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Daniel Bagheri Sarvestani
March 14, 2018
Daniel Bagheri Sarvestani reports on the International Women's Day activities in Honduras, 2018, where demonstrations focused on Indigenous women in particular and their continued struggle for equality and justice. #BertaVive
Berta Did Not Die; She Multiplied.
We honour the international day of Women. To mark the occasion the various women’s organizations and the federation of Indigenous Mayan Women (Consejera Mujeres Maya Chorti & red de Mujeres) held a women’s march. The women and their allies marched from the ancient Mayan ruins in the outskirts of the town of Copan Ruinas to the centre of the town. Fist raised in defiance, the women were making known their unanimous opposition against economic imperialism, corruption, exploitation and against the violence and abuse that has plagued their communities for far too long.
Unfortunately the story of exploitation and violations of fundamental rights in Latin America traces a long history that has its roots in a tradition of colonization and slavery. Despite popular belief, the culture of slavery and colonization has never really left this continent and many local indigenous communities and campesinos (rural workers) in Honduras continue to suffer form systematic economic and political oppression. With wages kept under $1 a day, the modern hyper capitalistic economy as espoused by the US throughout Latin America resembles a system of resource extortion and wage slavery. Women are often most affected by the exploits of the prevailing system that has sustained, and in many cases increased poverty levels throughout the global south. Unpaid labor among indigenous women and in rural communities is a common reality. Indigenous women are disproportionately victim of abuse, harassment and assassination. Often time here in the communities the perpetrators of violence are left at large because the authorities and systems of justice are irresponsive to the plight of the poor and the marginalized. Violence and abuse is part of the normalized experience of indigenous women not only in Honduras but throughout Latin America.
The same systems of oppression that saw indigenous nations of the Americas enslaved, massacred and marginalized by the millions during European colonization, very much continues to this day with a modern makeover. Forces of exploitation and colonization today march under the flag of multi-national corporations, big business and oligarchical elitist regimes that rarely represent the interest of the common people. In Copan where I work, Just down the road from where some of the local indigenous communities are located, hydroelectric projects, and mining operations are already busy at work extracting precious resources from the rivers and the lands that are part of indigenous peoples territories. In the aftermath of their activities the local populations are left only with pollution and degradation to deal with on their own. After all the sickness and the infected bodies of the exploited Indians in far away lands are out of sight and out of mind for the average North American consumer whose solely concerned with availability of cheap products.
Fortunately, in the face of ever growing economic, social and political challenges, the people are mobilizing and responding. Women especially, are increasingly a beacon of hope leading the way for a brighter future. Yet Women activists here in Honduras are more and more at risk of abuse, murder and violence. The Women’s march organized for the international day of women, by the Mayan women of Copan, coincided with the anniversary of the assassination of the world renown environmental activist, indigenous leader, and human rights advocate, Berta Cáceres. The activists, almost entirely composed of women- mothers, sisters, grandmothers- walked in unison under the banner that read: “Berta no Murió; Se multiplico” (Berta did not die; she multiplied). Many of the women present at the March are risking their lives.
The women of the communities are fundamentally engaged in the fight for the preservation of the environment, sustainability, human dignity and betterment of living condition for their communities. Women are often concerned for the wellbeing of more than just themselves; they are far more dedicated to also assist their communities, their families, their daughters and son. Without them, and their selfless dedication grassroots struggle for justice and Human Rights would not be nearly as active or effective. It is the women who are often on the frontlines of the social struggles against oppressive systems and injustice against their communities and their families. It is no exception that here also, in the district of Copan, Honduras, it is the women’s organizations and women leaders who are the most active advocates in defence of fundamental rights.
Suffice to say that it is a sacred duty that we owe to honour the women of our own communities not just on any particular day, but over and over again everyday. For it is through the women’s continued struggle for equality and justice that the spirit of dignity and resistance is kept alight. I am truly inspired by them. To the extent possible, we must all march with the women of the communities side by side, in the same footsteps of Berta Cáceres, if we are to honour our own humanity and the planet – Mother Earth.
Daniel Baghari Sarvestani is an Indigenous Peoples Rights Advocate, Cuso International.