Gladys Lanza – a real Chona
Women are being killed in Honduras at a rate of almost one a day and gender-based violence has now become the second highest cause of death for women of reproductive age. In this small Central American country of just under eight million, more than 2,000 women have been killed in the past five years.
According to a report launched last year by Oxfam Honduras and a Honduran NGO, the Tribunal of Women Against Femicide, reported by LAB, women are dying because of a deadly mixture of gun crime, domestic violence and the “systematic indifference” of the police. Convictions for these crimes are rare – between 2008 and 2010, there were 1,110 reported cases of femicide, yet only 211 made it to court. Only 4.2% of these cases resulted in a conviction.
One of the women at the forefront of the struggle to stem the violence against women is Gladys Lanza from the Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz ‘Visitación Padilla’. LAB interviewed her in Tegucigalpa on a crackly Skype line, which was constantly being cut off.
LAB: What precisely does your organisation do?
Gladys: We work with women at the political level, at the organisational level. We have at least 5,000 activists in our movement. We are known as ‘chonas’. That’s become a byword in Honduras for strong, determined women. Many more women support us and will join our demonstrations but it is the ‘chonas’ who are the bedrock of our movement.
LAB: What is the main issue you are working on now?
Gladys: It is the rise in violence against women. There were 29 women assassinated in Honduras in January. That’s almost one a day. The most common cause of the assassination is revenge killing. There is a lot of criminal activity, particularly drug-trafficking, in Honduras and the men target the women as a form of vengeance. The second most common cause is domestic violence. The violence is serious in both the town and the countryside but it’s worse in the towns.
LAB: Is the rate of violence increasing?
Gladys: Yes. It’s got worse since the military coup in June 2009. The current government is not committed to stopping the violence. Even the Fiscalia de la Mujer has admitted that. And then there is the whole question of impunity. Men know they can get away with it. The whole state of law has collapsed in Honduras. Death squads are getting active again, targeting organisations like ours.
LAB: How has your organisation been affected?
Gladys: In lots of ways. Our office has been broken into and information stolen. In August 2009, just a month after the coup, the government cancelled the contract for our radio station. We still broadcast but we have to use other stations, friendly stations. I, personally, have been threatened. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights [part of the Organisation of American States] ordered the Honduran government to provide me with protection in September 2010. But I’ve never received proper protection so I’m now taking the government to court here in Honduras to get them to provide me with protection.
LAB: How do you deal with the strain?
Gladys (laughing): Well, I’m used to it. I’ve been persecuted much of my life. In the 1980s I was a political prisoner and a bomb was thrown at my house. At the moment, I just have to be careful. I can’t sleep in the same house two nights running. It’s difficult but I cope.
LAB: What are your campaigning goals now?
Gladys: Well, we want to get through Congress a law that increases the quota of female politicians from 30% to 50% and makes it obligatory for men and women to alternate in power, that is, if a man gives up an elected office, then he has to be replaced by a woman. And vice versa. We won’t succeed in the short term but we’ll go on trying.
LAB: Well, even 30% is a pretty impressive achievement. How did you manage that?
Gladys (laughing): Well, we got it through Congress six years ago. When women are organised, they can achieve a lot.