Gilda Rivera, a member of Las Petateras and a JASS partner, was recently honored for her organization’s work as a member the Honduran Human Rights Platform. The Center for Women’s Rights and the other members of the Platform are fighting to restore democracy in Honduras and document and denounce a pattern of serious human rights abuses and impunity in the wake of the coup d’état in that country in June of 2009.
Photo courtesy of Amnesty International
“We are trying to make the suffering of Honduran women more visible.”
In opening remarks at The Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards Emira Woods, Co-Director of IPS’ Foreign Policy in Focus and former JASS board member, thanked JASS for accompanying Honduran feminists in their struggles and mobilizing international solidarity and awareness of this pro-democracy movement.
The Platform was one of three Central American organizations receiving the award, which honors the memory of two IPS staffers — Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt — who were murdered on September 21, 1976 by a car bomb. The bombing was found to have been orchestrated by persons directly connected to the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, of which Letelier was a leading critic.
In a recent interview, Rivera said, “Women continue to be on the front lines of the Resistance in clashes with the government where Hondurans are demanding respect for human rights.”
What is the current situation of women in the Resistance in Honduras?
Although political violence and abuse continues, conflicts with the government have also expanded into the realm of land and water rights. Violence towards women has increased dramatically, but it is challenging to get accurate information and data on this.
The Center for Women’s Rights’ newly released report, “The On-Going Coup d’État and its Impact on Women’s Lives,” is the most recent comprehensive study of violence against women in the context of the coup and its aftermath, looking closely at the impacts of repression on women. The historical lack of investigations and justice for women who have suffered violence exacerbates the abuse because cases are not taken seriously by the courts or government.
Water rights clashes?
Yes, in recent months privatization of water has become a huge issue for people on the ground. Back in the early part of the decade, as part of negotiations with the IMF, Honduras was pressured to privatize water. The Honduran Congress passed a controversial law permitting private companies to buy concessions of up to 20-30 years in the public water sector. Many communities, especially in the northern part of the country, no longer have free access to local water sources.
What about the situation of violence against women?
Violence against women is endemic and systemic throughout Honduras. Women are being murdered, raped, tortured, and threatened on a daily basis. Many of the victims are targeted because of their involvement in the Resistance. However, it is often hard to make a definitive connection because these acts are carried out at night, by men wearing hoods. Since violence against women is common regardless, it’s easy for the government to dismiss the cases as crimes of passion.
What are Honduran human rights organizations doing about this?
One of the biggest challenges we face as a feminist human rights research organization is that the leading human rights NGOs in Honduras do not look at this problem from a gendered perspective. They have not focused on women’s cases and often, in their investigations, do not delve into the gender nuances of how violence particularly affects women.
Human rights violations, if they are reported, are almost always brought to one of the two largest NGOs. There has been a troubling tendency to lump all murders of women under “domestic violence.” But the reality is more complex. We are convinced that a number of women have been murdered for their activism—and we cite some of these cases in the report. However, without having access to the files or only getting them well after the fact, it can be difficult to prove this link.
Sometimes there is a personal or domestic component to the violence committed—but it has been heightened by the political pressures of being involved in the Resistance. And the most taboo cases are those in which the perpetrator may in fact be a male member of the Resistance since these men are revered as heroes.
What challenges do the Resistance, and in particular the Feminists in Resistance face going forward?
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for the Resistance going forward is the political differences that exist amongst its members. Many unlikely partners have joined together to protest the coup and the lack of accountability of the newly installed government, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have a shared vision of the kind of change we are seeking or even how to get there.
Nonetheless, we do have a broad agenda for action that we have all agreed upon. We lack the resources needed to expand our technical capacity to document and denounce systemic human rights abuses that continue unabated under the new government. We have trained researchers and willing activists, but need the funding to send them to work in rural areas.
The Feminists in Resistance, for our part, face huge organizational challenges. Many of our initial leaders have been forced to flee the country for their own safety and that of their families. Those of us who remain are overloaded by trying to keep the protest and resistance alive, while still continuing all of our regular work. All of the organizations and groups involved have their own specific priorities and agendas to attend to.
What are the current priorities for the CDM?
Our top three issues at the moment are: femicide; the proposal for a Constituent Assembly to take up the question of a new constitution for Honduras, and of course; human rights. And, we need to engage the international community in supporting our efforts to end violence against women and bring forth a democratic government and society. The women, men, and children of Honduras deserve no less.