Guatemala: Thousands of women take to the streets against femicides

In the August updates for The Violence of Development website we included a short report on the increase in the number of femicides in El Salvador during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same has been happening in Guatemala. On 10th October 2020 Al Jazeera published a report written by Sandra Cuffe  on the protests of women’s groups against the high incidence of femicides in Guatemala and on the 11th October TeleSur published a brief report on the protest action. We reproduce a summary of both reports below the photo.

Key words: femicide; femicide rates; Guatemala.


“The State must take more action. Woman are getting killed in this patriarchal  and misogynist system,” the organisers of the protests urged. [Telesur]

On Saturday 10th October Guatemala’s women’s organisations held a protest in several cities of the country, to reject the violence against women, which has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dozens of women gathered outside the municipal building in the city of Quetzaltenango, head of the department of the same name, to pay tribute and demand justice for the women who have been raped, murdered, and disappeared in the last 20 years.

“We speak for the 4 women who disappear every day. We speak for all the 77,847 girls and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 who are already mothers,” the organisers stated.

“We speak for all the 12,188 women murdered in the last 20 years in the country. We speak for all the 55 women who call every day to denounce their aggressor. We speak for all the lives stolen, silenced, and extinguished of every girl, teenager, and woman in Guatemala,” the organisers explained.

Similar mobilizations took place in the capital, Guatemala City, Escuintla, Cobán, Teculután, among others, where there were songs, marches, and candles in memory of the murdered women.

More than 200 women were killed in the first eight months of this year in Guatemala and more than 3,000 women and girls have been killed since 2015, according to human rights groups tracking government statistics. The overwhelming majority of these cases remain unresolved.

The protests were sparked by the murder of social work student Litzy Amelia Cordón, 20, whose body was found in the municipality of Teculután where primary schoolteacher Laura Daniela Hernández had been murdered the week before.

The women also demanded the State’s commitment to guarantee women’s security and freedom, and “to strengthen the processes of reparative justice for girls and women victims of violence and femicide. The State must take more action. Woman are getting killed in this patriarchal and misogynist system,” they said.

More than 200 women were killed in Guatemala in the first eight months of this year. [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera

Nicaragua’s abortion ban

Prepared by Alice Klein.

Latin America generally has strict abortion laws, but Nicaragua is one of the few countries in the world to outlaw therapeutic abortion; that is ‘the termination of pregnancy before fetal viability in order to preserve maternal health’.[1] This includes when the mother’s or baby’s health and/or life is at stake.

Nicaragua’s ban came into force in October 2006, supported by the FSLN (Sandinista Front for National Liberation) who made a cynical alliance with conservatives in order to woo the Catholic Church in the run up to national elections.[2]

In November 2007, the Ortega government added criminal sanctions to the law. The Penal Code stipulates prison sentences for girls and women who seek an abortion and for health professionals who provide health services associated with abortion.[3] This includes sanctions for doctors and nurses who treat a pregnant woman or girl for illnesses such as cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDS or cardiac emergencies where such treatment is contraindicated in pregnancy and may cause injury to or death of the embryo or foetus.

It even goes as far as punishing girls and women who have suffered a miscarriage, as in many cases it is impossible to distinguish spontaneous from induced abortions. Indeed, Human Rights Watch say the most wide-ranging effect of the ban is the surge in fear of seeking treatment for pregnancy-related complications, such as hemorrhaging.[4]

Amnesty International says the ban is endangering the lives of girls and women, denying them life-saving treatment, preventing health professionals from practicing effective medicine and contributing to an increase in maternal deaths across the country.[5] The human rights group says that according to official figures, 33 girls and women died in pregnancy between January and June 2009, compared to 20 in the same period in 2008.

Despite attempts by the country’s feminists to campaign against the ban, President Ortega’s government has responded by attempting to silence them.[6] In September 2008, the Nicaraguan government launched ‘Operation No More Lies’ against NGOs it accused of embezzlement, money-laundering and subversion. It said the organisations’ promotion of human rights, gender equality and poverty reduction were “modern-day trojan horses” and a rightwing plot to destabilise the administration.

The following month, authorities raided the offices of the Communications Research Centre (CINCO) which works with the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM). Their work is financed by eight European governments and administered by Oxfam UK.[7] It aims to promote “the full citizenship of women,” but Ortega’s wife Rosario Murillo called it “Satan’s fund” and “the money of evil.”[8]

Murillo has since formed her own women’s group and penned a manifesto titled ‘The ‘Feminist’ Connection and Low Intensity Warfare’ in which she characterises feminists as oligarchs, counterrevolutionaries, and well-paid agents of imperialism.[9]

Critics have described these actions as a further sign of intolerance and authoritarianism by the once-revolutionary Ortega.[10]

[1] Emedicine obstetrics and gynaecology, (Accessed 11/08/09)
[2] ‘The government war on women’s rights in Nicaragua’, (Accessed 11/08/09).
[3] Amnesty International (2009) ‘The total abortion ban in Nicaragua: Women’s lives and health endangered, medical professionals criminalized’, Amnesty International, New York.
[4] Human Rights Watch (2007) ‘Over their dead bodies: Denial of access to emergency obstetric care and therapeutic abortion in Nicaragua’, Human Rights Watch, New York.
[5] Op.cit. Amnesty International.
[6] See note 2.
[7] Rory Carroll (2008) ‘Oxfam targeted as Nicaragua attacks ‘trojan horse’ NGOs’, The Guardian, 14/10/08.
[8] Roger Burbach (2009) ‘Et Tu Daniel? The Sandinista revolution betrayed’, NACLA March/April: 33-43.
[9] Interview with Nicaraguan feminist Helen Dixon in Managua, July 2009.
[10] Op.cit. Burbach.

