Our Voices Our Rights at Home, in the Factory and in the Law
Group: Honduran Women’s Collective (Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas – CODEMUH).
Department: Cortés. Municipalities: Choloma, Villa Nueva and San Pedro Sula.
From the voice of: María Luisa Regalado, coordinator.
The Honduran Women’s Collective (CODEMUH) was born 30 years ago in response to the situations of violence and discrimination that women workers suffered, not only in free trade zones (maquilas), but in their homes as well. There were places where women worked up to 24 consecutive hours, and in some cases were physically beaten. Their rights were nonexistent. They could not participate in organizing spaces because they risked being fired from the factory or having problems with their fathers or partners if they broke their silence about the violence they experienced – both at home and in the workplace. Women could not raise their voices or say their names, they were anonymous and practically living in slavery. This is why CODEMUH began to work with women, especially in urban areas, because there were similar initiatives in rural areas but not in urban ones.
Work based on a comprehensive feminist political process
We work with women in neighborhoods as well as women that work in the maquilas from the Cortés department. We focus on the right to work, the right to earn a wage, the right to health, and the right to labor stability. We fight for improved work conditions for women, because many of the maquila workers have health problems resulting from their work, and it’s important for them to maintain their jobs, have Social Security, and receive compensation. We are also fighting on behalf of those that have been unjustly fired.
We carry out communication and awareness-raising actions so that women can learn about the laws that can protect them from situations of violence, and so they understand the process for making a report when laws are violated. We support them in all of these processes, providing legal and medical support. We are also carrying out political advocacy with key actors at the national level, and participation in coalitions like the Central American Network of Maquila Workers (Red Centroamericana de Trabajadoras de la Maquila).
We are having an impact in the media and in universities through commissions like the Platform of Women Against Femicide (Tribuna de Mujeres Contra los Femicidios), formed by seven women’s organizations. We have increased our impact through closer relationships with Honduran universities.
It is also important for us to amplify women’s political participation through internal actions and through strengthened coordination and alliance building with other groups in this social movement. This improves our capacity to have an impact in favor of women’s rights.
Steep challenges that will not stop our struggle
In 10 years, we have seen huge setbacks in women’s rights and the progress we had achieved. The right to a social security net is at risk, as is the right to health and work stability.
It is urgent that the issue of violence against women be more visible, that women’s rights that are violated be reported to authorities, to advance the struggle to reaffirm women’s human rights. Another struggle is around issues related to women’s labor rights in the maquilas, that these rights be recognized as a public health problem. Which is to say, that the problems that are provoked by the maquilas be explicitly detailed in the law.
We are facing a difficult situation, but we are trying to improve. Many women that didn’t know that we existed now know who we are and also know their rights. CODEMUH has helped to dismantle the idea that men have a right to hit women and that women are obligated to obey them. All of that is breaking down. We are working with a population that migrates to the city, their families are in the countryside and many of them are controlled by their partners. It’s important that women can exercise their right to move into any space.
Women need to go out into world, beyond the four walls of their home and the maquila, to organize, strengthen themselves, participate and impact public policy; where their voices, faces and demands are heard, visible, and heeded.
One of the women told us, “If it wasn’t for you all, I wouldn’t have work. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have a pension. If it wasn’t for you, I couldn’t treat my health problems.”
The majority of women that work in maquilas in Honduras have migrated from the countryside to the city from different parts of the country, especially from the east and the Atlantic, and there are women from the central region as well.