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Not one more: ending femicide in Honduras

Posted by Juan Carlos Arita Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Programme Manager

8th Mar 2016

erta Cáceres, founder of National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize https://bit.ly/1Qr9f6f

OPINION:

On International Women's Day Juan Carlos Arita, Oxfam's Regional Programme Manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, reflects on the tragic murder of human rights activist Berta Cáceres and calls for an end to violence against women in Honduras where 4,400 women have been murdered in the last decade.

Sometimes I get confused, is it femicide or feminicide? The differences between these two concepts are important but I am not going to try and explain them. What I am clear about is the urgent need to act. We live in a socio-cultural system which accepts and reproduces different forms of violence against women for the simple fact of being women; this is an injustice which we must all work to change.

Every 18 hours a woman is murdered in HondurasEvery 18 hours a woman is murdered in Honduras: a few months ago, a beauty pageant queen; today a teacher; tomorrow a street seller. Last week, it was Berta Cáceres, activist for the rights of indigenous people and the environment, recognised worldwide for her work in defence of human rights and for standing up against the plundering of natural resources from Honduran Lenca communities.

Just a few weeks ago the reports from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International raised alarm bells about the state of vulnerability and risk which human rights defenders in Honduras face and the state's lack of capacity to ensure they are protected. The cruel murder of Berta provides damning evidence for those who denied these reports.

It's the moment to gather together our energy, in indignation and solidarity shown on a global level, to act and demand justice
This International Women's day, beyond the presents and flowers, offers an opportunity to review where we are as society; it's the moment to commit to support the voice and action of brave women and organisations which, like Berta, will not rest in their fight for a fairer society and a world free from violence. It's the moment to gather together our energy, in indignation and solidarity shown on a global level, to act and demand justice for Berta Cáceres and for the other 4,400 women who have been victims of femicide in the last decade in Honduras.

One need only glance at the papers and the news in Honduras to appreciate the magnitude of the femicide problem. The national context is very difficult: Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world. In 2015 on average 14 murders were registered every day. Four-teen, it's easy enough to say. This tragedy is made worse because the perpetrators go unpunished; the state is paralyzed, unable to investigate and impart justice for these crimes, and it is even worse for women. 

A study which came out in 2013 calculated the impunity rate at 96% for cases of femicide in Honduras; today it's estimated that this figure is still above 90%. Violence and impunity are two constant barriers preventing girls and women from exercising their basic human rights, from developing fully socially, politically and economically.

The contributions of many academics, researchers and feminist activists help us to understand the problem of femicide not only as a result of the constructs of the machismo culture which accepts and normalizes violence against women, but also as an exercise in power relations. Marcela Lagarde y Julia Monárrez Fragoso among others, hold the state, and particularly the judicial system, responsible for the way in which femicide is allowed to continue. If the rule of law doesn't guarantee the physical and emotional security of women and does not punish those who perpetrate crimes against them, it is contributing to an environment of impunity. In this way the state becomes directly responsible for violence against women.

If the rule of law doesn't guarantee the physical and emotional security of women... it is contributing to an environment of impunityWomen's organisations in Honduras have been working on this issue for decades. Oxfam and others have supported their work to raise awareness of femicide and violence against women. The change which is needed is structural, it's on an individual level, on a collective level, in institutions and in social and cultural norms and behaviours. There are many women at the forefront of this battle and the women who work in these organisations also run the risk of being criminalized, like the activist Gladys Lanza, who was found guilty of slander and libel after she helped a woman who was the victim of a sexual assault. 

Despite this terrible outlook, there are some hopeful developments like the 'Forum of Women against Femicide' (Tribuna de Mujeres Contra Los Femicidios) a network of eight Honduran organisations which have been developing different sensitisation strategies on a local, national and international level since 2010. One of their key pieces of work has been to create an alternative court: a symbolic space which brought together national and international judges and lawyers who specialise in human rights, to present cases of femicide and give evidence of the deficiencies of the legal system and the complicity, direct or indirect, of the police and of the Honduran state in these cases. 

This alternative court showed the failings of the state in the protection of women and the prevention of violence, and it obtained the support of other national social actors, of state institutions and international cooperation to make the violence visible and to place femicide at the centre of public debate in Honduras. 

Although the violence continues, we can still have hope, in part thanks to the work of the alternative court and the ongoing fights of thousands of women's organisations in Honduras. Three weeks ago the creation of a new investigation unit specialised in the violent deaths of women was announced. The unit will begin to function in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro de Sula which have the highest rates of femicide in the country. 

Beyond the pain, which will not pass easily, for the deaths of Berta Cáceres, Margarita Murillo, and thousands of other women, we must continue the fight, monitoring and demanding that these new processes do fulfil their objective. This is a door which is open so that we can all, men and women, keep demanding a life free of violence for the women and girls of Honduras.

This post was first published in Spanish on the Oxfam International blog

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Photo: Berta Cáceres, founder of National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize https://bit.ly/1Qr9f6f

Blog post written by Juan Carlos Arita

Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Programme Manager

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