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Human Rights Council Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice1

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Tegucigalpa (14 November 2018) –During this official visit to Honduras which took place from 1 to 14 November 2018, the expert group’s delegation, comprised of Ivana Radačić and Alda Facio, held meetings in Tegucigalpa, La Esperanza, San Pedro Sula, El Progreso and La Ceiba. At the end of the mission, the experts shared their preliminary findings in the following statement:

We would like to extend our deep appreciation to the Government of Honduras for inviting us to undertake this official visit, its remarkable support in its preparation, as well as the excellent cooperation during the mission (we are grateful in particular to INAM and its focal point). We would also like to thank all our interlocutors - the public officials, hospital, school and prison professionals, women human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and academia, as well as the private sector, for all these fruitful exchanges. We are particularly grateful to the women’s human rights defenders, who have on many occasions travelled long hours to meet us. We also would like to thank the UNCT and the OHCHR in Honduras for their support.

Context

With a population of more than 9 million people2, Honduras is considered a middle-development country (ranking 132/188 in the Human Development Index)3. The country faces considerable challenges, with a poverty rate of 66%, the highest level of economic inequality in the continent and pandemic crime and violence, including an alarming rate of femicide4. Furthermore, Honduras suffers from an acute environmental vulnerability, being prone to hurricanes, floods and droughts. Since the coup in 2009, the country has been facing a governance crisis with fragile institutions. Widespread structural impunity, corruption and the militarisation of national security also affect prospects for ensuring a fully-fledged democratic governance and sustainable development. Moreover, some aspects of development policies, which include granting of concessions to extractive industries and energy companies, pose a risk to the livelihood and culture of indigenous, Garifuna and rural population and the threat to environment. Increased privatisation of public services has also increased the vulnerability of the most disadvantaged population, such as women living in poverty.

Today, the country is still marked by post-electoral polarization and social distrust. We carried out this visit at a moment of severe migration crisis, where, according to information received from the Government, more than 7,000 people (among them around 1,500 women and girls) left the country to flee from widespread violence, poverty and lack of economic opportunities. We hope that the Government undertakes the measures to support and protect returnees as well as address the root causes of migration. We also hope that Government security policies shift the focus from militarisation to human security. As stated by the Human Rights Committee, “the deployment of military forces to perform civil security duties should take place only under exceptional circumstances, be limited in time and be under strict civilian control”5.

Legal and Institutional Framework

We commend the efforts made by Honduras to strengthen its legal framework for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights. In particular, we welcome the fact that Honduras has ratified all core human rights instruments and has demonstrated a strong commitment to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms as shown by its engagement with Treaty Bodies, the UPR and its standing invitation to Special Procedures, with numerous visits from mandate holders undertaken in the past years. Honduras ratified CEDAW in 1983, with no reservations. However, we regret that the Government of Honduras has so far failed to ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW which would demonstrate the Government’s commitment to implementing CEDAW principles. Moreover, we encourage that the Government ratifies the relevant ILO Conventions.

The prohibition of discrimination including on the basis of sex is enshrined in the Honduran Constitution, which states (in Article 60): “All Hondurans are equal before the law. Any discrimination based on sex, race, class and any other that is harmful to human dignity is declared punishable”. In the recent years the Government has adopted a number of laws relevant for women’s rights and gender equality, including the Equality of Opportunity of Women Act, the Act on Wage Equality, the Act on Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice Workers, the Act on Responsible Maternity and Paternity, the Act for Protection of Earnings and Regularization of Informal Employment and the Act on Domestic Violence. It has also established electoral quotas to increase the political participation of women (Decree No. 54-2012), and has criminalised femicide (Decree No. 23-2013). We also welcome the adoption of numerous policies aimed at promoting women’s rights and gender equality, such as the Second plan for gender equality and equity (2010-2022); the National plan against violence against women (2014-2022); the Policy and national action plan against commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in persons (2016-2022).

However, the solid legal and political framework is not systematically implemented in practice and there is a need for a better coordination between the relevant actors. Furthermore, there is still room for the improvement of laws and policies, for example on political participation (as will be detailed below). We have heard during our visit that several relevant draft laws are scheduled in Congress6. We express our hope that any deficiencies in proposals will be remedied7 and that they will be passed without undue delay. We also call on the Government to keep the legal framework under regular informed review to insure positive results for women.

