Women’s Equity, Respect and Dignity in Central America: An Interview with Yasmín López
Grassroots International celebrates the courageous work of frontline women defending the human rights of peasant and indigenous women around the world. One of these women is Yasmín López, a national coordinator for the Council for the Integral Development of the Peasant Woman (CODIMCA). A partner of Grassroots International, CODIMCA is the lead organization for the Women’s Regional Commission of La Vía Campesina–Central America, and one of the first peasant women-led organizations formed in Honduras with the explicit objective of reclaiming women’s land rights. Below is an excerpt of my interview with Yasmín.
What inspires you to work for women’s rights in Honduras?
It’s in my blood. My grandmother was one of the co-founders of CODIMCA. When I was a child, my grandma exposed me to her organizing work in rural communities. While I was with my grandmother fighting for the rights of rural women, in my home I was a victim of domestic violence. The strength and passion of my grandma, and the unjust and painful situation in my home made me think about my responsibility to stop violence against women and continue my grandma’s legacy in the struggle for the rights of rural women. I decided to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, and at the age of 15 became an “official” member of CODIMCA. My first responsibility was educating women about family planning. I’m now 28 and working in the national office!
What kind of work you are doing through CODIMCA and La Via Campesina (LVC)?
We have been educating, organizing and mobilizing the peasant and indigenous women around their economic, social and cultural rights, pushing toward an end to violence against women, and advocating for women’s rights to land, water and food sovereignty in Honduras. We are working together in the struggle to ensure land and other resources rights that will allow us to build better lives for our families – especially our children. According to recent research, just 8 percent of the two million rural women have legal titles to land in Honduras, mainly the result of inheritance received from their father or husband. It is extremely difficult for women to buy land. In addition, rural women rights are increasingly coming under attack from large developers attempting to buy or take over their land and territories for agribusiness or megaprojects such as dams and mining.
We have been working hard creating awareness about women’s rights in Honduras, raising the voice of rural women and demanding that the government recognize rural women’s human rights, and their contributions around food sovereignty and beyond. Peasant women, through CODIMCA and Vía Campesina-Women’s Regional Commission, have taken the driver’s seat to advocate and promote Integral Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty and Rural Development with Gender Equality, and other policies and initiatives at the local and national levels.
We presented a bill to Congress that would allow rural women access to credit as a means to alleviate poverty. Through this bill we are demanding the creation of a National Program for Solidarity Loans for Rural Women (CREDIMUJER). This program would grant loans to organized rural women—with or without land—that would finance investment projects and agricultural entrepreneurship, microbusiness and training. We hope that with the proposal of this bill, Congress will demonstrate accountability with regard to women’s economic rights and to resolve the agricultural crisis that the peasant population is experiencing, especially women, who make up 50 percent of the rural population.
In addition, we have been working with LVC organizations in Honduras to implement LVC gender policy. We have met with executive directors of LVC organizations to discuss the structure for gender equity, and the inclusion of LVC leadership in the policy implementation process. Our next step will be a monitoring process to evaluate the progress in each organization.
What is the condition of women in Honduras?
Constant struggle! Women—especially in the rural areas—are submerged in poverty and injustices and the State is ignoring the basic needs of rural women and denying women’s fundamental rights. When we identify ourselves as defenders of women’s rights or as part of the peasant movement in general, it’s like giving our bodies to the repressive oligarchy. It is not easy to be part of the movement in Honduras. The persecution, intimidation and terror against the defenders of human rights by mining, oil, hydroelectric and other multinational corporations is a practice supported by the State, military, police and the justice system.
What is the vision of the Women’s Regional Commission of La Vía Campesina-Central America to increase women’s political participation and advance women’s rights in Central America?
Our vision is to achieve women’s equity, respect and dignity! We rural women are discussing and developing strategic demands and alternatives to change the patriarchal system that oppresses us. To achieve our vision, along with other peasant organizations and social movements, we are creating the spaces to empower women through education, advocacy and mobilization, and providing training and tools around leadership development, political formation/education, sustainable ways to grow food and skills to diversify women’s incomes.
