July 12, 2011
By Margaret Thompson
Three hundred women from indigenous and Afro groups in Honduras have gathered in an assembly that is breaking new ground in a variety of ways.
The Assembly is being held from 10 to 14 July 2011 at the Mayan ruins of Copan in western Honduras. It is a very important event because it provides an independent platform that enables Afro and indigenous women to contribute to the creation of a new constitution for Honduras.
Additionally, the event carves a new symbolic path with new social and cultural norms that are expressed in the sexual division of labor.
Melissa Condesa, feminist activist, writer and organizer said the event opened this new social and political field in a symbolic way, including changes in the traditional sexual division of labor within these groups. “Men make the food here so that the women can meet and some of them had never made a tortilla.”
She explained that there was an earlier Constituent Assembly that was mixed men and women in February that took place in San Juan Durugubuti, Tela, Atlándita, and later the men met and agreed that it was important for them to cook for the women’s assembly so they could talk. “The Maya and Garifuna Chortí are making tortillas, which is a very radical because traditionally it was something only women did,” said Condesa.
She added that “this is important because it installs a different logic and highlights a very important issue about the oppression of women, the gender division of labor. Men are working in the kitchen because the work has significant value for everyday life, but also in the continuing political struggle. We are re-founding of the nation and this is a part of it. ”
The Assembly is also an important historic event because it affirms the enormous cultural diversity of indigenous communities in Honduras, a multiculturalism that is often rejected by the government and power elites. Approximately 7% of Hondurans are indigenous, and 2% are of African origin.
Condesa described herself as mestizo, a mixture of peoples, including of African descent and indigenous, both of which have a long and profound history of colonialism and neo-colonialism. “I bring this story, along with my activism and my work on sexual freedom and lesbian rights,” Condesa said, “and that includes sexual and reproductive rights, which are very important to discuss here. Indigenous peoples have strong convictions about this, with the claim that their cosmo-vision cannot include these issues. So this is my contribution. ”
Condesa continued, “I am also in search of connections to my own ancestry with the women here. They have a very strong conviction about who they are and where they come from, and as I’m interacting with them at this event, it is a dialogue very important to me personally. The idea is to be here to listen and dialogue. And so, as a feminist, it is a very important meeting. ”
The creation of a new constitution for Honduras is a key goal of many sectors in the popular resistance movement and among indigenous and Afro peoples, who regard it as a means to create legal protections for natural resources on indigenous lands, as well as to formally recognize the multi-culturalism of the country, and incorporate greater recognition of the rights of women.