Monday, March 15, 2010

The Institue for Women versus Feminists in Resistance

As readers of this blog know, a week ago, on International Women's Day, there was a call for mobilization by Honduras' Feminists in Resistance. Coverage in the Honduran press of demonstrations on International Women's Day illuminates the challenge Feminists in Resistance present to the Lobo Sosa administration.

Pro-coup El Heraldo reported that there was a protest in Tegucigalpa against femicide, giving the alarming figures: 46 women killed in 2008, climbing to 59 in 2009, which is bad enough: but in January-February 2010, already there have been 60 women murdered. Indeed, as widely reported, Honduras has the second-highest rate of murder of women in Central America.

The article in Heraldo ends with the apparent non-sequitur that "Feminist groups of Honduras don't recognize the authorities of the National Institute of Women [INAM]." According to this account, "activists" from the Center for Women's Rights (CDM) attempted to enter the National Congress and were "repelled" by the police and military security. But it is not clarified who these "activists" were, nor why they or other feminists don't recognize INAM.

La Tribuna, another pro-coup paper, reported that an official ceremony had been planned to take place on International Women's Day in the National Congress building, with First Lady Rosa Elena de Lobo and the Minister of Security, Oscar Álvarez, where a formal agreement would be signed INAM and the Security Minister to reduce violent deaths of women, particularly from domestic violence.

So how did this develop into what El Heraldo called a "zipezape"-- a ruckus?

An account of the protest and its suppression translated and posted at quotha says that the police and military security evicted the women protesting on the orders of Maria Antonieta Botto, head of INAM when
the women were trying to mount several spaces to show how women have been active with the resistance against the coup... In what seemed a boycott of women’s organizations, INAM decided to have an event in the same place even though the Feminists of the Resistance had disseminated widely their peaceful event at that location.

“We were having our event on La Merced plaza, when they cut off the power because the INAM was going to have their event at the National Congress. We were able to get the power back on the stand and they shut down the power again. We went over to the INAM minister and told her to give us power but what they did instead was send the police after us with batons and weapons who beat some of the women and took away our signs.”

This report describes the mission of INAM as
to improve [women's] quality of life and promoting respect for human rights, in harmony with other participative and democratic social actors. We are an institution responsible for formulating, developing, promoting, coordinating and following up on the policies that guarantee and protect the rights and gender equity of women, adolescents and girls, to contribute towards the sustainable human development of the country.

The minister in charge of INAM is Maria Antonieta Botto. Immediately prior to taking up this position in the Lobo Sosa administration, Botto was mayor of the small city of Villanueva, Cortés, located south of San Pedro Sula. Villanueva is the site of one of the major concentrations of maquiladoras in northern Honduras, companies that rely on the labor of young women. From 1998 to 2002, and again from 2002 to 2006, Botto was a Nationalist party congress member from the department of Cortés. In the November election, Botto lost to the Liberal party candidate, Walter Perdomo.

The report translated at quotha notes that the order to remove the feminists from proximity to the National Congress on International Women's Day
worsened the distrust that has been generated for Boto, whose abilities to fill the post of minister have been questioned.
Sara Tomé, in charge of the Legal Center of Women’s Studies, CEM-H said that “before the coup we had made some important conquests, but after the coup it all came down. We lost INAM, the domestic violence courts and other entities. That work fell through.”

International coverage of the Women's Day protests by Feminists in Resistance connect the dots a bit more. As reported by EFE, these women
denounced the fact that various women that participated in the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular against the coup d'etat of last June 28 against Manuel Zelaya were assassinated and others sexually abused. The women accused the State security forces of these violations, which number 26, according to the denunciation.
In Tegucigalpa, the demonstrators also indicated that they do not recognize the new authorities of the National Institute of Women "because they are a product of the coup d'Etat", Niza Medina, Member of CDM, said to journalists.

As has become a pattern, the most illuminating Honduran press on this topic comes from Tiempo, in the form of an editorial by Anarella Vélez published March 16:

Women, particularly those organized as Feminists in Resistance, struggle for the Honduran State to assume with responsibility our demand to generate a new law that would regulate, place it in use, and follow through on all the social processes that would guarantee the status of women as subjects with rights and that will break the ancestral association of the power of the masculine sex... The political crisis created by the coup d'Etat of 28th June, added to the international economic instability, without any doubt has complicated the reality in which we Honduran women live and has made visible the asymmetry of gender and the consolidation of an increasingly sexist hierarchy as a product of greater political impact of religious fundamentalist sectors in the decisions of State.

The editorial ends with a call for a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new Constitution that would recognize the rights of women guaranteed by the various international conventions to which Honduras is already a signatory, but which are not enshrined in law or practice. Calling for political equity, economic equity, and reproductive control, the agenda of Honduran feminists was definitively rolled back under the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, and no steps have been taken in the Lobo Sosa administration to win back the lost advances. Appointing a female politician who has no history of women's activism did not win Porfirio Lobo Sosa any support; fumbling the treatment of women's activists on International Women's Day simply added to the already existing consciousness on the part of women's activists that fundamental change is required for their hopes to be realized.

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