FEMINIST INTERNATIONAL RADIO ENDEAVOUR
WOMEN IN THE HONDURAN CRISIS
10 July 2009
By CAWN -- Central American Women's Network
Women are in the forefront of the
protest against the military coup of 28 June in Honduras. In the
last week of June, as the threat of a coup loomed, women’s
organisations sprang into action, organising marches, mobilising
women, writing and distributing bulletins, and sending information
and eyewitness images around the world by email, text and social
Nearly two weeks after the coup, fear of detention and disappearance by the security forces, fear of violence in the demonstrations, fear that their houses will be raided and their families harmed, is currently a daily reality for women. Women in poverty-stricken country villages report that the army is forcing their young sons – many of them minors – into military service.
"Our office is under surveillance every day by police or civilian operatives in vehicles with tinted windows … We are taking part in demonstrations hemmed in by heavily-armed soldiers and police with riot shields, there are tanks and cannon, and there are snipers on the roofs."
The curfew is destroying many
women’s livelihoods. Women workers are afraid of being arrested or
worse if they have to go home from work after the curfew, so they
are forced to abandon their jobs. Street vendors, most of them
women, cannot work at all. We have learned that workers in the many
export processing factories, also mostly women, are being made to go
on marches supporting the de facto government.
Public servants who worked for the Zelaya government have lost their jobs and are being pursued by the de facto government. Even the national Minister for Women is in hiding from the de facto government’s judiciary, guilty of nothing more than having been appointed by Zelaya.
The coup also has particular implications for women because of the active involvement and support of the conservative Catholic Church and some evangelical Christian churches. Although Honduras has Latin America’s highest annual birth rate and a very high incidence of HIV and AIDS, the disproportionate influence of these churches makes women’s reproductive and health rights extremely limited and difficult and dangerous to access. In 2008 the National Congress, under pressure from the Church and conservative politicians, proposed a law prohibiting the emergency contraceptive pill (the ‘morning-after’ pill). It was vetoed by President Zelaya after lobbying from feminist organisations and discussions with the National Women’s Institute (INAM) and the Minister for Women. However, there are now fears that Roberto Micheletti’s de facto government – effectively the same people who put forward the bill – will resuscitate it and push it through.
Zelaya’s ‘modest but real new
domestic initiatives’ (Washington Office on Latin America, 3 July
09) included raising the minimum wage, abolishing fees for primary
education, introducing school meals (thus ensuring that poor kids in
school got at least one square meal a day), expanding the
government’s programme of child immunisations, and bringing
electricity to more rural and urban homes. While not directly aimed
at promoting women’s rights, such measures have clearly been good
for women. But these advances are all put at risk by the coup.
Not for Zelaya, but for the rule of law
Honduran women’s organisations do not deny that Zelaya’s government leaves plenty of room for change. They emphasise that they oppose the coup and the de facto government not because they totally approve of President Zelaya, but because the coup is illegal and undemocratic and the de facto government illegitimate. In the analysis of the ‘feminists in resistance’, the president’s abduction and deportation by the military represents a breakdown in the rule of law in which women are suffering as workers, family carers and victims of violence.
"We’re not followers of Mel [Zelaya], but we are against military coups, and … against the religious fundamentalists who have enthroned themselves in this de facto government and who have taken measures in the National Congress against the most fundamental rights of women."
The Honduran constitution is weak on women’s rights, the conservative church has an undue influence on national policy-making, and no Honduran government has ever done much for women or gender equality. What feminists are demanding is change within the boundaries of the rule of law, in which all citizens, men and women, can participate fully and on equal terms.
"How can there be peace where people cannot go about after a certain hour … if buses are held up … if the media are controlled … if demonstrations are repressed? How can there be peace at bayonet point? ... For the people – not for those ladies swanning out of the beauty salons with security, with protection, but for the workers and peasants who struggle every day to make ends meet – this is not peace."
The information provided in the Press Release is largely based on news received from Honduran women’s organisations by CAWN. Based in London, the Central America Women’s Network (CAWN) works in partnership with women’s organisations in Central America, including the Honduran Women’s Studies Centre (CEM-H). For the past three years they have been working on a joint project aimed at ending violence against women (VAW), which is endemic throughout the country. VAW takes different forms in Honduras, from psychological and physical violence to the extremes of femicide. According to CEM-H research (2006), the number of femicides (violent killings of women) rose from 11 in 2003 to 138 in 2004 and 171 in 2005. CDM recorded (2007) that 155 women were killed in 2006. CEM-H will be launching a new research report in September this year with up to date figures.
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