The Government has created a solid institutional framework on women’s rights, although the machinery still does not receive sufficient budget8. We welcome the considerable efforts deployed by the National Institute for Women (INAM), which is responsible for the promotion and coordination of the implementation of the National Policy on Women and the integration of women in sustainable development. We particularly welcome the Ciudad Mujer initiative, which INAM has started in 2016, along with 14 other public agencies. The Ciudad Mujer provides for a network of services offered by 16 relevant agencies, in relation to the protection from violence, economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and community education focused on human rights. These comprehensive, integral services are provided free of charge to any woman who needs it, and child care is provided while women undertake services they need. We hope that this initiative, which we consider a good practice, will be implemented throughout Honduras, and given sufficient resources so that it can have the expected impact9. We also hope that INAM will be given enough resources to fulfil its mandate and will be supported by all the relevant ministries.

We are pleased that in 2017 the Ministry of Human Rights was created as an autonomous institution, which is undertaking significant efforts to secure mainstreaming of human rights standards. The Ministry is coordinating the Inter-Institutional Commission on Femicide, whose mandate was renewed in August 2018, as well as the Protection Mechanism on Human Rights Defenders and the Commission on Trafficking. This Ministry and its mechanisms also need to be strengthened to ensure the enforcement of human rights and gender equality in the country.

We also welcome the work done by the Commission on Human Rights (CONADEH), which has regional offices present in all departments of Honduras. We hope that in the near future the CONADEH will be able to comply with the requirements of the Paris Principles in particular with regard to its financial resources, cooperation with other entities, pluralism and independence, and retrieve its “A-Status”.

Political and Public Life

During the visit we have learned of improvement in the number of women in public offices, such as increase of the percentage of women in police force (from 3% to 19%) and judiciary (54% of all judges are women). We have also met with women in high position, including the Minister of Human Rights. However, women, particularly those from disadvantaged groups, remain significantly underrepresented in all areas of political and public life. According to the Inter Parlimentary Union, women constitute 21.9% of Congress. In 2017, there were 21,7% of women ministers, 7,4% of women mayors, 30,7% of women city counsellers10

In 2012, Decree 54 raised the women candidate quota to 40% for positions of authority and within parties, as well as candidates to popularly-elected positions. It established that the principle of parity (50% of women) will be applied beginning with the 2015 electoral period11. The parity pact signed by Honduran political parties indicates that ballots should alternate in displaying the names of women and men candidates. However, we regret to learn that recent regulations for implementation of these principles, which indicated that the names only had to alternate further down the list of candidates, actually resulted in women being listed a number of places below men. This likely contributed to decreased numbers of women in office. We encourage the Government to insure effective implementation of the law.

We have also been made aware of additional barriers to the participation of women in political life, such as the fact that women candidates for office are often discouraged from putting themselves forward by communities and partners, and that they have become targets of political violence. One of our interlocutors, for example mentioned 14 cases of violence against women during election and 44 after. We encourage the Government to undertake measures to prevent violence against women in politics and investigate all the cases. We hope that the draft law on violence against women in politics will soon be adopted.

Economic and Social Life

We note that the Government has been making efforts to enhance women’s economic empowerment and social inclusion, such as through the creation of the programme Vida Mejor and the adoption of the Rural Credit Law. We welcome the recent ratification by Honduras of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, having observed first-hand how poverty and inequality affect the everyday lives of women around the country. However, women participation in economic life it is still low. For example, female participation in the labour market is 47.2%compared to 84.4% for men12. According to the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP) 36% of women are self-employed.

Moreover, limited access to land and credit severely restricts women’s economic prospects and autonomy. According to information received, women wishing to set up their own businesses are often precluded from doing so because of the need for capital, or because they are unable to meet the regulatory requirements (some women do not even have bank accounts). The patchwork of economic and community development programmes available has apparently variable outcomes. Some programmes are dismissed by women as politicized and thus not effective in improving the situation of women living in poverty; others appear to be inaccessible, even to the communities to which they are targeted.

In addition to this, we have noted that workers in the maquila manufacturing sector—where labour rights violations have been widely reported13 —are predominantly women. This means it is women who are largely exposed to the work hazards of the sector, including repetitive physical tasks that, when carried out over an extended length of time, lead to physical strain and injury. In addition, in a country where violence against women is an ever-present reality, the compulsion to travel to and from work before and after a long shift places maquila workers’ personal security at risk. We have heard that the pressure under which workers are asked to perform causes mental distress and that the regular granting of temporary contracts for this type of work prevents women in the sector from enjoying the same legal protections and social benefits as other workers. At the same time, rural women’s travel to urban areas in order to perform this work can cut them off from extended family networks and other forms of social support.

