How Honduras’s Military Coup Gave Birth to Feminist Resistance
This post is also available in: Spanish
I remember the coup d’état as if it were yesterday. I was at home, and a strange sound–like a knife scraping the sky–awoke me.
I was born in the time of dictators and coups (1975), but I don’t remember the stories they told me about those days, when the country woke up one morning to find itself occupied and the television and radio stations announced that the military had taken power (again). Even so, I felt an enormous, dull fear when I saw the warplanes circling above; doubtless, there is a historical, collective, subterranean memory that goes beyond what we have experienced as individuals.
Immediately, I turned on the television to see the news, to find out what was happening. I saw unbelievable images… the presidential palace taken by the army, the news that Mel Zelaya had been kidnapped and taken to Costa Rica, and that Roberto Micheletti, who was then president of the National Congress, had assumed the presidency. Fifteen minutes later the electricity went out and the broadcast of shocking events and images ended abruptly. At a loss for what to do, I called my feminist friends, asking: What do we do?
Mel Zelaya was not a hero for me, nor for many of us. The major newspapers in the country had fed us a steady stream of “information” about the corruption and political turmoil of his government. But they maliciously manipulated all the news about the advantages Honduras gained by joining ALBA (the Spanish acronym for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) in 2008, which allowed financial resources into the country through loans and donations and a substantial reduction in fuel prices. They ignored the significance to workers of Zelaya’s 60% increase in the minimum wage—up till then, one of the lowest in Central America , and said little about other actions on behalf of the impoverished majority of the country that pitted him against the great dinosaurs–the nation’s wealthy but powerful few.
When President Mel Zelaya formally introduced the referendum through the “fourth ballot box” (adding a box to the regularly scheduled elections to vote on whether or not to organize a constitutional assembly), some feminist and women’s organizations decided to support the proposal. Although initially the fourth ballot box referendum was viewed with much suspicion, Mel managed to garner increasing support from social movements, who saw in this project a historic opportunity for the recognition of their claims.
There was a precedent for the new alliance between a part of the feminist movement and the president on the fourth ballot box referendum: in April 2009 fundamentalist religious groups managed to get the Congress to pass a law forbidding the use and distribution of the Emergency Contraceptive Pills or ECP (the “morning-after pill”), which had been legal in the country since 1992. Feminists talked to the president and made a political pact and on May 19, Zelaya vetoed the bill to prohibit the ECP. One of the first things Congress did after the coup d’etat and ouster of the elected president was to pass a law to prohibit the use and distribution of the Emergency Contraceptive Pills.
But beyond all this, on June 28 we saw the imminent danger posed by the presence of the military in the streets and in the presidential palace, and we realized that we were returning to the era of coups, so feminists began gathering at the presidential mansion in the very early hours of the morning. We came from all over, our faces expressing shock and indignation. I remember that on that day one of the sisters brought a sign that said “Feminists in Resistance.” That was the first time we named ourselves. We were born there, amid the smoke of burning tires and the zing of flying bullets.
From the earliest days of the coup, feminist organizations and groups from the broader women’s movement met to discuss the situation in the country and to plan future actions. For the first time in a long time we managed to sit down and talk, and to discuss issues long neglected in our agenda.
Almost always after the marches we met–sometimes euphoric, happy with the energy and strength you get from being in the streets; other times scared and smelling of smoke and tear gas, with fear painted on our faces. This was a place to comfort each other, to embrace, to stand together, and it also was a place for political reflection and analysis of the country’s situation.
I can say that feminists were among the first social movements that attempted to reflect on and analyze what was happening. We tried to produce collective knowledge based on the experiences of the older members, and on the views and energy of the younger women. Throughout this process, colleagues from Central, South and North America accompanied us, joining our cause almost from the first days of the coup.
