In Honduras, where abortion is banned without exception, the feminist pro-choice association Somos Muchas is turning to the arts and social media to raise awareness about the importance of reproductive rights.
Abortion has been illegal in Honduras since 1985, but a January 28, 2021 constitutional amendment, declaring that “life begins at conception,” will make the path towards legalization much more difficult. The amendment would require a three-quarter supermajority of votes in congress to overturn – a bleak prospect considering that over two-thirds of senators voted to approve it.
Reproductive rights are of particular importance in Honduras. It is estimated that a woman or girl is sexually assaulted almost every three hours in the country. According to UNICEF data from 2018, Honduras has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Central America, at 103 per 1,000 adolescents. Additionally, 58% of respondents to a survey conducted by the organization Youth Action Honduras in 2020 reported not having access to any means of contraception.
Somos Muchas is an association of over twenty pro-choice organizations that came together in 2016 when Honduras’s congress was considering adapting a new criminal code. At the time, they hoped that the new code would allow for abortion in cases of rape or when it puts the mother’s life in danger. At present, their goal is to legalize abortion in three circumstances – endangerment of the mother, in cases of rape, and “when there are serious congenital malformations incompatible with life.”
A public opinion survey conducted in 2016 revealed that the majority of the population is in favor of legalizing abortion in exceptional cases. At the same time, the survey also found that only 8% of the population was in favor of abortion indiscriminately – that’s why Somos Muchas views it as important to raise awareness about abortion throughout society. One of their strategies is to ask people with large public platforms, like social media influencers, to talk about reproductive rights on their platforms. Neesa Median, the director of communications, told Latina Republic:
“Right now we are in the process of trying to maintain constant contact with voices that have large audiences – to find public-facing people with big influences, and ask them to speak about our movement – for example if they defend democracy, if they’re opposed to violence against women, or if they care about youth rights – we connect that with the right to choose.”
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Pictures from January 25, 2021, National Women’s Day in Honduras. A campaign to generate awareness by Somos Muchas – the text reads: “Do you have any doubts about abortion? Send us a question. #abortingmyths.”
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Pictures from January 25, 2021, National Women’s Day in Honduras. The text reads, “Together we will overthrow the patriarchy, we will continue fighting for all the women and girls of this country….”
Jinna Rosales is the director of Youth Action Honduras, one of the organizations allied with Somos Muchas. She believes that Honduras is “light years” away from Argentina – which legalized abortion up to fourteen weeks into pregnancy in December of last year, after failing to do so in 2018 – and agrees with Medina about the importance of raising awareness.
In November, Youth Action Honduras launched a campaign called Mujer Camino Lucha (Woman on the road to fight). The campaign brought together six popular (and primarily male) Honduran rock bands, each of which composed a song about women’s rights. Rosales explains:
“We know that each of these bands have their own audiences – their voices reach other people, and our idea was to take advantage of their fans or followers, to impart on them our message about the urgency and need to defend our [reproductive] rights.” You can listen to the songs, with accompanying music videos, on youtube.
Zoila Lagos is the coordinator of the Association of Women’s Mutual Support in Honduras, which is also a member of Somos Muchas. Her organization developed a similar strategy – their most recent project was a mural depicting three women, with the caption “We hear you, we come together, and continue on” (Nosotras te escuchamos, nos acuerpamos, y seguimos).
Lagos describes the purpose of the campaign:
“The mural has been well received – next to it there’s a blank space, in which written the names of women that have been killed, known and unknown, and distinguished women, because we defend their lives, their names, and their dreams.”
While abortion itself may be a controversial topic in Honduras, the need for the eradication of violence against women isn’t. Lagos describes:
“So far, we don’t know of anyone that disagrees with the campaign. Our main objective was to raise awareness, about violence against women, girls, and trans women.”
The idea, then, behind both Lagos and Rosales’s campaigns, isn’t to immediately speak about abortion – but to connect the need for reproductive rights to the consequences of gender-based violence, which make them a pressing issue in Honduras.
Rosales in particular views integral sexual education as crucial to changing opinions around reproductive rights. She points to Argentina as an example, which has had sexual education as part of its curriculum since 2006. Her organization also provides sexual education services to youth –
“We understand that there’s a great need for sexual education, and at the same time there’s a resistance when we talk about abortion. We try to go little by little, softening the ground so as to enter fully into the topics that are more sensitive [like reproductive rights].”
Lagos recognizes that, even within her own feminist organization, it is difficult to openly speak about abortion. She describes how she introduces the topic to the women she works alongside:
“The women in our organization come from communities where religion is the dominant influence, led by machista, misogynist, and violent priests, often bound to traditions of “obedience” and faithful to the word of the bible. I begin by talking about self-esteem, and asking each woman to name her own abilities and virtues, comparing her capabilities to those of her partner, or boyfriend, or husband. When we make the comparison, they often realize that the person they share their life with isn’t in tune with their dreams and abilities – so I ask them: why would you ask someone something, who only knows about drinks and soccer? And then, little by little, we string together the conversation until we get to a god that only pursues a woman for “her sins,” and a priest that only references women to judge them. From there, we continue chatting, until we reach the topic of an unwanted pregnancy. Obviously, this process takes three or four sessions. To get to the decriminalization of abortion in three circumstances, I use simple examples, taken from their own life experiences [of when a woman would need an abortion]. It hasn’t been easy, but the results have been excellent.”
Lagos, Rosales, and Medina all agree that the fight for the right to choose in Honduras is going to be a long one. While they personally believe that abortion should be legal in all cases, they strategically restrict their campaigning to legalization in “three circumstances,” to be more pragmatic. At the same time, Medina reflects,
“You always need to dream beyond the minimum, so that the dream keeps on inspiring you.”
Beyond campaigning to raise awareness, Somos Muchas also hopes that, after Honduras’s general elections in November of this year, the opposition party Liberty and Refoundation, which formed after the coup of 2009, will take control of Congress. If they gain control, the party would have the power to appoint new judges to the Supreme Court, which could decide to invalidate the constitutional amendment, by declaring that the vote in congress was “irregular,” because the results weren’t shown transparently.
Lagos says that, despite the new legal challenges brought on by the recent constitutional amendment, she has faith that the country’s tides are turning –
“Even though the laws prohibit it, something’s got to happen in Congress, to change the laws that persecute and condemn us defenders. It’s not possible that with so much dissatisfaction, so much questioning, the same people would stay in the government. Something’s going to happen.”
Dashiell is a graduate of Reed College where he studied Latin American and Peninsular Spanish literature. At Latina Republic, Dashiell elevates the voices of activists and organizers that work to promote human rights and immigrant rights throughout Mexico. His work contributes to the organization’s mission of breaking stereotypes and bringing attention to underreported stories throughout Latin America.