We are also concerned about the rights of women carrying out domestic work, who reportedly receive low pay for similarly long hours of work and often face bad working and living conditions. The nature of domestic work—which is carried out in personal, rather than public spaces—renders domestic workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In this respect, we take note of a pending domestic workers’ bill, which seeks to provide greater protection to domestic workers. However, we are concerned that this draft law falls short in some respects, as it fails to expressly stipulate a minimum wage, provisions for social security. In light of this information, we recommend reforms in legislation that would fill in the gaps in protection for maquila and domestic workers, and for consistent enforcement of applicable labour law. We would further call on private sector actors to supplement the social protection available to women workers, including through the provision of adequate childcare and health insurance to their employees.

Education

While girls’ progress and completion of education rates are slightly higher than that of boys14, girls face significant obstacles in accessing quality education. First of all, due to education related costs (which apparently vary), access to education is restricted in a country where most of population live in poverty. Moreover, education sector has also increasingly been privatised, and the closure or inaccessibility of public educational institutions limits access to education for rural women and women living in poverty. We were told by interlocutors that there are no school buildings in certain areas, while in others there is only one or two teachers for all the grades. We call on the Government to secure accessibility of education for all girls.

We also encourage the Government to take steps to improve the quality of education and insure gender and cultural sensitivity in the curricula and school environment as well as human rights education. While there are certain civic education programmes, the teachers themselves proposed more comprehensive programmes on gender equality in schools. Other interlocutors, such as police, expressed the view that gender sensitising needs to start in the school. We concur with this and call on the Government to integrate the topic of gender equality, stereotypes and violence against women in curriculum and secure safe and respective environment for girls in the schools, free from military or religious influence (in public schools). We also call on the Government to secure comprehensive sexuality education. We further call on the Government to ensure that pregnant girls can remain in school, as we have heard that some pregnant girls have encountered problems. In addition, we are concerned about the security of girls in relation to going to and from school. Many parents reportedly hesitate to send daughters of a certain age to school to protect them from violence, particularly around the mining areas.

Health

We have taken positive note of reports that the Government has established a Commission to examine gaps in the health care system, which most certainly affect women. Access to health care varies for women around the country, with women living in poverty and rural women having less access than others. In rural areas, we heard that hospitals were too far away, of poor quality or lacking in terms of medications. The privatisation of health services has reduced its availability to many women. Further, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women (LBTI) women, sex workers/women in prostitution and women living with HIV have reportedly less access to quality health care due to stigmatization and discriminatory attitudes about their identities or health status. Women have reported severe cases of discrimination of women living with HIV in health sector, in the forms of forced sterilisation. We have also heard that this applies to women with disabilities, whose health needs are not sufficiently addressed.

We must echo our colleagues from the CEDAW Committee, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Special Procedures system who have raised concerns about the fact that the sexual and reproductive rights of women are particularly constrained in the country. Honduras is one of only six states in the world that prohibits abortion in all circumstances, including in cases of rape or incest, where there are threats to the life and/or health of pregnant women and severe foetal impairment. The use, sale, distribution and purchase of emergency contraception is also prohibited according to the Congressional Decree No.54-2009 and the Secretary of Health Agreement and carries the same penalties as abortion itself. As shown by WHO data, restrictive laws on abortion affect the rate of mortality and morbidity due to unsafe abortions, while they are not efficient in reducing the rate of abortion15. Indeed, given 129 deaths of women per 100,000 live births16, maternal mortality and morbidity is very high in Honduras.

Many interlocutors pointed also to the lack of accessibility of contraception, particularly in the rural areas, which, together with the prohibition of emergency contraception, contributes to a high rate of unwanted pregnancy, including teenage pregnancy17. We have learnt from our interlocutors that many of these pregnancies are results of crimes of rape and incest. It is unfortunate that proposed protocols and amendments to the law which would have enabled exceptions to the absolute bans on abortion and emergency contraception—and which could take into account the needs of victims of sexual violence, including child victims—have not been put in place. Further, the blanket criminalisation of abortion and the obligation of medical professionals to report cases of women whose injuries appear related to unsafe abortions have put women in prison. Moreover, these denunciations by medical professionals may dissuade women who are miscarrying or suffering complications from abortion from seeking necessary medical attention, thereby putting their lives in danger. Criminalisation of women for abortion is against international human rights standards and we urge the Government to review its legislation on abortion and emergency contraception to bring it in line with the international standards.