What We Have Done
At first, the urgent and immediate need to fight the military, to halt the repression and to demand a return to constitutional order was what motivated and guided us to join this fight. But from the beginning, we also understood it was time to put forward our own demands, to expand the boundaries of our feminist project. On the streets, you could see our colored banners painted with our dreams, with butterflies, women, flowers. The walls of Tegucigalpa and other cities began to fill with our graffiti. Our slogans–“No blows against democracy or against women” “If there is oppression, there will be revolution,” “Stop Femicide “, “No Guns Against Lesbians,” “Take Your Rosaries off my Ovaries” were heard in the marches, as we walked alongside thousands of other people of Honduras demanding peace, freedom, equality, democracy, justice.
We can’t deny that our proposals were often rejected within the Resistance Movement. In Honduras, as in many Latin American countries, the feminist movement emerged in the mid-eighties from a painful and radical break with the left and other social movements . Feminism, with its liberation project, tries to change power relations between the genders, which implies – and this is due to the divide between feminism and other social movements – the loss of some economic and political power for men. Prejudices and sexist and misogynistic mores of men in the Resistance (especially older ones) still exist. As happened in the seventies and eighties, we started being told that we should leave our demands “until later,” and that we should focus on what was more important at this time: fighting against the military and the dictatorship.
This has been the prevailing view within mixed social movements, but also in the broader women’s movement, which frequently reproduces the practices and discourses of these movements. Feminists have been accused all along of ignoring or addressing only tangentially the demands of the women’s movement, such as those related to economic rights, land rights, employment, housing, resources, etc. Added to this are power struggles, vertical relations, and the support roles that we have established as the norm among feminists and the “rest” of women who are organized. These have not allowed us to build alliances and a joint political project, to strengthen each other, to learn together.
From the beginning we made very clear that our demands were not negotiable, because they could not be put off and they were just as important as the others. This has been one of the consequences of the coup d’état for us. We have radicalized our discourse and our practices; we have lost our fear.
Before, we thought that some of our proposals, particularly those related to sexual and reproductive rights, should be treated and posited with care and caution. These had been rejected by society and the state. But with the coup, this changed. We realized that we could not wait any longer, that it was time to fight for everything we believed in.
We are at a crucial moment in the history of our feminist movement. It is a time to break down old barriers, to seek new forms of communication that are more constructive and egalitarian, and to expand the possibilities of our feminist project. We know that we will find resistances within the Resistance, but it is a time when all of Honduras is changing, when we must recognize the important crossroads our society is at and seize the opportunities before us.
The evidence is clear: during these hard times, we have opened up the broader women’s movement and other social movements to our proposals, feminists have gained greater representation and voice within the Resistance, consciousness raising is happening within the National Front of Popular Resistance, among other changes.
This dialogue should also be open to feminists and social movements from other countries. This has led to the need to analyze ourselves in a broader context, to tell the story of how our experience and work relates to global changes and recent political trends. The coup shook us up, made us conceive ourselves anew, and redirected our work. It made us look to the American continent as a whole, towards what was happening in other countries.
Feminists in Defense of Human Rights
One of our fundamental tasks since the coup has been to collect information on violations of human rights in the context of the repression unleashed by the coup, especially against women.
Reports from the different human rights organizations show that repression has left 86 people assassinated , although it is estimated that the number could be much higher. Between 4,000-6,000 people have been illegally detained following demonstrations or during the curfews imposed on the population by the de facto regime. At least 222 members of the Resistance have or have had political trials, accused of crimes including terrorism, sedition and property damage. Thousands of men and women have suffered threats, harassment and persecution and even lost their jobs for applying the law, such as the firing this past May of three judges, a magistrate and a public defender. Freedom of expression also has been violated during the coup, through the extreme violence employed by the military and police forces against resistance members that left thousands of people wounded during or after demonstrations, the assassination of opposition journalists and the blockage or closure of radio programs of the Resistance.
In the report “Violations of the Human Rights of Women Following the Coup d’Etat in Honduras”, we documented the assassination of seven women of the Resistance for political reasons, and 20 members of the LGTTB community in the context of the curfews, which were decrees by the regime that prohibited freedom of circulation and assembly, among other rights.. The lack of public safety that characterizes the period following the coup has also translated into an increase in femicides in the country—in 2009 there were 212 cases reported, far above the numbers reported in previous years..
