Strengthening Governance Programming Through Tackling Violence Against Women and girls: Raising Her Voice in Honduras

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One woman is killed every 18 hours in Honduras, but fewer than one in five cases are investigated. Such large-scale human rights abuses and appalling levels of impunity mean that tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) is central to the Raising Her Voice Honduras governance programme. This paper is a snapshot of the work undertaken to challenge the social acceptance of VAWG, from grassroots to state level, and the drive for policy implementation to hold institutions and individuals to account on their obligations to prevent and protect women from violence. Equally powerful is the mass mobilization of grassroots campaigners to amplify, with force and conviction, the message that women have a right to lives free from violence.
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    1   STRENGTHENING GOVERNANCE PROGRAMMING THROUGH TACKLING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS Raising Her Voice in Honduras Violence against women and femicide in Honduras Violence against women and girls (VAWG) 1  has long been a serious problem in Honduras. The justice system does not function effectively, crimes are committed with impunity in 97 per cent of cases of violence against women (VAW), and only 3 per cent of cases are brought to trial. Since the June 2009 coup d’é tat, the level of violence has escalated  –  with physical attacks, verbal violence, sexual violence, and violations against freedom of expression all of the increase  –  and protection for women has decreased further. Women in Honduras, as in some other Central American countries, also suffer the most extreme form of violence, known as femicide. Femicide is defined as ‘  the death of women as a result of gender-based violence, including deaths perpetrated by husbands or ex-husbands, colleagues or ex-colleagues, in a relationship including boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, and those deaths perpetrated by third parties or strangers ’ . 2  Cases of femicide in Honduras rose by 63 per cent between 2007-8 and 2009-2010. 3  By 2011, one woman was being murdered every day. 4  It occurs in various settings: the home; organized crime and commercial sex; gang violence; and as an expression of political violence. Research has found that ‘women’s position as embodiments of family honour means that in most cases they are the victims of vengeance attacks, carried out to send a message to male family members; some are killed by police as retaliation for gang attacks on police officers ’. 5  Most deaths occur in urban areas where labour-related migration has led to areas of high concentration of young migrant women. The most vulnerable are women between 16 and 30 years old. 6  The huge increase in the availability of firearms has exacerbated the situation, but the underlying   context which enables this extreme form of violence against women is the unequal power relation between men and women. The accompanying impunity for perpetrators is a reflection of the degree to which the violent murder of women is tolerated and justified in Honduran society. Perpetrators are neither identified nor punished; the justice system lacks the will to prevent or solve cases. Women who are sexually violated by the police rarely report this as they have little confidence that police will be tried or brought to justice. They are left with no protection and no access to justice. The high level of violence against women is one of the factors that prevents women from participating in political life and impedes their progress and capacity to act within it. In addition, the coup led to the resignation of the most progressive women within the National Congress who had the potential to call the State to account on these human rights abuses. Since the coup, the situation has worsened. The government, which came to power in January 2010, has failed to mention gender, women’s rights or VAWG in its plans for the country. And the promoters of religious fundamentalism, linked to Opus Dei 7  and the most conservative sectors of the Catholic Church, have dealt a blow to women’s rights by reinstating a decree on the legislative agenda, which penalizes the  2 sale, use and promotion of the morning-after contraceptive pill. In doing so, they have taken away women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies.   Raising Her Voice’s agenda on women’s political participation   In 2008, the Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme 8  began working in Honduras with the aims of promoting the active participation of poor women in decision-making processes and political life. The hope was that, by doing so, this would bring about changes in attitudes and beliefs regarding the role of women in public life, and influence public policy and budget processes in relation to women’s rights. Much was achieved, particularly in the early stages, in terms of strengthening women’s organizations, particularly from poor, rural and isolated communities, and their policy/advocacy capacity; working with civil-society organizations (CSOs) and local governments to influence policy processes with a women’s rights approach;  and lobbying for women’s human rights. There was a strong focus on linking local activism with national CSOs by bringing together women’s networks in order to raise local voices up to district and national levels. Key issues included women’s participation in the electoral process, gender budgeting, the implementation of the quota system for wo men’s election of political office, and the eradication of VAW . However, the coup of 2009 forced changes in the project’s approach. Two of the RHV partners broke all ties with the de facto  government, and began to prioritize responding to women’s demands. They denounced the rupturing of the state of law and order, and demanded the setting up of discussions free from repression, with respect for the human rights of men and women opposing the coup d’é tat. For one of the partners, Visitación Padilla, this meant living through institutionalized political violence (offices watched, phone lines tapped, members captured and beaten) to the extent that the International Court of Human Rights has granted protection measures for its coordinator.  As a result of this the RHV project had to shift away from direct advocacy with local and national government. It focused instead on: vigilance and social mobilization to demand and defend rights; training and campaigns to promote women’s rights (through public forums and leadership training schools); supporting women in elected positions of power; and strengthening the National Coalition of Honduran Women (CONAMUH). CONAMUH links together different women’s organi zations with the aim of building a feminist identity for women’s political participation and women’s political actions to end the violence. This involves a commitment to build women’s power at local and national levels in order to defend and promote human rights and end violence. Their aim is to build a social and political platform that will contribute to bringing about changes in patriarchal power structures and build a participative, inclusive and equitable democracy. Why did VAWG become a key issue for RHV? The RHV project in Honduras works through three partner organizations:  Asociación de Organismos no Gubermentales (ASONOG), Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz Visitación Padilla, and Centro de Estudios de la Mujer en Honduras (CEM-H). All came to RHV with