10 femicides in first 11 days of August 2020 in El Salvador

By Martin Mowforth

Key words: femicide; ECLAC/CEPAL; El Salvador; ORMUSA.

According to the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC), femicide is not simply the murder of females but rather the killing of females by males because they are female. It is a form of terrorism that functions to define gender lines, enact and bolster male dominance, and to render women chronically and profoundly unsafe.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, femicide is expressed in absolute numbers and rate per 100,000 women. National laws differ, but it is referred to as femicide, feminicide or aggravated homicide due to gender.

El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide in Latin America. On 13th August 2020 La Prensa Gráfica reported that ten women were murdered in the first eleven days of August, one of these being a minor.

Silvia Juárez, a representative of the Organisation of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), warned others to be alert to the dangers of violence against them: “In May we had ten cases of violent deaths throughout the whole month, but in these first days of August we already have the same number. It’s extremely dangerous as some of these women were assassinated in their houses.”

ORMUSA gave a total of 65 women assassinated from the beginning of the year to the 5th August, although the Salvadoran Attorney General said that 47 of these were femicides. The Attorney General lamented the deaths and urged the authorities to take a more active role in increasing the personal security of women and to eradicate the acts of hatred that cause this aggression against women.


United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, or CEPAL by its Spanish initials):

Andrea Rivas and Javier Urbina, 13 August 2020, ‘Reportan 10 asesinatos de mujeres durante agosto’, La Prensa Gráfica, San Salvador.

Beatriz Calderon and Juan Carlos Díaz, 5 Agosto 2020, ‘Dos mujeres fueron asesinadas en Usulután’, La Prensa Gráfica, San Salvador.

Wikipedia, ‘Femicide’,

Honduran lawmakers seek to permanently ban abortion

By Pamela Machado, February 2021

We are grateful to Pamela, a Brazilian journalist, for her summary of the situation faced by women in Honduras.

Key words: abortion ban; Honduran National Congress; hypermasculinity; femicide.


More threats to the lives of women in Central America: On January 21st, legislators in Honduras voted on an amendment to permanently ban abortions in the country. Honduras already has a full ban on abortions; the new proposal aims to make it hard to be overturned – ever.

The bill was put forward by the Deputy for the ruling National Party, Mario Pérez, on the grounds that abortion is “a practice against human nature”. In the proposed bill, any changes to abortion rights would require a three quarters majority vote, which is higher than usual.

The amendment will have to be ratified by the Congress in a year, but it is widely regarded as a mere formality. Only 27 of the 128 seats in the Honduran Congreso Nacional are held by women.

The move in Honduras came shortly after Argentina became the largest country in Latin America to legalise abortion after decades of campaigning by women’s rights movements. There is little doubt that the bill in Honduras represented a backlash to the victory in Argentina.

Just a few days later, on January 25th, the Honduran Women’s Day, hundreds of women took to the streets of Tegucigalpa to protest against the bill. ‘We have nothing to celebrate,’ said Ana Cruz from the women’s rights organisation Asociación de Calidad de Vida to news agency EFE, “we are here to demand that they respect our rights.”

Latin American countries are amongst the worst in the world in safeguarding women’s rights, and Central America has a particularly dire reputation when it comes to access to contraception and safe abortion. Beyond Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua also have a complete ban on abortion. In El Salvador women can face up to 40 years in prison for any attempts to end pregnancy or even suffering miscarriage. It is reported that 18 innocent women are held currently in prison in the country for alleged ‘abortion-related’ crimes.

Women in Latin America not only bear the burden of social tensions but also suffer from a culture that reveres hypermasculinity and conservative politics. Banning abortions only serves to increase stigma and worsen women’s health conditions as they are left with dangerous options to terminate pregnancies. According to data from the World Health Organisation, 3 out of 4 abortions in Latin America are deemed unsafe.

The collective Somos Muchas says that around 8,600 women were taken to a hospital due to complications of unsafe abortion in Honduras in 2017. The group gathered hundreds of signatures internationally in a call to oppose the bill.

In addition to unsafe conditions for abortions, women in Honduras also struggle with high rates of femicides. In 2020, approximately 300 women were victims of femicide in Honduras.


‘Anyone Can Murder A Woman In Honduras And Nothing Will Happen’ Women and girls in the barrios live in constant fear of sexual attack and a violent death

We are grateful to Rights Action for permission to reproduce this article by Sorcha Pollak.

