She promised to empower women. Will the president of Honduras succeed?

She came to power pledging to ease some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. But months into her term, ...


She came to power pledging to ease some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. But months into her term, rights groups say Honduras’s first female president, Xiomara Castro, is struggling to deliver on her promises, as attempts to empower women reignite bitter ideological divisions. from the country.

Ms Castro, 62, became the country’s first leftist candidate to win election in November on a promise to bring social equality after more than a century of almost uninterrupted conservative and military rule. She built a broad coalition of urban intelligentsia, small entrepreneurs, landless farmers, indigenous and black groups, LGBTQ people and women who propelled her to a landslide victory against opponent of the ruling party.

In his campaign manifestoMs Castro said she would advance sex education, tackle gender-based violence, bring more women into the economy, legalize abortion in limited circumstances and reverse the ban on emergency contraceptive pills.

“The political agenda of women and feminists will be my priority” she says during his campaign in August.

Such slogans carried immense symbolism in a male-dominated society with the highest rate of murders of women and girls in Latin America, and where one in four women become pregnant before they reach the age of 19, according to the United Nations.

Now a sex abuse scandal is testing Ms Castro’s promises to bring lasting social change to women.

In March, students at the prestigious Zamorano University near the capital Tegucigalpa protested allegations that an undergraduate student raped two female classmates. Police briefly arrested the man, but released him and dropped the case after both women refused to testify.

Although the court case and protests quickly died down, they sparked a wider debate in Honduras over access to emergency contraception, as well as the role of religion in politics, exposing divisions in the within Mrs Castro’s fragile government coalition.

Feminist organizations and their political supporters have called on Ms Castro to keep her promise to legalize emergency contraception. Many Honduran activists who backed Castro’s candidacy have since joined her administration, increasing internal pressure to act.

“Now is the time to approve the PAE,” said Jorge Cálix, a prominent lawmaker in Ms. Castro’s party. wrote on Twitter on March 21 after the Zamorano protest, using the abbreviation commonly used for the emergency contraceptive pill in Honduras.

Honduras is currently the only country in the world known to have a blanket legal ban on emergency contraceptive pills, according to the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, a policy research group. It is also one of five Latin American countries that prohibit abortion in all circumstances.

Although banned, emergency contraceptive pills are sold openly in some pharmacies in Tegucigalpa for around $10 a dose. But women in poor and rural areas do not have access to it, according to women’s rights advocates.

Rights activists say the easing of the ban on emergency contraception has been delayed by Ms Castro’s socially conservative coalition party, pointing to the president’s challenge to hold together the various alliances that brought her to power.

So far, Ms. Castro has largely delegated the issue of emergency contraception to Dr. José Manuel Matheu, health minister and member of the center-right allied Savior of Honduras party. Dr Matheu said legalizing the pill is not his priorityadding in March that he consult the Catholic Church On the question.

Major Christian congregations in Honduras oppose the use of emergency contraception, arguing that the pill can terminate an established pregnancy.

In support of their case, they cite the label of Plan B One-Step, the best-known emergency contraception in the United States, which says it may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

However, scientific evidence does not support the idea that emergency contraceptive pills can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Instead, as the Plan B One-Step label indicates, the pills work primarily by preventing ovulation – the release of an egg before it can be fertilized by sperm.

Ms. Castro’s office, Dr. Matheu and the spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Honduras, the Reverend Juan Ángel López, did not respond or declined to comment for this story.

Rights groups have questioned Dr. Matheu’s decision to consult with the church, pointing out that Honduras is a secular state under the Constitution.

However, ignoring religious concerns about contraception would only stoke social tensions at a time when Ms Castro faces conservative interests in other areas of the economy and society, said Natalie Roque, minister for Honduran Human Rights, which helped draft the government’s progressive program.

Nine out of 10 Hondurans consider themselves Catholic or Evangelical Christians.

The government “is not currently in a position to open another front against such a powerful adversary as the church”, Ms Roque said, adding that legalizing the pill now “would only throw more fuel on the fire of joy”.

This sense of caution partly reflects the lasting impact of the military coup that ousted Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, from the presidency 14 years ago, cutting short the previous attempt to redistribute power in Honduras. .

As president, Zelaya thwarted a previous attempt by the country’s conservative-dominated Congress to ban emergency contraception, vetoing their proposal. A month later, in June 2008, the army arrested him from his residence and installed a conservative caretaker government which proceeded to ban in place.

Ms Castro is now struggling to balance the pressure for greater reproductive rights from civil society and feminist organizations against “the great power acquired by the church as a result of the coup”, said Joaquín Mejía, a Honduran human rights lawyer.

“I don’t think she can continue to ignore those pressures any longer,” he added.

The emergency contraception controversy comes as Argentina, Colombia and Mexico have expanded access to abortion in recent months, energizing abortion activists across Latin America and hardening the opposition in countries that continue to ban it.

Anti-abortion groups in Honduras say legalizing emergency contraception would pave the way for legalizing clinical abortion in the future.

“Anything legalized in developed countries should not be imitated,” said Michelle Zacapa, president of Honduras’ largest anti-abortion group, Pro Vida. “A Honduran loves life and opposes all these ideologies that are imposed on us.”

Her organization did not provide any opinion polls to support its positions, but it said sexual abuse should be tackled with tougher penalties for perpetrators, not emergency contraception.

Periodic opinion polls Commissioned by the Center for Women’s Rights, which supports emergency contraception and abortion, show that a slight majority of urban Hondurans support emergency contraception, as well as abortion in cases where a pregnancy threatens health of the woman.

Feminist activists and Ms Castro’s advisers have said the president remains committed to women’s rights, but acknowledges she must tread carefully to avoid provoking the conservative forces that overthrew her husband.

The government’s advancement of women’s rights will be gradual, said Ms. Roque, Minister of Human Rights. The first step the government is considering would be to legalize emergency contraception for victims of sexual abuse and expand sex education before making it widely available at an unspecified later date, she said.

Since coming to power, Ms. Castro has encountered difficulties in other areas. She has struggled to revive an economy that has been devastated by the pandemic and recent hurricanes and is now suffering from rising food and fuel prices. In January, Ms Castro barely stopped a rebellion within his partyand in recent weeks her government decided to extradite her predecessor, Juan Orlando Hernández, to the United States to face drug-related charges, a move that threatens to create tension between her and segments of the forces. security of the country.

Despite the setbacks, some feminist supporters of Ms. Castro remain confident in her. Three people who met the president on March 8 said she seemed determined to push forward his gender policy, but was being held back by reluctance from more conservative sections of his coalition and bureaucracy.

“She is very aware of all the sexual violence that women experience,” said sexual health researcher Jinna Rosales. “She said that in a country with the first female president in its history, sexual and reproductive rights cannot continue to be trampled on.”

Anatoly Kurmanayev reported from Mexico, and Joan Suazo from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.



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Newsrust - US Top News: She promised to empower women. Will the president of Honduras succeed?
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