One issue that has been brought to my attention regarding the recent posts that Seneca has contributed about the Honduras issue is basic women’s rights. This issue should be particularly appealing to Secretary Clinton, as fourteen years ago, she said, “Women’s rights are human rights.”
Several prominent members of the de facto government in Honduras are members of the elitist, ultra-conservative Catholic Opus Dei movement, who were upset that ousted President Zelaya vetoed the ban the “morning-after” pill, which is essentially high dose birth control not to be confused with the Mifepristone “abortion pill.” The legislation was passed by the Honduran Congress under the leadership of now de facto executive Roberto Micheletti and was proposed by then Congresswoman Martha Lorena Alvarado, who today serves as the Deputy Secretary of State of the de facto regime. One day after the coup on June 29, a ban on emergency contraception was enacted, which just went into effect this month.
Honduras has the highest adolescent birthrate in Central America, and one half of women 20-24 give birth by the age of 20. Moreover, some 70% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of those live in extreme poverty. Early motherhood has been linked to extended poverty, higher infant mortality, and often perpetuates a lower standard of living as mothers have difficulty resuming school and focusing on occupational advancement. The availability of birth control and the morning after pill would help prevent unwanted pregnancies and allow Honduran women the opportunity to gain more education to better position themselves to provide for their families.
The new coup government has a documented history of violence against women. In August, an international human rights fact-finding mission found that over 400 cases of violations of human rights against women were registered. One of the first people to be killed was a transgender woman Vicky Hernandez Castillo, who was out on the night that the new government assumed power, and happened to be unaware of the imposed curfew. She was shot in the eye and strangled, and the state has refused to perform an autopsy on her.
There have been reported physical assaults, beatings that aim at women’s reproductive organs, breasts, and hips. And there have been reports of gang rapes carried out by the police to “punish” women for being involved in anti-coup demonstrations. These rapes appear to have been premeditated, as police used condoms. The victims, fearful of retaliation, have reported what has happened to human right’s organizations, but not with the current government Human Rights or Women’s Rights offices. Finally, women leaders who are opposed to the de facto government have received death threats from the police and military via e-mail and voicemail. Some women have received threats that name them specifically, along with their profession, to make them aware that the authorities are expressly tracking them.
The irony of the coup government cracking down on women’s rights is that it has sold itself as a defender of freedom. It certainly is a paradox for the de facto government to not allow women some privilege in exercising reproductive freedom and basic civil liberties, while presenting itself as democratic and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to top US lobbyist and PR firms to build them an image that purports to be respectful of the rule of law. Secretary Clinton should seriously explore these rights violations before blessing the results of the upcoming Honduran election.