We have listened intently to and acknowledge the State’s wishes to reduce maternal mortality in Honduras. This wish appears to be the motivation behind a public health campaign that seeks to persuade expecting mothers to give birth inside hospitals. However, we have heard numerous reports that women are being forced to have institutional births against their will and that the failure to do so results in fines. We have heard that the midwives who deliver babies in the community are threatened with fines or prison. This is problematic because it does not take as a starting point the wishes of the expecting mother and shows a lack of cultural sensitivity.

In addition, it does not account for other structural factors that prevent women from visiting the hospital, including transportation costs that are often prohibitive for women living in poverty and rural women. In light of this, we encourage the Government to consider ways to work together with midwives and women in communities in order to develop a common, culturally sensitive approach for the reduction of maternal mortality.

Furthermore, given the overall context for women’s health in Honduras, we recommend expansion of public, rural health services, the development of a comprehensive sex education programme that is consistently carried out in schools and increased access to sexual and reproductive health care, as well as investments in forensic medicine and aftercare.

Family and Cultural Life

Like most countries in the region, patriarchal patterns of behaviour, attitudes, expectations, beliefs and practices discriminating against and denigrating girls and women remain widespread. It was emphasised by many interlocutors, including Government officials (both male and female), that there is a machismo culture in this country. Patriarchal attitudes in Honduras perpetuate domestic violence and other forms of violence committed outside the home. This sense of supremacy of men over women also tends to limit the ability of women to participate in political and economic life, as well as a more equalitarian family environment. Deep-rooted patriarchal norms impose on men the role of family bread-winners while women are expected do the housework, raise the children and look after any other dependents. Even the Government programmes (such as those aimed at helping the families or training programmes for women in prison) sometimes reflect gender stereotypes or focus primarily on their role in the family.

Existing legislation and policies on the work-life balance should be improved. Above all, a sustainable awareness-raising strategy must be developed to make responsibility-sharing between men and women a reality in terms of child-rearing, housework and caring for other adult dependants, enabling all to benefit from personal and professional development. In this respect, we command the existence of the training programmes for women and women’s recruitment in construction and public work, undertaken by the gender unit in the Office of Infrastructure and Public Services (INSEP). We encourage more initiatives to provide jobs for women and break down stereotypes. We also call on the Government to undertake efforts to address men’s attitudes and behaviours.

In addition to the entrenched patriarchal culture, family life and women’s reproductive health are highly conditioned by a conservative society, influenced by both the catholic and evangelical church. We learned from various interlocutors that both the catholic and evangelical church have significant influence over political decision-making bodies and public opinion, including in the discussion of the decriminalization of abortion in three circumstances, lifting the prohibition on emergency contraception.

The media plays a key role in forming attitudes towards women and perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes, reinforcing gender inequality. Television channels and advertising in general continue to reinforce sexist gender stereotypes, as was pointed by many interlocutors. The “sensational” cases tend to receive excessive media coverage on the expense of women being portrayed positively and even increase the risk of being revictimized.

Administration of Justice and Access to Justice

Inequality between men and women exists in all sectors of society and the justice sector is no different. We acknowledge that Government has adopted multiple initiatives to improve access to justice and accountability for discrimination and violence against women. These improvements include: the upgrade of the Ministry for Human Rights headed by a committed woman; the set-up of ten Special Prosecutors’ Offices, including one for Human Rights with a special section devoted to human rights defenders; the doubling of the number of prosecutors and of the budget of the Attorney General’s Office; a vetting process that led to the dismissal of 4,925 police officers allegedly linked to misconduct and corruption; a new competitive selection process for the selection of judges; new courts in rural areas and the reduction of delays in judicial proceedings. Moreover, efforts were undertaken to modernize the administration of justice, including the installation of a Gender Unit within the Supreme Court, the commendable lowering of a long-lasting backlog of cases, trainings and sensitization for court personnel on gender and reforms to criminal and civil procedures.

However, we noted persistent failings concerning women’s access to justice, which is essential for the realization of all their rights and is a fundamental element of the rule of law and good governance, together with the independence, impartiality, integrity and credibility of the judiciary, the fight against impunity and corruption, and the equal participation of women in the judiciary and other law implementation mechanisms.