Repression against women has been explicitly gender and sex-based, in a clear show of discrimination and lack of respect for the bodies and the physical integrity of women. Also we have been able to prove that as women begin to play a more prominent role in the resistance movement, the political violence against us increases as if to punish us for being women and exercising our right to protest. Without a doubt, the violence unleashed against women is an expression of misogynist hatred toward women that in the context of war like we have now make women’s bodies a battlefield. At least twelve women of the Resistance have been victims of sexual abuse committed by one or more police agents or soldiers. Two of every ten women denounced having received sexual aggressions during or after protests..
We presented this report to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission in November of 2009, allowing us to inform the international community of the dire situation of human rights violations being committed against women in Honduras. We have also written and distributed bulletins on conditions in the country and specifically of women since the coup, and communiqués and international alerts.
Feminists participate in actions to defend and promote human rights and denounce abuses, such as the Lawyers Front Against the Coup d’Etat and the Human Rights Platform of Honduras. Along with these organizations, we have documented and presented grievances before the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office, although these institutions have been complicit in the violations of our rights and the impunity that has prevailed in Honduras since June 28.
In coordinations with other institutions, we presented 42 complaints before the Attorney General’s office for violations of human rights, 43 injunctions, 26 writs of habeas corpus, and ten challenges of unconstitutionality on Nov. 25. As of this writing, not one of these legal recourses has been processed –all have either not been received or the corresponding investigation was never done. This fact alone reveals the utter lack of legal defenses of those who have suffered violations of their human rights. In contrast, we have seen how the justice system acts with unusual speed in approving amnesties, laws and decrees to protect the perpetrators of the coup.
I have to admit that for many of us, the words “human rights” have a new meaning now. Before the coup, we tended to identify the term with the lukewarm position of some international organizations, that often it was a phrase thrown into speeches but in practice no real efforts were made to oblige governments to respect and comply with human rights.
But during these days of so much darkness and fear, “human rights” have been our work tool. They form part of the common language that has helped us transcend borders and made it possible for what happened in Honduras to become known throughout the world.
Since the coup, the words “democracy” and “citizenship” have also taken on new meaning. Attaining full and active citizenship for women has always been part of our demands. But the history of violent politics, coups and militarism (in the twentieth century, Honduras experienced seven coups and over 40 years of military dictatorships) made many of us willing to settle for the democracy we had–holding elections that were more or less free every four years and having achieved approval of a law that guarantees 30% participation of women in elected posts. We were aware of the limitations of our democracy and of our political system, but somehow that became the measure of our aspirations. This also changed with the coup d’etat and we began to rethink the meaning of democracy.
Now its clear to us that we have a political and business class, supported by the international right and groups of power from around the hemisphere, that will do anything in its power to block social change or any attempt to transform the social and power structures that make Honduras one of the poorest nations on the continent. All that has happened has shown us the fragility of our democracy, the need to work more actively for a new political system where social movements have a voice and vote, representation and quotas of power…
What We Want
Although within the Resistance we are clear about our objectives, there are still many questions pending. How are we going to stop the assassinations and violations of human rights? How can we make our movement, born in the spontaneity of the struggle, sustainable in the long term? How can we attain greater cohesion and unity within the National Front for Popular Resistance–the platform that arose after the coup that brings together all the movements and organizations?
Keeping in mind the current conditions, it is hard to predict the future of the country. Repression and State terrorism continue and according to one of the latest reports published in the country, since Pepe Lobo took power, 707 cases of violations of human rights have been filed, 53 illegal detentions took place, and 23 barrios and neighborhoods considered as part of the Resistance have been the targets of raids by security forces. Twenty-eight members of the Resistance have been murdered in four months of government. 
Resistance leaders receive threats and attacks; many have had to change cities or flee the country to save their lives.
Right now, the strategies of the resistance are: 1) to strengthen the movement, 2) carry out the National Constitutional Assembly, 3) draft propsals for building a new State and new forms of political participation and 4) construction of more inclusive and representative citizenship.
