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Protecting women and girls after hurricane devastation in Honduras

Just as Honduras was trying to cope with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, two hurricanes in the space of three weeks caused enormous damage from flooding and landslides.

At least 30% of the country’s population has been directly affected by damage to their homes. Close to 100,000 people are in temporary government shelters, while hundreds of people spend the night outdoors in road medians or under bridges.

The social, economic and emotional effects are devastating. It feels as though the country has gone back 20 years in its economic and social development.

An assessment carried out by the Humanitarian Network in Honduras found that two out of every three affected households have children, while one out of every three is headed by a woman. These groups are highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and therefore have enormous protection needs.

Trócaire has so far supported 6,000 women, men and children with food, water, sanitation, biosecurity materials, clothing, nappies, baby milk and other daily needs. We are also monitoring the situation of women and girls who may be vulnerable to violence, especially because of the insecure conditions in which they find themselves. For example, as of mid-November, 10 girls have been placed under government protection for being victim of sexual violence in shelters.

Our partner organisation, Calidad de Vida, manages shelters for women survivors of gender based violence (GBV) and trafficking. They have decided to support women and girls who had to evacuate their homes because of the intense rain and floods that damaged them.  Those women and girls are housed in various emergency shelters in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras where they are at risk of being victims of abuse.

Calidad de Vida, with the support of Trócaire, provided food, biosecurity equipment and other basic inputs for more than 400 people. In addition, we have provided information on violence against women and the risk of human trafficking. Posters with definitions and warnings on GBV, abuse and exploitation, as well as telephone numbers where women can report and seek support, have been posted on shelter walls.  Staff of Calidad de Vida entertained children with recreational activities.

Recently, the organisation reported a security incident related to the abuse of power by one of the shelter managers, who was restricting support to and verbally assaulting some of the women. The women were afraid to report it, as they had received threats that if they complained they would be expelled from the shelter and would have nowhere to go with their children.

Fortunately, they were also to file a complaint through Calidad de Vida, who could then escalate it to the Protection and GBV Group of the Humanitarian Country Team, a group which involves government agencies such as the National Human Rights Commissioner (CONADEH) and investigative bodies such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office. As a result, immediate action was taken. The shelter was made to establish a way for women to make complaints and for disciplinary action to be taken.

This case is a good example of the actions that can be taken with a comprehensive humanitarian and protection response. The safety and dignity of vulnerable people has to be protected.

However, the response is still limited compared with the magnitude of the disaster. Thousands of people nationwide continue to have enormous basic needs such as water, food and medicines. Women and girls need immediate action to protect them from abuse and violence, including prevention and early care mechanisms.

That is why we call for international solidarity to mobilise resources to support Honduran families, who today require essential needs for their safety, dignity and equity.

Gabriela Flores is Trócaire’s Gender Programme Officer in Honduras.

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