Despite being one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources, Honduras has high levels of inequality in land ownership and there has been a considerable increase in extractive projects in the country. The exploitation of natural resources and the concentration of land in the hands of few have forced communities to defend their territories. In 2016, Honduras was considered to be the deadliest country in the world for defenders of land, territory and the environment (Global Witness, Honduras: the deadliest place to defend the planet, January 2017). Between 2015 and 2018 at least 31 defenders of land, territory and the environment were killed. Moreover, the attacks, forced evictions, harassment and criminalisation against this group of defenders.
In this context the particularly vulnerable situation of women defenders of land, territory and the environment is worrisome. Existing inequalities between men and women due to the patriarchal system enable discrimination, oppression and violence against these women. In the last two years at least six women defenders were killed. Moreover, between 2016 and 2017, 1,232 attacksagainst women defenders, their families and organisations were reported, with at least a third directed against women defenders of land and territory. In more than half of these cases, the perpetrators were state actors.
Women defenders face specific kinds of violence, many of which are related to their gender. Attacks against women are based on sexist attitudes which are deeply-rooted in the Honduran society. The attacks often refer to women’s sexuality or the traditional gender roles assigned to women: “they discredit us, because they say that we are prostitutes, that we are looking for a husband, that we are irresponsible, that we leave our kids alone, we are stigmatised”, explained a woman defender. The defence of human rights also implies an extra burden on top of the multiple responsibilities already assigned to women within , including almost all of the responsibility for the household.
In light of this situation, and in preparation of Honduras’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which will take place in May 2020, PBI Honduras has written a report which aims to highlight the specific risks and violence faced by women defenders of land, territory and the environment and demonstrate the need for a differentiated response by the Honduran State to protect them.
Impunity, militarisation and the excessive use of force
During the 2015 UPR, Honduras accepted important recommendations related to impunity, militarisation and the excessive use of force. Furthermore, since then we have seen an increase in the misuse of criminal prosecution against defenders. These structural problems have a severe and differential impact on women defenders of land, territory and the environment. For example, one woman defender told us about the different patterns and effects of criminalisation: “I was stigmatised but my husband wasn’t. He came out of this clean, he goes to court to sign, but he wasn’t stigmatised. The women from my community, including my family, make fun of my struggle.”
Moreover, the militarisation of public security has also created enabling conditions for aggression and sexual harassment against women: “a lot of women were beaten, one woman answered back and they swore at her and touched her, they grabbed her and that’s harassment.” According to women defenders, it is almost impossible to access justice for these kinds of violations, because of the structural impunity in Honduras.
During the 2015 UPR recommendations focused on improving this situation, related to the protection of human rights defenders and the active participation of civil society in the creation of public policies were made. However, these recommendations are not being implemented in a way which responds to the differential situation of women defenders. For example, protection mechanisms need to move beyond physical protection to include a preventative and differential focus. Equally, current measures often involve the police and do not respond to the local reality of women defenders: “here they give you a bodyguard, and the machismo in this country is so deeply rooted, and with the mentality of these policemen, they sometimes might insinuate other things.”
Faced with all these issues, women defenders report a lack of opportunities to participate in creating solutions. Indeed, because they are women, they face additional structural obstacles which limit or prevent their participation: “the role women play in society or within the family isn’t easy, because they always try to belittle the role of women, it is the men who speak and who decide, and women have to listen.” All this demonstrates the need for specific measures to promote the participation of women defenders and ensure that state policies include a differential and comprehensive focus to tackle the structural problems the country is facing.