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Honduras: Women’s organisations struggle in a failing state


gladys_lanzaGladys LanzaAccording 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.

According to Marilyn Thompson of CAWN (Central American Women’s Network) in her article written for LAB this month included in Focus, in 2011 an estimated 390 women were violently killed in Honduras, many of whom had been sexually abused, and in the first two weeks of 2012 the murders of 12 women were reported to the state Prosecutor, the Fiscalia de la Mujer.suyapaSuyapa Martínez

LAB interviewed two leading women’s organisations in Honduras to find out more about the women’s organisations and individuals at the forefront of the struggle against violence and femicide: Gladys Lanza from the Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz ‘Visitación and Suyapa Martínez from CEM-H – Centro de Estudio de la Mujer Honduras.

The Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz ‘Visitación Padilla’ tells LAB that the whole state of law is collapsing and that while there are strong networks of ‘chonas’, death squads are in operation again, targeting women’s organizations and individuals. Last week LAB interviewed her in Tegucigalpa on a crackly Skype line, which was constantly being cut off.

LAB’s interview with CEM-H also describes a state of impunity in Honduras and focuses on some of the ways in which the military and police are implicated in the violence but yet rarely face charges.

Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz ‘Visitación Padilla’

las_chonasMembers of the Visitación Padilla Movement protest in Las Chonas against violence against womenLAB: 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.

For more information about the work of Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz ‘Visitación Padilla’ see

Suyapa Martinez for Centro de Estudios de la Mujer – Honduras (CEM-H)

LAB: What are some of the reasons for femicide and widespread violence against women?

Suyapa: There is widespread misogyny in Honduras, even hatred towards women…. this can be seen in the ways in which they are killed and mutilated…. and there is often sexual abuse either before or after death. The violence is also linked to poverty, drug trafficking, inequality, gangs and everything has got worse since the military coup.

LAB: how do the attitudes in Honduras compare to other Central American countries?

Suyapa: This phenomenon is regional not country specific. But there is a particular triangle of violence: Guatemala, El Salvador and , Honduras – these have the highest levels of femicidio and violence against women.

LAB: how does this level of violence effect women in their daily lives?

Suyapa: Women who live with violence lack freedom on a basic level. They are not even safe at home as this is where domestic violence, rape and femicide can also occur. In this country and in the region in general, the solution to security issues seems to be to put more military and more police officers on the street. But we know that the military and police are frequently implicated in violent attacks as they are also in gangs and drug trafficking. Women within communities can be threatened by members of the community but they can also be threatened by the police. The defensoras we train are often threatened, particularly if they are helping in a case of violence. .

LAB: How does your work support women?

Suyapa: The first thing we do is to work at the local level, within communities to form networks against violence against women. In each community we train Defensoras de Derechos Humanos or Promotores Legales. These women are trained to look out for any violence against women and to be able to support these women within their community if possible. We also form groups within each community – these are solidarity, self help groups to help women support each other and feel that they are not alone.

We also work constantly to denounce violence against women. For example, there are cases of police who have raped or murdered women. In one case a policeman abused a girl of 13 and there was no case brought against him, instead they just relocated him. There are constant cases of this sort. We document and raise awareness of each and every case of violence we hear about.

We also mount campaigns within each local network in each municipality to educate the local population and increase their awareness of violence against women.

For more information about CEM-H’s work, see

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