In this process, feminists are pressuring to reform the contitutional articles and the texts of other laws and codes to include the principle of equality and equity between genders as the fundamental ethical and political basis of the rule of law. We’re fighting to rediscover the State, for the abolition of the army and for separation of church and State. We are also calling to reestablish the National Institute of Women, which after the coup has allied with the most conservative sectors of the country, turning back hard-fought gains in our human rights.
We’re fighting for new forms of political participation, where women have access to public offices and are part of the political processes to change the country. We demand that government budgets reflect a gender perspective so that all programs and projects take into account a fair distribution of resources for women.
The recognition and free exercise of our sexual and reproductive rights as women has today more than ever become the center of our battles. We propose and fight for the right to free choice and voluntary maternity, the legal interruption of pregnancy, sexual diversity and the repeal of laws that prohibit the use and distribution of emergency contraceptive pills. We demand that the State lead reforms in educational curricula and study plans in schools, colleges and universities to institute courses in the human rights of women, especially those related to the right to a life without violence, and the sexual and reproductive rights of women.
We say ‘No more!’ to violence against women. We demand that in the new State that we want, public policies and government programs are implemented that take effective measures to stop femicides and to sanction violence against women and girls in all its manifestations.
These are our struggles. “Women are luminous and burning stars when we smell oppression”, as the Honduran poet Blanca Guifarro says. Feminists in Resistance was born on June 28, the day of the terrible military coup. Day after day we have been in the streets marching alongside the rest of the Honduran people who said NO MORE to the injustices committed.
We know that the path ahead will be long that we still have a long, tough road ahead, but in our quest for justice we are guided by the conviction that we can build a different world, a different country, where women have the place they deserve.
Adelay Carias, Honduran feminist, researcher and writer, member of Feminists in Resistance and contributor to the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org
Translation by Annette Ramos and Laura Carlsen
 Jose Antonio Cordero. Honduras, desempeño económico reciente. Center for Economics and Policy Research. Washington D.C. Noviembre 2009.
 Sobre la historia del movimiento feminista en Honduras, se puede consultar a Rina Villars. Para la casa más que para el mundo: Sufragismo y Feminismo en la Historia de Honduras. (Honduras: Editorial Guaymuras, 2001).
 Este dato se obtuvo de información proporcionada por organizaciones defensoras de derechos humanos, como el Comité de Familiares y Desaparecidos de Honduras, COFADEH, del Centro de Prevención y Tratamiento de la Tortura (CPTRT), del Centro de Información y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, CIPRODEH, de las Feministas en Resistencia; de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH, y Amnistía Internacional, entre otros; y denuncias realizadas a través de medios electrónicos, como www.voselsoberano.com, y www.defensoresenlinea.com. Sin embargo, hay que tener en cuenta que según los registros del COFADEH, que es la organización que ha hecho un trabajo de sistematización más completo, se han producido 47 asesinatos desde el golpe de estado. Para más detalles ver Comité de Familiares y Desaparecidos de Honduras, COFADEH. Informe Situación de Derechos Humanos en Honduras. III y IV Informe del COFADEH en el marco del golpe de estado. Tegucigalpa, Honduras, octubre 2009-Enero 2010; y Comunicado del COFADEH, “Suman 707 agresiones a derechos humanos por causas políticas tras 4 meses del régimen”, del 3 de junio del 2010, publicado en www.voselsoberano.com.
 Idem anterior.
 Red Lésbica Cattrachas. Asesinatos en el marco del golpe de estado de la comunidad LGTTBI Honduras. Tegucigalpa, 27 de enero del 2010.
 Centro de Estudio de la Mujer, CEM-H/Central America Woman Network, CAWN, Memoria Encuentro: Análisis y aportes jurídicos para la penalización del femicidio en Mesoamérica. Tegucigalpa, 2010.
 Feministas en Resistencia-Honduras. Violaciones a los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres después del Golpe de Estado. Tegucigalpa, 25 de noviembre del 2009.
 Según el informe anteriormente citado, la cifra de asesinatos políticos desde el 30 de enero hasta el 30 de junio es de 12 personas. Sin embargo, una lista elaborada de acuerdo con las noticias publicadas en diferentes diarios del país arroja un total de 28 asesinatos políticos.