Many of the elements of the right to access to justice18 are not guaranteed to most women in Honduras. We observed that the justice system, including the courts and other institutions, does not offer realistic solutions for the barriers women face in accessing justice. These obstacles occur in a structural context of discrimination and inequality, due to factors such as gender stereotyping, discriminatory laws, intersecting or compounded discrimination, procedural and evidentiary requirements and practices, and a failure to systematically ensure that judicial mechanisms are physically, economically, socially and culturally accessible to all women. Furthermore, obtaining effective legal solutions requires costly legal representation, which most women in Honduras cannot afford. Although some civil society organizations and legal clinics at the public universities offer free legal assistance, they cannot cover the legal needs of most women. According to the testimonies heard and information received, factors such as socioeconomic status, residence in rural areas, ethnicity and age strongly influence women’s real possibilities of accessing effective legal remedies. During our visit, we received multiple testimonies regarding the lack of access to justice by women facing intersecting forms of discrimination, all of whom decried the impunity for the high rate of femicides and other forms of gender-based violence and their profound lack of trust in the legal system, which was also acknowledged by some government and police officials. Machismo, misogyny and gender stereotypes coupled with the poverty or lack of financial independence of most women, increase the risks that women are exposed to and prevent them from fully exercising their right to access justice.

A number of interlocutors expressed a great dissatisfaction with the trial for Berta Cáceres murder, including the members of her family. We heard that the family has been denied access to reports and evidence during the investigation phase, which lasted more than two years and was marred by numerous irregularities, and that the lawyers representing the family were excluded from the trial without being given a legitimate reason. This trial is emblematic of the lack of transparency and unfair legal processes faced by women’s human rights defenders, which is of great concern to our Working Group. We urge the Government to take all the measures to secure justice for the family and ensure that the trial respects international standards. Any irregularities reflect badly on the judiciary which is already mistrusted for its lack of accountability in spite of the efforts of the Supreme Court and other institutions to improve access to justice for women. Moreover, impunity for killings and other crimes committed against women fuel further violence against them.

Violence against Women

Violence against women is rampant in the country, fuelled by inequality, insecurity and impunity, and the lack of opportunities. The permissive regulation on possession of fire arms also contributes to the problem: in 2017, 62% of femicides were committed with the use of fire arms19. The forms of violence include exploitation, psychological, physical and sexual violence, trafficking and femicide, while the perpetrators include partners, family and community members, as well as other private actors and state agents. Certain groups of women, such as women human rights defenders, LBT women, sex workers/women in prostitution, and young girls, are particularly vulnerable. According to our interlocutors, there has been a rise in the brutality of violence, as well as the cases of disappearances of women. Violence has been one of the root causes of migration of women.

Domestic and sexual violence are among the most reported crimes in the country, and the rate of femicide is very high. According to the data from the Observatory on violence, 5,837 women were murdered from 2002 to 201720. While from 2014 to 2017 there have been 1,944 registered cases of femicide, only 33 have been tried in that period21. The conviction rate has been very low22. Indeed, according to our interlocutors, 95% of femicides go unpunished. Moreover, our NGO interlocutors were concerned with the fact that crimes are often attributed to maras, even though such murders constitute a small amount of the overall number of femicides. It appears that in such cases even less investigative efforts are taken.

This impunity is symptomatic of a pattern of structural discrimination against women. While the problem of impunity was obvious for all our interlocutors, criminal justice officials mostly saw that this was due to victims often withdrawing the complaints. Measures should be taken to insure victims’ trust in the system and enhance their security, as well as sensitise the personnel about the reasons why women might withdraw the complaints. Moreover, gaps in the criminal justice system should be investigated. According to international human rights standards, the state is not absolved from the obligation to investigate serious incidents of violence because the victim withdraws the complaint: investigative efforts must be focused on all relevant evidence.

We note that the Government has undertaken some measures to reduce impunity for violence against women. The Domestic Violence Law, which regulates intimate partner violence against women (when acts do not constitute criminal offences) was reformed in 2006. It provides for a range of security, protection and precautionary measures, as well as procedural rights for the victim, which is to be commended. The Criminal Code criminalizes inter-familiar violence, femicide and sexual crimes.

We are concerned that there might be a lack of clarity in the legislative framework on violence against women which can result in cases of a criminal nature being subject just to civil jurisdiction. Our interlocutors from the relevant state agencies placed a significant emphasis on the preventative function of the Domestic Violence Law, but, in our view, it is questionable whether civil law, which provides community service as a sanction, indeed fulfils this function. Moreover, 24-hour detention periods provided as a measure under this law might be insufficient for protecting victims and preventing violence, as noted by one of the police officers we spoke to. We have also heard of delays in the conduct of legal proceedings which also weaken deterrence and jeopardize the protection of the victims. Moreover, we learnt that there is a problem of implementation of the security measures. We hope that all serious acts of gender-based violence are indeed treated as criminal offences, and recommend an integrated, comprehensive approach to violence against women which reflects the seriousness of the problem. Moreover, according to international human rights standards, protective orders should be available to all victims, regardless of how the act of violence is classified, and independent of any other legal proceedings.

A number of interlocutors also pointed to problems of interpreting the definition of femicide in practice (and we have witnessed different interpretations during our visit), which may reduce the number of charges brought for the crime. Concern was also expressed by NGOs about the insufficient services for children of femicide victims. Moreover, NGOs raised concerns about the lowering of sentences for sexual crimes. We encourage the Government to address these issues.

We commend the Government for establishing a specialized unit for women within the prosecutor’s office and units within police and specialized courts on domestic violence, as well as for undertaking trainings and campaigns on gender-based violence. However, according to information received during this mission, these units are not properly funded or staffed, and there are only three specialized courts in the whole country. We have heard that in some municipalities there is a lack of prosecutors in domestic violence cases (in which case public defenders represent both the perpetrator and the victim), as well as a shortage of judges to supervise the execution of measures. Moreover, some victims complained of insufficient coordination between the relevant authorities, which results in their being sent from one to another office. Concern was also expressed about the changes in the rotation of judges. We recommend that the Government secure sufficient human and financial resources and strengthen the specialised units and courts, improve the coordination among the relevant actors and secure further training of the relevant personnel. Also, greater efforts should be made at investigating disappearances of women. Moreover, the Government should continue with conducting awareness raising campaigns. Media should also be sensitised, as many of our interlocutors complained about disrespectful depictions of women (including victims of femicide), which can further fuel violence against women.

We are pleased that the mandate of the Inter-institutional Commission on Femicide has started in August 2018, but express concern about the lack of funding available to execute its work and hope that the mechanism will be strengthened. Our interlocutors expressed the need for better data collection, more investigators and an appropriate budget for CONADEH and the Ministry of Interior and we hope that these requirements will be fulfilled without any undue delay.

We are also concerned with a low number of shelters and their lack of resources, as observed during our visit. One of the shelters was actually closed during our visit due to inability to pay rent. We urge the Government to finance the shelters and services for victims and provide support to women who leave the shelters, as they often have nowhere to go.

Women Who Face Multiple Forms of Discrimination

During our visit, we had the pleasure of meeting with representatives of indigenous women, Garìfunas, Afro-descendant, peasant and rural women, transgender women, sex workers/women in prostitution and women living with HIV23. We are sincerely grateful for each and everyone’s testimony and we appreciate the time and efforts taken for those who travelled several hours from their communities in order to meet with us.

The main challenges facing the Indigenous women, Garìfuna women, rural women, as well as peasants are access to and control of land, as they make up only 4% of beneficiaries of a 30-year agrarian reform process and 22% of beneficiaries of the land title programme24. They also struggle with the lack of guarantee of economic and social rights—including in the context of development projects, and high rates of poverty. Rural women and women belonging to indigenous communities have routinely recounted their frustration about the absence or inadequacy of consultations undertaken by the Government before the undertaking of large-scale development projects and the granting of concessions to international corporations. For many indigenous women and women of African descent, their land, livelihoods and traditional way of life remain under acute threat by these activities. They often result in the displacement of the Garifunas and the indigenous population as well as denial of access to natural resources.

Moreover, there does not seem to be any data disaggregated by ethnicity25 in health and education. Without clear data on adolescent pregnancy in smaller communities, school dropout or sexual abuse, it becomes difficult to address any potential social problems. Contraceptives are inaccessible to most women in the area. Sincere efforts to guarantee the access to health of everyone, including those living in remote areas, are needed.

Transgender women, sex workers/women in prostitution and women living with HIV also face discrimination in access to health and other services, as well as employment. Moreover, there is a high rate of violence against transgender women and sex workers/women in prostitution. We hope that legislation securing their rights will be adopted and we commend the efforts of CONADEH in this respect.