By Sorcha Pollak, May 11, 2015

The windowless room in downtown San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second city, bustles with activity as more than a dozen women take their seats at a long oak table. Water bottles are distributed and the electric fan switched to full blast to alleviate the oppressive summer heat creeping through the half-open door.

As the chatter dies out, Dicsa Bulnes clears her throat, introduces herself and begins to speak. “As a woman I feel trapped. I am a prisoner in my own home, there’s nowhere for me to go. I have no freedom.”

Bulnes, who is from the marginalised Afro-Caribbean Garífuna community, pauses for a moment to take a sip of water before she continues. “My partner nearly killed me. He still sends me threatening messages on my mobile attacking me. I’ve tried reporting him but the authorities won’t do anything. It feels like they are forcing women to buy their own coffins, to return to the attacker and suffer through the violence.”

Bulnes is a member of the Foro de Mujeres por la Vida (Women’s Forum for Life), an organisation which campaigns for women’s rights in a country that increasingly turns a blind eye to the violence and persecution that plagues the lives of countless women.

The forum has called a meeting in its small San Pedro Sula office so a female journalist from a safe western country can hear about the daily battles endured by the women of this small central American nation.

Aside from having one of the highest murder rates in the world – a national homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 – Honduras is rapidly becoming one of the most dangerous places on Earth for women.

Over the past decade, this nation of just over eight million people has witnessed a sharp increase in domestic and sexual violence and gender-based murder, a phenomenon known as femicide.
According to the University Institute for Democracy, Peace and Security in Honduras, 531 women were murdered in 2014, the majority of these aged between 15 and 24. Although this number was slightly lower than that of the previous year – there were 636 recorded murders of women in 2013 – the lack of accountability for this violation of a woman’s most basic human right has normalised the concept of femicide.

Between 2005 and 2013 the number of violent deaths of women increased by 263.4 per cent.
Carolina Sierra, spokeswoman for Foro de Mujeres por la Vida, says any attempts made to improve women’s rights before the 2009 military coup, which ousted reformist president Manuel Zelaya, were erased by the current administration.

“The increased militarisation of the country means all measures now focus on weapons and the military, while any measures that were taken to protect women’s rights have been completely abandoned,” says Sierra. “It’s almost like there’s a carte blanche for the assassination of women. Anyone can murder a woman in Honduras and nothing will happen.

“With this lack of accountability, women’s bodies are being used to send a message of fear and hate to the rest of the population.”

In 2014, the United Nations reported that 95 per cent of cases of sexual violence and femicide in Honduras were never investigated, while only 2.5 per cent of cases of domestic violence were settled.

Living in fear
Maria Teresa Meza, who lives in a small shack in the Bordo Gavión riverside slum of San Pedro Sula with her children, says sexual violence is the daily lot for most young women in the community. “Rape is a real danger for young women living in the bordos. If you let your daughter step outside her home she will either be raped or forced into selling drugs.”

Teenage girls living near the bustling food markets in the capital, Tegucigalpa, face the same level of violent abuse. Sarai (19) says many of her friends became pregnant when they were only 12 or 13 after meeting gang members in the marketplace. She says gangs “own the barrios” of Tegucigalpa, controlling how women walk, talk and dress. “They walk around the area monitoring everyone who comes in and out. They know exactly what’s going on and every single detail of our lives.”

Wendy (14) says women and girls are the first to suffer under this brutal culture of drugs, extortion and violence. Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in a world where themaras youth gangs rule the streets. “All I can see around me is violence; there never seems to be any light. Women don’t have the freedom to walk down the street without worrying about being attacked. The men rule and the women must follow.

“Some young women are raped by their own families,” she adds quietly. “They’re raped by their uncles and fathers.”

Supaya Martínez, co-director of the Centre for Women’s Studies Honduras, says gangs govern every aspect of a woman’s life, down to the colour she uses to dye her hair. “If a woman dyes her hair the wrong colour, the local gang will kill her.”

Martínez says people have learned to justify femicide by arguing that female victims are involved in gangs or connected with drug traffickers.

Murder of beauty queen
Last November the bodies of the Miss Honduras beauty queen, María José Alvarado, and her sister were found in the region of Santa Barbara in western Honduras. The sister’s boyfriend was found guilty of murdering the women in a jealous rage. However, Martínez says the government claims the young women were connected to drug-traffickers.

“It’s as if it was their fault. They place the blame on the victim and basically say she was responsible for her own death.

“There hasn’t been a strong enough response from the government to end this. Women die every day but no one is punished and so the crimes just continue.”

Last year UN special rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo called for the Honduran government to address the “climate of widespread and systematic crime, corruption and impunity”.

Supports cut
However, as part of its process of restructuring in 2014, the government actually downgraded the status of the National Institute for Women, cut funding to women’s rights groups and abolished the police emergency telephone line for female victims of violence.

“We’re living in a country where women don’t feel safe enough to report acts of violence to the authorities,” says Sierra, adding that many women who speak up about injustice must pay for it with their lives.

“Men are killing women with rage, fury and cruelty. We’re scared to speak out but this is the daily lot we’re living.

“We’re forced to live in a culture of violent machismo which has become a natural, accepted part of Honduran society.”

Rights action: