Millions of Hondurans turned out on Sunday to participate in the Central American country’s presidential election. The two frontrunners, conservative Juan Orlando Hernandez and ex-First Lady Xiomara Castro, have each declared themselves as the victors though the official vote tally has yet to indicate a clear winner.
The next president will have to face several major problems hurting Honduras including deep political divisions, crushing poverty and high levels of violence. In a country with the world's highest murder rate, women are especially vulnerable and this was shown in a report released earlier this month.
A woman is killed in Honduras an average of once every fourteen and a half hours according to the Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. The group concluded that 2851 women were killed in Honduras between 2005 and 2012 and there has been a steady increase in femicides over the past eight years. (175 women were killed in 2005 while 606 died last year).
The report did not provide figures for 2013 though the Observatory estimated that some 323 women died in the first six months of this year.
“Nationwide, violence against women and especially femicides make up a very alarming problem,” declared Violence Observatory director Migdonia Ayestas. She added, “As proof of this, 14.2 of every ten thousand Honduran women last year were murdered” compared to a 12.3 per ten thousand in 2011.
Violence has steadily worsened in Honduras, as the country has become an increasingly favored route for illegal drugs transported from South America to the U.S. and Canada. Hence, it’s unsurprising that the report noted that organized crime is indirectly behind some of the violence against women with roughly three in five killings attributed to “revenge and paid killings.”
“It isn’t the case that these women were directly involved in illicit activities but more relevantly is that the people they live with were linked to organized crime,” said Ayestas.
Further adding to this “alarming” problem is that a majority of the women targeted last year were aged between 15 and 31 while more than 1600 femicides between 2005 and 2012 involved firearms. Hence, the Observatory the group recommended reforming gun control laws including changing the current statute permitting adults to legally own up to five firearms.
In recent years the government has taken some steps to combat gender-based violence including the creation of Special Prosecutor for Women in 2008 and the approval this year of a law incorporating femicides into the penal code. Yet Honduran judge Ramón Enrique Barrios highlighted how a small proportion of crimes against women actually go to trial and an even smaller number end in convictions. He deemed the lack of proper investigation and impunity as the “major Achilles tendon of the Honduran judicial system.”
“Impunity means that someone who murders women in our country has a 70% chance of not being accused. The low levels of investigation is a huge fault in the Honduran judicial system though judges cannot be blamed since we cannot convict a defendant with insufficient evidence brought against them by prosecutors.”
He added “the prosecutors are weak since they do not properly investigate when there are cases of femicides.”Some Honduran women’s rights activists supported Castro, the wife of deposed leftist president Manuel Zelaya, as someone who they believe could turn around the “regression of all that we’ve gained in the past twenty years.” It remains to be seen, however, if either she or Hernandez will adequately help stem the tide of violence against Honduran women.
Video Source– YouTube via user contralosfemicidios (Video created by the Honduran National Campaign Against Femicide).
Online Sources - América Latina en Movimiento; GlobalPost; La Prensa; El Heraldo; BBC News