Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fear and Intimidation of Women

by Rachel Anderson

Micheletti’s decree last weekend stripping Hondurans of their constitutional rights is rapidly shrinking the massive marches and protests that have taken place here over the last three months. With the ever-present threats of violence and jail, many people now fear talking about the resistance in public, walking the streets, or even “looking different”. Leaders have left their homes, fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Most of our partners have changed their daily routines to avoid being detained by the military or police.

Strong police presence at a peaceful protest

Strong police presence at a peaceful protest

Alba, coordinator of the Committee of the Politically Persecuted, was at the demonstration on September 22. As she was fleeing the tear gas released on the peaceful, joy-filled crowd, she saw a policeman grab a young man randomly from a crowd and start beating him with a baton. She started to take a picture and yelled, "Don’t hit him!" Police then grabbed her, hit her, and stole her camera. She was detained for hours, enduring verbal and physical abuse. Now Alba feels she can no longer go to public demonstrations. She knows she is blacklisted and will be targeted by the police.

Blanca, Celeste, and Gabriela from the Collective of University Feminists (COFEMUN) told us their ongoing experiences of intimidation. Since July 2nd, COFEMUN staff members have noticed an omnipresent vehicle with tinted windows outside their offices and homes watching them. A pre-school opened up across the street this summer, but no children have ever been seen entering or leaving the building. There have only been security guards and other adults filming people entering and leaving COFEMUN’s offices.

Recently, as one woman left the COFEMUN office, she passed an armed soldier. He quickly blocked her way and said, "We are going to get you soon". Overnight on September 30th the power was cut to their offices and their internal security camera damaged, after capturing an image of a dark silhouette.

Finally, the women shared the chilling tale of three staff members being chased after meeting with a Witness for Peace delegation on September 6th. As they left the office at 8:30pm, a private power company vehicle without plates drove onto their bumper, trying to push them into a corner or off the street.

COFEMUN is not aligned with a political party nor is it a registered partner of the resistance. The women we met do not see Zelaya as a hero. They have simply participated in peaceful marches protesting the violation of the Honduran constitution. COFEMUN promotes women’s rights, including educating woman about birth control options and providing support for gay and lesbian groups. Earlier this year, they helped win the battle to make emergency contraception legal, which several members of Micheletti’s coup regime fought.

We continue to hear stories of women singled out by the police and military with verbal abuse, physical abuse on their breasts and backsides, and cases of rape. Another woman speculated on the sudden failure of her car brakes, right after she took it to a private auto-shop for unrelated repairs.

Blanca noted the psychological and emotional damage this intimidation has caused. “Yesterday was the first night they didn’t announce a curfew in weeks and it was the first night I was able to sleep. During the curfew the military could come and do anything they want. They could rape or kill you and no one would know. That sort of systematic intimidation takes away one’s voice and feeling of worth. It kills you on the inside.”

She despairs of the success the de facto regime has had in so quickly stripping the citizens of their rights and voices. "We are a nobody in the grand scheme of things – just a small country, with no power, economically or politically. Now that all of our constitutional rights have been stripped from us, we feel completely impotent.”

But we have not found a powerless citizenry in Honduras. In just under a week, we have met many organized, intelligent, and incredibly strong people. From this crisis, some veteran human rights organizers have noticed an ¨awakening" in a historically poor and repressed country. Over the last three months, Hondurans that have never rallied together before have united in their efforts to protect their democracy. This massive uprising was not for a politician, but for their shared country and constitutional rights.

Many leaders are especially inspired by the huge influx of young people taking an interest in their government for the first time. The older generation, organized since the 1980s, had worried about the lack of youth interested in most human rights causes. Alba noted that her organization "had a small membership made up of mainly people in their forties and fifties. Now we have many youth as young as 13 years old participating in events."

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