Women in Prisons

According to information received, the number of incarcerated adults had reached 20,583, which includes 1,240 women. While the overall percentage of inmates in pre-trial detention decreased (from 58% to 53%), it grew (from 63% to 68%) among the female population. This indicates that more charges are brought against women for crimes that automatically include pre-trial detentions. Pursuant to IACHR Resolution 1/08, Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, preventive deprivation of liberty shall be applied only within the strictly necessary limits. When it lasts for an excessive period of time, it runs the risk of inverting the presumption of innocence, turning a precautionary measure into an advance sentence.

Honduran law provides that children of female prisoners have the right to be cared for by their mothers inside the prison during their first two years of life. To this end, a court resolution can extend the age that incarcerated mothers can care for their children for up to two additional years, when it is in the best interest of the child.

We visited a penitentiary for women in Tegucigalpa. During our visit to the only women´s prison in the country, the poor conditions of detention were obvious. They include serious overcrowding, including in the “home” where the children are placed with their mothers, substandard infrastructure, unsanitary conditions, insufficient programmes for income-generating training for their reintegration into society and poor medical care. We have also heard that inmates have to rely on food brought to them by their families for proper nutrition. Alternative sentences should be explored for crimes carrying short prison sentences and for incarcerated mothers of small children, as set by the Bangkok Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders.

Women going on or receiving conjugal visits are subjected to various invasive processes, including tests for HIV, and according to NGOs, forced contraception. The prerequisites for being granted conjugal visits often effectively prevent women from exercising this right. More stringent requirements for unmarried partners, coupled with the prohibition of same-sex marriage, has discriminatory effects on unmarried and LBT women prisoners.

Furthermore, we learned about a new set of rules of procedure for visiting people in prison adopted in 201726. Visitors need to obtain several documents and fulfil a lot of requirements to obtain a permit that only lasts for a few months and has to be renewed. These documents, which include certifications issued by Public Notaries, are costly, which affects disproportionally people living in poverty. We were informed that all the administrative work that needs to be completed by each visitor can amount to costing a person 3000 Lempira (124 USD) yearly. We call on the Government to simplify these procedures and apply international standards relating to women deprived of liberty.

Women Human Rights Defenders

Although Honduras has made efforts to establish an effective mechanism of protection for human rights defenders, there still seems to be little understanding of the specificities and needs of women human rights defenders and hurdles they face. All of the women we spoke to said they were not able to operate in a safe and enabling environment27.

They told us that they face numerous attacks and threats, as well as criminalization of their activities and lack of access to justice. Stigmatization by officials, and also by their own organizations, families, communities and the media, not only disempowers them but also exposes them to heightened risks. They face smear campaigns aimed at discrediting their work, often being identified as being anti-development of Honduras, ‘unnatural’ mothers and wives or even criminals. One defender told us how not only had she been criminalized, attacked by members of her own community, but has been constantly harassed and insulted by members of her family for being a bad mother. With great passion she told us how even if she is riddled with pain and guilt, she is defending her land, which is being taken by an agrobusiness, precisely because she is worried that her children will not have a future in her region; she thinks this makes her a good mother.

We also received testimonies of women human rights defenders facing legal actions for defamation and slander, as well as the threat thereof.Others have reported that their organizations are subjected to unreasonable tax supervision and registration requirements. We are also told that women who are more vocal are at risk of harsher treatment, including excessive use of force and even murder.

Conclusion

The State of Honduras has shown efforts to improve the situation of women in the country, and has instituted measures on legislative, policy and institutional levels. A number of laws and policies were adopted and a solid institutional framework set up. We met a number of committed individuals, both at the central government and local levels. We were particularly impressed by the Ciudad Mujer initiative, which we hope will be further supported by all necessary resources as well as developed across the country.

Despite these efforts, gender inequality still persists; violations of women’s rights are widespread. Women are under-represented in political and economic spheres, girls face significant barriers to quality education (including sexuality education) and there are many obstacles for access to quality and comprehensive health care. In particular, access to sexual and reproductive health is very restrictive, Honduras prohibiting abortion in all circumstances, as well as emergency contraception. Violence against women is rampant, and the country has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, while impunity is widespread and women face obstacles to access justice. Certain categories of women are in particularly disadvantageous positions, such as women of ethnic minorities and indigenous women, LBTI women, rural women, women living in poverty. Women in prison also face poor conditions and women human rights defenders are subjected to criminalization, violence, stigmatisation and intimidation.