There is much more to do to reach our vision. We need to continue working hard to strengthen women’s power and political participation, and expand and strengthen our work with the base communities. Given the situation in which we live in Honduras, it is crucial to review our strategic plans and demands constantly. We must continue developing concrete actions, building the capacity of rural women, and strengthening advocacy efforts. Educated and empowered women recognize the importance of the fight and will have the skills and courage to keep up the struggle.
Could you share about the Global Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women in your region?
This campaign has been a tool to advocate for women rights in Honduras, and to advance women’s political power and participation, and to help us create more decision-making spaces for women. Through this campaign we have been doing actions, educational materials, mobilizations and generating women’s participation through forums, seminars, workshops and advocacy actions around Honduras. We had a certified course for women to become experts in different kinds of violence again women and how to educate other women to avoid and stop violence. The participants are replicating their knowledge and expertise in their communities. Also, understanding that ending violence against women is not just work for women, we have been doing workshops to educate men to understand and join this important work.
We have been making alliances to strengthen the global campaign to stop violence against women in Honduras and challenging the State for committing institutional violence against women by denying land and resources rights, credit and technical assistance among other human rights.
What is the connection between women’s political work and the protection of Mother Earth?
Women and Mother Earth are part of each other. For that reason we are in the forefront defending our land and water against mining, agribusiness and other megaprojects hurting our Mother Earth. We are on the frontlines in these struggles, and pushing forward food sovereignty for the sake of our families and Mother Earth. Furthermore, the severe impacts of climate change are affecting rural women. Due to the droughts and flooding, we have lost 70 percent of the food production in the countryside. Climate change has increased our domestic and food production work. Women are taking care of their family, growing the food, walking longer distances for water and in the frontline of the struggles. Rural women are doing miracles every day to provide food for their families and covering all their responsibilities. This is a big emotional burden in their lives.
Honduras is facing a food crisis as a result of climate change; the frequent violent evictions whereby the military police destroy family’s crops and homes; and the abandonment of State intervention in the peasant economy—instead prioritizing support for monocultures and agro export.
In order to heal our Mother Earth and grow healthy food for our families, we are educating at the local level to amplify agroecological practices such as, organic compost, natural pesticides, and protecting and multiplying our creole seeds. We are propelling in our communities the LVC Native Seeds Campaign, the Campaign Against Agrotoxics, and fighting against GMO’s.
What does International Women’s Day mean for you and the women in the movement?
International Women’s Day for us means struggle and resistance. This day is when we claim our rights, our life, our territory and our Mother Earth. We always plan big mobilizations and activities to raise our voices and advance our women’s rights agenda in Honduras.
Could you share some victories in your struggle and tell us what gives you hope for the future?
We have powerful peasant and indigenous women demanding and proposing real alternatives to achieve justice for rural women. I have witnessed the empowerment process. Some women were so shy that it was difficult for them just to stand up and say their names. Now these women stand up to demand their rights in front of everyone. That is a huge victory, showing the advance of our base organizational work.
The hope for the future is to continue seeing the fruits of the women’s efforts. The best legacy for my grandma and all the women in the struggle will be the implementation of Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty and Rural Development, with Gender Equality, passing CREDIMUJER, stopping the criminalization of women who defend their rights, and gaining equity, dignity and respect for all.
How has the movement changed your life?
I have much to thank the movement! The movement is my family, is my university. I remember, after a presentation of CREDIMUJER at a public hearing in the Congress, a deputy asked me: “Where did you graduate college?” I answered, the college of the peasant movement, which has taught me everything, made me grow in different dimensions of my life, made me mature, given me political power, and given women a voice that we didn’t have before. The movement taught me to be happy and share that joy with others despite the repression and discrimination that those within the movement have to face. Taught us to never stop fighting for what is right.
And finally, I’d like to thank Grassroots International and all the people that supported us during the attacks on the La Vía Campensina offices in Tegucigalpa. The solidarity makes us feel we are not alone in our struggles.