Credit: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
By Shirin Asgari
Globally, Honduras has one of the highest incidences of violence against women. It is reported that sixty-four percent of women living in Honduras have been subject to either a direct threat or an attack at least once in their lives. Additionally, this violence is inflicted either by someone within a woman’s social circles or by gang members, and can take the form of rape, femicide, disappearances, as well as physical and physiological abuse. Honduras further lacks any specialized structures to ensure the prevention, protection, and prosecution of violence against women. For instance, a statistical average taken over the course of six years found that around 93.5 percent of femicide cases within the country have gone unpunished. High rates of impunity feed into the perpetuation of this cycle, normalizing and facilitating such attitudes and actions which stem from the country’s machismo culture.
A root cause that has contributed to such high rates of violence that Honduras currently faces was the country’s previous refusal to legally define or recognize the violence that was being inflicted on women. Even though the WHO defines femicide as the “intentional murder of women because they are women”, Honduras had refused to publicly validate this definition legally or socially.
One of the major events which has led to an increase and intensification of violence against women in Honduras can be traced back to the 2009 coup d’état, which ousted the then democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya. The current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, rose to power in the 2013 elections under the conservative National Party (PN). However, since the President’s elections have been neither free nor fair, citizens of Honduras continue to live under a repressive regime. The PN party has consolidated power by taking control of the legislative and judiciary bodies, effectively removing the regulation of power through a system of checks and balances.
Although inequality among women existed prior to the coup, under the military regime, violence against women rapidly intensified. Not only has there been in an increase in violence against women, but the de facto government further exacerbated the violence against women by denying legal venues for women to seek justice and safety, overall increasing the rates of impunity significantly.
In response to constant domestic and international pressure regarding violence against women, the government of Honduras has enacted several policies aimed at remedying the problem. One of which being the addition of Article 118A to the Criminal Code, which recognizes and defines femicide as a crime in which “men kill women for reasons of gender, with hatred and disdain toward them as women.” Without a clear definition and understanding of the issue at hand, Honduras was previously incapable of addressing and publicizing the violence that its female population was facing. For many years, such violence was perceived as socially acceptable. WHO’s clearly defined guidelines regarding femicide, however, instilled international attention and pressure on Honduras to recognize crimes falling in this category as such. Thereby, the creation of legislation that clearly defines and criminalizes violence against women has opened up space for a transformation of previously held social norms. Although legal recognition and consideration of such a law is significant for norm setting, the policy still falls short of addressing and effectuating the problem at hand due to several different factors.
To begin with, institutions such as the Special Women’s Public Prosecutors Office, the Office of the National Human Rights Commissioner, and the Interagency Commission on the Law against Domestic Violence were put into place to ensure the enforcement of this law. However, their funding, power, legal authority, and legitimacy has continued to degrade since 2009, causing these institutional bodies to lack any true enforcement mechanisms. This has led to a lack of prosecution feeding into the issue of impunity that currently exists.
Additionally, following the lead of El Salvador, the Honduran government implemented the Ciudad Mujeres initiative in 2016. This initiative is aimed at providing women protection, prosecution, and prevention from violence. They offer different institutions umbrellaed under one program initiative. The program provides women with the opportunity to receive free legal services, healthcare for women who have faced violence, reproductive and cancer testing, reproduction services, along with forensic laboratories for testing. Further, to help facilitate independence, this program provides job training, financial loans for business ventures, as well vocational and technical training. Lastly, the program also offers educational programs for women and children geared towards reshaping perceptions of women’s value and rights in society, politics, and the labor-force.
Although this program has received significant funding through the Inter-American Bank, it has yet to prove effective. This is due to the fact that the program is run by the Honduras government, which faces high levels of corruption and disinterest within its own ranks; this has prevented the program from providing these necessary services to women. Much of the funding allocated towards the program has gone unaccounted for and there is much speculation that it has been laundered to political officials within the PN. Furthermore, this program lacks the necessary resources and infrastructure to provide such services. For these reasons, this program has been unable to meet the needs of the Honduran women and is incapable of fulfilling its purpose.
Additionally, this initiative lacks the necessary personnel and institutional power to protect, aid, and promote safety for women. Currently, however, “the six Ciudad Mujer centres around El Salvador have served 1,568,377 women – almost half of El Salvador’s female population.” This indicates that if this initiative is implemented correctly, it can be integral in addressing some of the main issues facing women in Honduras.
Another key component which can act as a preventive measure to such violence is an educational awareness and occupational training program. The structure and functionality of this educational program can follow that of the Fundación en Via – a non-profit organization operating in Oaxaca, Mexico. This program provides educational and empowerment opportunities for women to help them achieve economic autonomy and occupational and vocational training. The organization provides educational opportunities to local children and women with an integration of gender equality and understanding to break through traditional cultural gender norms. In Mexico, implementation of this program has uplifted many women from poverty and violent situations at home. It has not only redefined how these women value themselves, but has also changed the way that children within these villages come to value and understand women.
Another important aspect of Fundacion en Via is that it provides women both with the means to receive protection after such violence has occurred, as well as avenues to seek justice for the violation of their rights. Therefore, an essential institutional branch of Ciudad Mujeres must include free legal representation to women who are unable to afford such representation after facing violence. These consultations will provide women with information regarding what possible avenues of action are and ways in which they can proceed with their cases if they wish to do so. In El Salvador, legal representation and consultation proved to be an important tool for women, since many women are not only unaware that such laws exist to protect them but also do not believe that they could afford or receive any legal representation.
It is evident that the problem in Honduras does not stem from a lack of institutional bodies and laws, but rather from rampant corruption and neglect within the government bodies, underfunding of relevant institutional bodies, and perpetuation of toxic machismo culture. Therefore, by better understanding the major variables contributing to the violence that women in Honduras face, major state and non-state actors can better work together towards the formulation of effective means of redress. The road towards equality for women in Honduras has been stained red from the countless years of bloodshed and violence. There is hope, however, that the women of Honduras and the nation as a whole can begin on a slow but deliberate effort to remedy the atrocities of the past, paving the way for a brighter and more just future for generations to come.