While the Government has shown the will to address these issues, we urge it to strengthen the efforts to secure gender equality and women’s rights and ensure that measurable results are achieved (such as a decrease in teenage pregnancy and violence against women). Measures should be taken to increase women’s participation in public and political life and further their economic empowerment, as well as to secure their access to health and education, including sexuality education. Risks faced by women in vulnerable situations should be addressed, access to justice improved and impunity for violence against women eliminated. The legal framework should be reviewed in light of the deficiencies mentioned above and the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and relevant ILO conventions ratified. Institutions responsible for ensuring gender equality should be further strengthened, and sufficient financial and human resources allocated to them.

Our conclusions and recommendations will be more fully developed in a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2019.

END

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts. 

Notes:

1. Please note that this mechanism has been established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2010 and is different and complementary to CEDAW Committee (see information at the end of this document)

2. http://www.hn.undp.org/

3. http://www.hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2018_human_development_statistical_update.pdf

4. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/honduras

5. Concluding observations on Honduras, 2018, A/HRC/37/3/Add.2., §19

6. For example, draft laws regulating domestic work, agrarian reform, violence against women in politics, transgender peoples’ rights, sex workers’ rights, shelter houses for victims of violence against women, comprehensive law on violence against women.

7. Out interlocutors notified us, for example, that the Law on Domestic Workers does not contain a provision on minimum wage or mandatory social protection.

8. According to our interlocutors, only 1.17% of the total budget is allocated to programmes for women.

9. More resources (human, financial and material) are needed, in particular, from the Ministry of Health. Health services are the most sought one in Ciudad Mujeres.

10. http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

11. https://oig.cepal.org/en/countries/15/system (See also national report to UPR re: quota).

12. http://hdr.undp.org/sites/all/themes/hdr_theme/country-notes/HND.pdf

13. See, e.g., the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (A/HRC/29/27/Add.1) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/multimedia/2016/honduras/honduras-en.html), as well as concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/HND/CO/2) and Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (E/C.12/HND/CO/2).

14. http://uis.unesco.org/country/HN

15. WHO (2012). Safe abortion: Technical and policy guidance for health systems (2nd edition).

16. http://www.who.int/gho/maternal_health/countries/hnd.pdf.

17. The adolescent birth rate is 65 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19. www.hdr.undp.org/sites/all/themes/hdr_theme/country-notes/HND.pdf

18. According to General Recommendation 35 of the CEDAW Committee “The right to access to justice is multidimensional. It encompasses justiciability, availability, accessibility, good-quality and accountability of justice systems, and provision of remedies for victims.”

19. UNAH, Boletín especial sobre Muerte Violenta de Mujeres, www.iudpas.unah.edu.hn

20. Obervatorio de seguridada y violencia de las mujeres (2018), Femicidios: Monitoreo de fuentes officiales y medioes de comunicacion escrita, p. 3.

21. Id, at 8.

22. According to the CONEDAH annual report in 2017, 19 cases of femicides were presented before the courts, out of which four ended with a conviction, one was provisionally dismissed, and seven are being tried http://app.conadeh.hn/descarg, as/INFORME%20ANUAL%20COMPLETO%202017.pdf

23. We have not had an opportunitiy to meet with women with disabilities but have heard about some of the problems they face from other interlocutors.

24. Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Honduras, advanced unedited version distributed 19 March 2018 (A/HRC/37/3/Add.2), para. 10.

25. There are nine different ethnicities in this country, seven indigenous groups and two groups of African descents.

26. Regulation of Visits in the Establishments of the National Penitentiary System, National Penitentiary Institute Agreement Number 001-2016.

27. All the women we met are working to demand and protect women’s rights and promote gender equality in all areas for all women of all ages. Some are working to promote formal and informal education, including human rights education from a gender perspective as well as sexual education for women and girls, others are combating sexual harassment, violence and negative stereotypes; still others are organized around access to emergency contraception and safe and legal abortion; several are working against discrimination on grounds of sex, for the rights of lesbian and bisexual women as well as the rights of transwomen or for the rights of sex workers; many are working to protect the environment, their rivers and their livelihoods; others are working for better working conditions, especially for maquila and domestic workers, yet others are working to protect women from traffickers, still others are organising around the ratification of relevant international instruments. All of them are trying to end impunity and stop the many forms of violence and discrimination women face in Honduras.