Fierce feminists of Honduras: Veronica Arreola

by Veronica Arreola, delegate & blogger

We arrived in Honduras on Honduran Women’s Day. The history of Honduran Women’s Day set the stage for what were to be three intense days.

After many years of struggle, in 1954, the Honduran Congress passed women’s suffrage. The last step was for it to be signed by the President. Later that year, there was a coup d’etat. But the next leader decided to sign into law women’s right to vote, exactly one year after it was passed. Thus Honduran women mark this occasion every year on January 25th. Despite the regret that women’s suffrage is linked to a coup, women still take to the streets to celebrate.

Our visit came two years after yet another coup. The previous president was seen as getting too cozy with leftist ideas, including Venezulan President Chavez’ Alba Project. The coup not only installed a oligarchical president, but ended twenty years of gains for women.

Our hosts made it clear that the coup is ongoing and that many do not recognize the current administration as legitimate. Hondurans also believe that the Pentagon had a hand in the coup. The USA has one military base with plans to expand in a country the size of Virginia.

The streets of Honduras are small and traffic is frantic. We survived the drive and landed at the Plaza la Merced where the celebration was in full force. What stands out to me about Honduras is how fierce their feminists are.

The police are so corrupt that the Honduran government has sent the military out into the streets. The impunity that both operate under was what we heard from the women. One woman came to a press conference after being beaten earlier that day. We heard stories that range from assaults, rape and assassinations, all perpetrated by the local police. But we also heard from women who were targeted because they were speaking out against hydroelectric dams which were robbing their communities of clean water.

Despite all the violence the women of Honduras live and work under, their spirits were high. They spoke with such courage, even those who we were asked to not take photos of or use their names.

But the main theme I came away from Honduras is that the women want to be heard. They want to be at the table when the local government officials decide to make deals with multinational companies  to ensure the people get a fair price for their land or to voice their strong opposition to the project even starting. Their voices are ignored in every sense. The authorities do not listen when someone assaults them, whether it is their husband or their father — why would they do anything about police brutality? But the women carry on.

The plaza was filled with women and girls chanting that their bodies are not a battleground. In between speeches was beautiful music by Honduran singer Karla Lara.  And of course dancing — because Emma Goldman was right.

I had hoped to write everyday on this trip. But that plan was tripped up in Honduras. The poverty just outside our hotel was overwhelming. I needed time to take it all in and digest before writing. We were in the capitol and the infrastructure was simply missing. I’m working on a PhD in public administration and I learned so much about administration here. I was in a meeting at the US Embassy with our ambassador. As we talked about the violence the women lived with, she spoke only of economic projects to help women earn their own money through “tortillas, bakeries and beauty shops”.  We cringed. She touted how the USA is training the police on how to investigate crimes. But when we met with the Attorney General, he blamed budget cuts for the lack of investigating crime. The two women in his office who work on domestic violence issues were passionate in defending what they have been able to do with their limited power.

How do the women of Honduras operate within this broken structure? One thing is clear, they rely on each other. And they rely on us to listen and do what we can. Does that mean supporting efforts to cut off US taxpayer support? Will that help or make things worse? Even our attempts to support them play out in a broken system. As a feminist and a public administration student, my heart left Honduras battered, but determined to work on this problem. If they can find a way to dance, I can find a way to support them. We all can.