaties for the protection of human rights, it fails to materialize said treaties into concrete actions to safeguard said rights.”
Due its high rates of homicides per capita, Honduras continues to be one of the most dangerous countries of the world. While homicides have decreased in recent years, there is still a sense of insecurity because branches of the police and military are complicit in organized crime.
The complicity in criminal acts is not unique to police forces, but is also seen in cases of government officials such as congressmen, workers of the State, and even the brother of the current president, Tony Hernandez. As such, this allows the persistence of impunity which is evident not only in cases of drug-trafficking, corruption or fraud, but also cases of gender-based violence.
Regarding this, Arias said, “Impunity is something historical in Honduras. We’ve seen it in the past, though it has definitely worsened after the coup d’etat in 2009.” This particularly hurts women– 95% of the crimes against women are never prosecuted and remain unpunished. The high impunity rates can be alarming, as access to justice is crucial for protections against gender-based violence. The International Commission of Jurists has stated: “gaining access to justice for acts of gender-based violence is not only important to secure relief at the individual level, but also to promote change at the systemic level in terms of laws and practice.”
According to the University Institute of Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS) observatory, violent homicides of women in Honduras have decreased from 636 cases in 2013, to 478 in 2015, to 388 in 2017. Despite the decrease in said area, IUDPAS also reports that sexual offenses and injuries increased from 10,712 cases in 2013, to 10,778 in 2015, to 12,189 cases in 2017.
The government clings to the narrative that homicide rates are decreasing, while failing to address sexual violence accordingly. Arias mentions that when confronted, “the government reverts to a policy of mirage” to justify their inaction. They will revert to mentioning the creation of three State-run programs – such as, Ciudad Mujer, the Intra-Institutional Commission for the Investigation of Femicides, and Spotlight- that are intended to protect women, yet are questioned about their effectiveness.
To date, the Intra-Institutional Commission for the Investigation of Femicides has helped to increase special forces which aid in the investigation of gender-based crimes. Yet, Arias shared that “some police forces still refuse to go into certain neighborhoods and tell us that if we really want in-depth investigations to go into the neighborhoods ourselves.”
Suyapa Martinez, Executive Director of the Center for the Studies of Women-Honduras (CEM-H), also noted that “this is not an initiative bestowed to us by the government; it is the result of a struggle of the women’s movement that for years has shown before this and past governments that the violence has left a record of more than 6,000 murders of women since 2003.” Martinez also indicated that she struggled being in spaces with government entities due to the country’s lack of institutionality.
Ciudad Mujer was an initiative launched by the First Lady Ana Garcia de Hernandez in March 2017 and is financed by a loan conferred by the Inter-American Development Bank (BID). While it provides care for many women who have been affected by gender-based violence, Arias notes that “the money being invested in Ciudad Mujer takes away from other organizations, as there is no new personnel being trained. As such, public institutions are depleted from resources and personnel and left with less than before.”
Spotlight is spearheaded by the United Nations and the European Union and seeks to highlight violence against women and girls while also empowering said community. It was launched in Honduras in February 2019, making Honduras the first country in Latin America to launch the program. The entire program has gotten $564.4 million dollars in financing. This is helpful for the sake of victims. Yet, it is worrying as there is no guarantee that the money allocated to Honduras will be used entirely for the purposes of helping women, as an alarming number of Honduran officials have been accused of money laundering or abuse of authority in the past, many of whom are still not in prison for said crimes.
The continual institutional difficulties that pose a threat to women’s rights in Honduras reveal that the situation women in Honduras face goes beyond perpetrating a “culture of machismo”, which a recent New York Times opinion article diagnosed as the root of the problem. It also lies in institutional decay, the failure to prosecute gender-based crimes, corruption and impunity.
Therefore, it is crucial that we understand that these are the complex systems that women deal with every day in the struggle for the recognition of women’s rights in Honduras. Perhaps the most powerful statement is that despite said conditions, their hard work persists.
By Jalileh Garcia, RightsViews Staff Writer. Garcia is also from Honduras.