What does Honduras’ election mean for women?

libre_supporters_at_an_election_rally_hondurasHonduras has been the topic of major controversy this past month after its presidential election was called out on allegations of fraud. So far, results indicate a victory for Juan Orlando Hernández over left-wing candidate Xiomara Castro, wife of formerly-ousted president Manuel Zelaya.

This was the first democratic election in Honduras since Zelaya was elected in 2005. In 2009, then president was kidnapped in a coup d’état that has lead to four and a half years of setbacks for human and particularly women’s rights in Honduras. This has included protest suppression, police intimidation, and increased sexual violence and aggression. The National Institute of Women (INAM) has faced militarization and intimidation at the hands of the coup government. The same year the coup took place, Honduras saw a 62% increase in femicide, which Jody Williams argues is in part because women played a key role in vocally opposing the coup.

In addition to attacks on women, small farmers and indigenous people have faced more land grabs, and the country as a whole has experienced a 26% increase in extreme poverty. 

This election could have redirected these patterns. According to Laura Carlsen at the CIP Americas Program,

The two contending candidates personify the political poles of the country. Hernandez was president of the Congress that opened the door wide to transnational corporations, ceding lands long held by indigenous and campesino inhabitants, consolidated the power of the official party over political institutions, and reversed historic—although modest—advances in women’s rights and wealth distribution. He calls himself the candidate of militarization, promising a “soldier on every street corner” and has said repeatedly that he will do “anything necessary” to bring security to the nation, despite that in many cases security forces themselves—under the command of his party—have been identified as the perpetrators of violent acts and rights violations against the population. Hernandez was the driving force behind the creation of a new and largely unsupervised Military Police.

Xiomara Castro became a prominent public figure in the resistance when her husband, Manuel Zelaya, was kidnapped and then trapped in the Brazilian Embassy during the coup regime. She supports a constitutional assembly, the popular demand that detonated the coup, and demilitarization of civil life. Many members of the resistance to the coup joined the new party and supported her candidacy, following a major debate within their ranks. For most feminists, the fact that Xiomara is a woman was less important than her political platform and commitment to women’s issues. There, they generally found more room to advance their causes than with a conservative National Party candidate.

Though many international monitors are not reporting any fraud on election day, members of the Honduras Solidarity Network contend that most election fraud occurs before the actual voting day, and is harder for international monitors to notice:

Boiled down, our observations amount to a conclusion that conditions did not exist for democratic elections in the first place and that election day was invalidated by massive fraud. Violence, land grabs, assassinations, judicial impunity, and lack of institutionality since the June 2009 coup doomed the election from the start. The conditions for outright fraud on election day were created by: threats that poor people who survive on the small World Bank-funded welfare payment would lose that income if the National Party didn’t win; removal from the voting lists due to criminal charges against peasant and indigenous dissenters to dams, mines and land grabs; outright vote buying; and the murders of three Libre party activists on election weekend.

This election is not just about a potential female president being cheated of her chance at the office. It is about one of the most violent countries in Central America finally getting a chance at peace and stability. 

Though militarization is often portrayed with the faces of boys and men, women make up the larger collateral damage of regimes like Honduras’.  Xiomara Castro offered the best possibility at demilitarizing Honduras and challenging instances of abuse at the hands of military forces. In contrast to Hernández’s platform of ever increasing military presence, Castro looks like a savior.  

To read more about where grassroots feminists in Honduras are going from here, and U.S. involvement in the coup, check out CIP’s full article.

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Juliana‘s college major came in handy writing this post. Actually, she wishes she had done more of the reading on Honduras though.