Women have been resisting an endorsed military coup in Honduras, Central America. This coup took place on 28 June 2009, and the Honduran president was kidnapped and expelled from the country. On ground, sources say that the coup occurred because the government was a social reformist administration that had been responsive to a number of grassroots demands. This upset the elite and foreign interests in their dominating, exploiting and controlling of the Honduran resources and people.
23 of 217 registered cases (10%), women have declared that they were victims of groping, being bashed in the breasts and vagina, being subject to sexual violence, insults and torture/humiliation.
There have been 12 cases of rape by police/soldiers reported after protests or during curfews or who had been targeted for kidnapping for their participation in the resistance.
I read on a website that women made up 70% of the (to date, non-violent) Popular Resistance – the broad movement of people organising courageously in opposition to the coup and towards a National Constituent Assembly. Unfortunately, as I try to look up this reference, the website is currently down due to targeted virus attacks – a common occurrence for media outlets reporting the truth about Honduras.
4 women have been killed in protests/for participating in the resistance: Wendy Avila and Olga Osiris Ucles were both killed by tear gas soon after President Zelaya’s entry into the Brazilian Embassy.
In February 2010, Vanesa Zepeda, a vocal unionist and participant in the anti-coup movement has recently been killed and dumped on the street dead, leaving young children.
Also in February 2010, Claudia Brizuela, an active resistance member and daughter of a prominent activist, was shot dead in her home in front of her young children, when she opened her door. Several women reported death threats the day Claudia was killed.
When I was in Honduras as a human rights observer some of the most inspiring and brave actions I witnessed were of women in resistance. In one moment I saw how one woman journalist witnessed police covering over their number plates (to be unidentifiable for when they commit human rights crimes), this woman was jotting down the number plate and someone inside the vehicle took her photo and threatened to kill her. Instead of being scared, she got angry, talked back and ripped off the piece of paper that covered one of the number plates and reported the number on her mobile to a human rights organisation. Another woman journalist showed no fear toward the lines of soldiers that barricaded the Brazilian Embassy; she approached them and took photos of the soldiers. A mother protested as the military took one of her sons away during curfew one evening; they knocked her to the ground, but they did not silence her.
Recent founder of Ovaries in Resistance found a dead rat hung on the door by a fishing line and walls smeared in feces in her office. Many cases of death threats to women and their families, leading many to have to go into hiding/live separate from their families, and live in fear. One woman of a university feminist collective recently reported having received a threatening phone call from the intelligence/investigative unit interrogating her about clandestine abortion clinics.
A different woman, Amanda Castro, who required a respirator to stay alive, joined the ‘core fasting’ team against the coup until disbandment. She was an admired poet, activist, feminist of the GLBTI community. She died in March due to her illness, but will live on forever in our memory.
This coup has had direct and institutional impacts on women’s human rights and demonstrates a direct relation between wider politics (left-right) and feminist gains and losses.
Persecution of Women in Resistance
Women are increasingly becoming a major target group for persecution by the coup regime, now headed by Pepe Lobo (previously headed by Roberto Micheletti, whose regime ran the election under repressive conditions from which Lobo was illegitimately elected). On ground sources say this commonly included death threats, illegal detentions, beatings, being subject to an armed attack, and assassination. The police/army have told women that because they are women, they should be at home looking after their children and therefore not on the streets – protesting, organising, and defending human rights. Women have been subject to sexual abuse (including physical and verbal). An example was the story of an adolescent who was detained and strip searched. The authorities vulgarly handled her body including her vulva. Sexual aggression against women is common in situations of conflict, and scars women forever. This sexual aggression is also used to sow terror in the communities, to take revenge on the dissenters, to accumulate ‘war trophies’ and spoils of war, and to show that they can dominate women.
Impact of the Coup on Women’s Departments and Projects
The National Women’s Institute (INAM) fired 19 anti-coup employees and its Minister; the Minister was replaced with a pro-coup ultraconservative. The role of the institute is to improve women’s social and political position, and their work toward this has regressed. Moreover the feminist and women’s organisations demands have been deleted from INAM’s plan, and many pro-women projects have been suspended. These included proposed laws and mechanisms to gain greater security for women in political participation, towards eradication of violence against women, sexual and reproductive health, and access to training and education in conditions of equality.
The regime has cut funding from women’s programs, as well as fire, replace and persecute staff members of the Departments who are against the coup. The Local Government Department Another state department (or whatever) that exists for women has been affected. There have been six documented cases where the coordinators of the Municipal Office for Women have been persecuted because they demonstrated against the coup. The officers had their roles substantially reduced in scope and lacked influence.
Manipulating and Silencing Women through the Media
The regime has used the media against women and forces against the media of women. There were media attacks of women leaders (politicians and government officials). Three women’s radio programs were shut down because they ‘constitute a danger for the peace of the Honduran family.
Weakened DV, Femicide, and Rape Responses
Mechanisms for addressing violence against women have been weakened. The special units to investigate violent deaths of women and an emergency hotline for women (e.g. to report rape and DV) have been underused; DPP, police, courts and the National Commission of Human Rights have lost all legitimacy with their pro-coup, regime controlled condition, leaving everyone vulnerable to social and political violence without redress.
Prohibition of Morning After Pill
The regime wasted no time in attacking women’s reproductive rights. The morning after pill’s use and distribution has been prohibited from the second day of the coup. It was previously fought for and won in 1992.
In January 2010, there was a change of president – Porfirio Lobo, but who also supported the coup. The current political climate allowed for a united force of ultraconservatives including the Honduran elite, the international elite, and fundamentalist religious groups such as Opus Dei to wound back the social and legal changes achieved by and for women.
Their attack and plans to attack continue: There is information that they intend to ensure that in cases of ‘emergency’, women can be subject to forced recruitment, and to fuse INAM with other institutions, to become an institution of families rather than women, for example.
Advances in the political right and among conservatives are directly implicated in the receding of women’s rights. Through repression including murders and threats, the regime and its supporters are trying to send a message to women that their place is one of obedience and in the private sphere. However, Honduran women in response are resisting and becoming increasingly organised.
Rosie Wong, a Human Rights Activist, calls for International Solidarity. If you or your group or organisation would like to take action in solidarity with the Honduran movement please contact Rosie through email@example.com. Open opportunities in the field of humanitarian aid, asylum costs, telephone and internet costs associated with organising within Honduras. Volunteers can help raise awarness through online through Forums, signing petitions, passing a resolution, letter writing, fundraising, translating or even going to Honduras as group, individual or delegation.
Why would people want to take action?
Taking action sends a message to those resisting in Honduras that they are not alone. Knowing people from the other side of the world cares is very powerful.
What difference will this action make?
The way that things are currently is maintained by silence and lies in the international media and by politicians. This enables this regime to continue its control, domination and violence. By organising and talking with people and challenging the media we can break the silence and pressure for change.
For further information about this coup, including monthly summaries of events and human rights abuses, please have a look at http://www.sydney-says-no2honduras-coup.net/
(Cover Photo: Current News Stories/Sun Maker News & Reports: Rosie Wong)