strong networks involving rural indigenous women living in poverty, and were well aware that, while VAW had historically been seen as more of an urban problem, it had now become a rural problem too. Visitación Padilla, in particular, came to the RHV partnership with a strong desire to work on this issue. Known for their history and commitment to national work on women’s political participation and leadership, they were also recognized for their work on denouncing VAWG. Before the coup, Visitación Padilla worked with urban women from political parties and found violence to be a daily struggle in political life. In the early stages of the RHV project, the problem of VAWG arose in every single training event and in every meeting on developing local government agendas. It was clearly impacting on every aspect of women’s lives and was getting  3 worse. The RHV partners realized that this was an issue they could campaign on together, and decided that they had to address VAWG in order to achieve their aims on political participation. This was reinforced by the escalation in political violence that followed the coup in 2009. RHV approaches to addressing VAWG The following outlines the activities, achievements and impact of those aspects of the RHV project which relate to work on VAWG. There are three main approaches: strengthening the capacity of rural women to act as a network for advocacy and awareness-raising; influencing local governments to be more transparent, accountable and adopt public policies and budgets with a focus on gender; and influencing the State and wider society on the implementation of the quota for women’s political participation and the eradication of VAWG. 1) Strengthening the capacity of rural women to act as a network for advocacy and awareness-raising RHV has helped to reactivate and reorganiz e ten women’s networks covering more than 1,000 rural and urban women in 11 areas of the country. This has been a key achievement of the project. This network of networks has the following aims. Firstly, it strengthens women’s capacity to act together   to influence the State and wider society on public policy and budgeting, and to prioritiz e women’s interests. They have developed an agenda for women, which identifies problems and proposals with regard to health, education, the economy, political participation and violence .  Secondly, it raises  public awareness on women’s rights  including freedom from violence  through radio spots, radio programmes, and public forums and events.  And thirdly, it provides community level training on building women’s leadership  and citizenship in the social sphere, gender auditing of public policy and budgeting, political advocacy aimed at local decision-makers, and the ‘de - masking of gender violence’  . 9  This has raised women’s awareness of power relations, both in party politics and civil society structures, and helped them identify the mechanisms of control that discriminate against and subordinate women in political parties and define their roles as practical and mundane (data collection, meeting organization, minute taking, food preparation) rather than in strategic decision-making. Male local government leaders are invited to attend these training sessions to raise their awareness of the violence women experience, and the need for a fairer gender distribution of reproductive workload so that women can play a greater role in the public sphere. 2) Influencing local governments to be more transparent, accountable and adopt public policies and budgets with a focus on gender The RHV network advocates for the opening of Women’s Municipal Offices with adequate budgets to run them. It offers support to these offices to develop local political agendas and distribution of municipal budgets in ways which promote gender equality. Assessments have been carried out in seven municipalities to evaluate local government practice on gender budgeting, and training modules delivered on the same. The network promotes a women’ s political agenda  –  empowerment, awareness-raising and countering the high incidence of violence  in the municipality  –  including a call for an allocation of 2 per cent of local government budgets  to implement this agenda. Verbal commitments to this target were made by local government in 2011. The network also advocates for more local government meetings to be open to the public to increase transparency and accountability.  4 3) Influencing the State and wider society on the implementation of the quota for women’s political participation and the eradication of violence against women a) Women’s political participation    At the national level, Visitación Padilla has been strengthening their network of alliances and working across political parties to advocate for electoral reform to increase the quota for women’s political participation in elected positions from 30 to 50 per cent, under the slogan  ‘  half of the  power is for women ’  .  One of the network’s aspirations is that the agenda of a new generation of progressive women leaders will include measures to protect women from the escalating levels of violence and bring perpetrators to account. They succeeded in getting a 50 per cent quota included in the Electoral Law reforms submitted to the National Congress in 2011, but, with the current absence of a strong and responsible government following the coup, growing militarization, drug trafficking and centralization of power, there has been no discussion of the new Electoral Law nor the proposal of the 50 per cent quota. However, successes have been achieved. Legal statutes have been created for the new National Resistance Front party, which include a 50 per cent quota for women’s political participation, reflecting the stronger role that women are playing in the post-coup resistance movement, despite the setbacks on women’s political agenda wrought by the coup. The recent process of drafting and discussing the Electoral Law has led women in the political parties to assume more of a protagonist role for women’s rights rather than relying on civil society to set the agenda. ‘  Before, it was us women from civil society organizations that had to create this change, but today it is women in the  political parties, accompanied by us. ’    RHV coordinator   This new capacity for leadership is in part due to the training and awareness-raising provided by the women’s network before the coup. b) VAWG The RHV project works to raise women’s voices against the impunity of VAWG at both national and local levels. Nationally :   Cases of GBV have been denounced and law suits filed in national and international civil human-rights tribunals.   RHV partners have advocated for  judicial frameworks protecting women’s rights to be fulfilled,  for example, the CEDAW   protocol observations and recommendations on the safety of women. Gladys Lanza, Tribunal of Women against Femicide     Mobilizations have been organized, with regular press releases to make women’s rights problems , including VAWG, as visible as possible.   Visitación Padilla and ASONOG have given support to the National Campaign against Femicide (see below). Locally :   Advocacy with local authorities has led to women in the municipality of Gualcine having access to complaints mechanisms on domestic violence for the first time. Eighty-seven complaints were subsequently filed.   ASONOG have organized public meetings where women leaders have been able to question judges publicly to ensure proper management of violence cases. In one such meeting women said they now understood that violence is not
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