February 17, 2012
By Margie Thompson of ESCRIBANA
The connection to land is a critical link to life for women and their families in the Aguan region of northern Honduras, but this right and many others are under violent siege by wealthy landowners, supported by heavily armed soldiers, police, and private security forces who are determined to confiscate the land. Women, who bear the brunt of caring for families under constant threats and attacks, are also active participants in the popular land movement by campesinos (small farmers) determined to resist and defend their rights.
About 50 women met on February 16, 2012 in the community of La Confianza to share testimonies of being robbed of their land, robbed of their husbands and children who were kidnapped, tortured, and killed, or their own experiences of the same. But the women also shared strategies of resistance to these assaults and their dreams of a better future, free of violence and with the return of their lands. The workshop entitled, “Women’s bodies, struggles and hopes” was organized by the Women’s Forum for Life, a Honduran women’s activist group formed in 2009 which since uses creative expression to explore the politics of women’s bodies in the repressive aftermath of the military coup d’état, explained Melissa Condesa.
Women and their families “have been robbed of their resources, their water, their land, their forest, and their sources of work,” Gilda Rivera of the Center for Women’s Rights (CDM) of Honduras told ESCRIBANA in an interview.
At the workshop, one woman announced suddenly that she needed to leave because she had just learned that her husband had been shot. Another woman named Flora showed ESCRIBANA the scars on her arms and body from being kidnapped and tortured by police who demanded information about the organizing efforts by her agricultural cooperative to recuperate their lands. They forced their way into her car, drove her around while beating her, and kept pointing to a large package they had saying “this is your son.”
After her husband was assassinated, a woman named Gladis lost her house and land when she was forced to flee with her five children with nowhere to go. She has since joined the land movement to work toward recuperation of lands including her own.
“We are resisting…struggling for a better life. Alone each woman has a lot of fear, but together we are brave, we struggle together,” said Flora. She told ESCRIBANA that the women are working hard and have hopes for change, but “we are suffering and life is not easy.”
WOMEN CONFRONT CHALLENGES OF DAILY LIFE
For many women, traveling to a women’s workshop or even meeting together as women was a new experience, said Carmen (who gave only her first name), one of the organizers who spoke to ESCRIBANA. Some women “couldn’t come because they couldn’t get the money to travel or the men wouldn’t give them money, because to participate was like a threat to the men because the women would be talking about things in their communities,” explained Carmen. “It’s a machista society” and “many women were afraid to confront this type of aggression.”
Carmen explained that these limitations reflect challenges for many women in communities where although they are working extremely hard and for long hours in their homes caring for several children and also elderly relatives, the men refuse to allow them the same rights to participate in organizing activities of the communities. They contend that because women are not doing the “heavy work” of cutting African palms in the plantations or cultivating the land, they do not deserve the same rights. Women also tend to have large numbers of children because they “don’t have control of their own bodies” so can’t practice family planning, noted Carmen.
At the workshop, women worked in small groups to share stories and dreams through drawings which they later presented to the larger group. One group had a drawing that showed a woman reading under the trees, because some “women can’t read, but want to learn to read…we dream of a life of dignity, with water, electricity, food and resources….we also dream of being happy and joyful…of [being empowered] through connection with the Mother Earth.” The group also described their dreams as women to have autonomy and the right to bodily integrity, to live free of violence and the right to decide how many children they want to have.
HISTORY OF STRUGGLE
Conflict over land has plagued the area for decades, but the conflict has escalated since the coup in 2009 which ousted the democratically elected President Mel Zelaya. He had negotiated and signed an agreement with wealthy landowners in the area including Miguel Facussé and René Morales, to return the land to the campesino (peasant) cooperatives of the MUCA (Unified Peasant Movement of Aguan) movement, but which fell apart following the military coup. When the campesinos went ahead to recuperate their land, they were met with violent persecution and evictions by thousands of heavily armed military, police and private security forces on behalf of wealth landowners. The entire Aguan Valley region has been heavily militarized with a brutal campaign to confiscate the land of families in the area.
Another workshop participant, Consuela, talked to ESCRIBANA about the constant abuse by soldiers and police who confront people as they walk in the streets or stop their cars and demand their identification papers, accuse them of carrying guns, and charge that the campesino organizations are the ones who causing all the conflict. Consuela described how women are reluctant to even walk to the markets to buy food for their families because of the “sexual harassment and threats of violence and death…it is very intimidating and there is a lot of fear.”
But through solidarity with each other and national and international allies the women at the workshop gain strength and hope to confront the realities of their struggles for the land and lives.
An International Human Rights Conference of Aguan is being held February 17-20, 2012 with an expected 400 national and international solidarity activists to collaborate with the women and men in the campesino land movement in constructing solutions to create change.
To follow the coverage of these events and join in the discussion go to the ESCRIBANA blog at: https://escribanas.wordpress.com and http://escribanas.facebook.com. For more information write to Margie Thompson at: firstname.lastname@example.org or María Suárez Toro at email@example.com.
For more information about the Women’s Forum for Life go to: http://www.mioaguan.blogspot.com/