Honduran indigenous women leading communities’ land-defense efforts

Intibuca department, Honduras, May 9 (EFE).- Lenca indigenous and peasant women in western Honduras are taking the lead in defending their lands, natural wealth and human rights amid threats from large construction and resource-extraction projects.

Gathered as members of the Lenca Indigenous Council of the Community of Lepaterique, dozens of these female representatives of historically neglected groups are striving to combat land dispossession and the potential disappearance of their communities.

“Large land holders have gradually been taking control of our lands since they burned down our houses on Nov. 30, 2012,” Mercedes Dominguez, a Lenca woman from Lepaterique, a community in the western department of Intibuca, told Efe.

These female activists have worked in concert since 2002 to acquire land titles and have battled since 2007 against landowners laying claim to a portion of their territories, a struggle that has led to legal, economic and security problems for the communities they represent.

Dominiguez said those large landowners are creating lots, selling lands and issuing deeds to disputed properties that encompass an area of roughly 104 hectares (257 acres).

The Lenca women, who are laying claim to ownership of at least 104 hectares of land in western Honduras that is the site of a dwarf forest, say the country’s authorities are failing to adhere to the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

“It’s been quite a big struggle,” Dominguez said, though also underscoring the support the women have received from a program funded by the European Union and executed by Plan Internacional Honduras.

In March, that humanitarian non-governmental organization concluded a three-year program in western and central Honduras to train land defenders.

Titled “Protecting the Land, Defending Life,” that initiative was aimed at training people to “better demand and promote their rights” and ultimately improve and transform their communities, program coordinator Carlos Cuadra told Efe.

The Council for the Integral Development of the Peasant Woman (Codimca), the National Association of Honduran Peasants (Anach) and Plan Internacional Honduras are working together to defend the rights of peasant and indigenous populations to their lands, Cuadra said.

Besides their struggle against land dispossession, indigenous and peasant women traditionally perform a range of other duties that include cooking and cleaning, gathering water and firewood, washing clothes and caring for their children, animals and plots of land, a reality that perpetuates cycles of poverty and violence.

Amid the clamor for more rights, a new “transcendental” project titled MOB (a Lenca word for woman) has been launched to promote gender equality and strengthen women’s capacities, the EU’s ambassador to Honduras, Jaume Segura, told Efe.

“We’re looking to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, recognizing their important role in the country’s economic, social and cultural development,” the European diplomat said.

The EU aims to enhance women’s political, economic and social participation within their communities and strengthen their ability to “make informed and autonomous decisions about their life and their future,” he added.

Europe also is committed to “supporting the struggle against poverty and inequality in Honduras,” said Segura, who added that peasant and Lenca women face “unique and significant” challenges. EFE


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