By Aisling Walsh
“I thought I was alone, I thought everything I experienced was normal. I didn’t realize it was a form of violence. It was destroying my life but I thought it was normal.” Lucia, 50, from Tegucigalpa.
Just over one year ago Lucía decided to free herself from an abusive relationship of 23 years. She had accepted the violence she lived with day after day as normal, but when her partner began to threaten her granddaughters, she decided enough was enough and sought help.
“I saw that my sister had managed to leave a very painful situation and she was much happier. I wanted the same for me. She told me about a women’s refuge that had helped her leave her husband and that maybe they could help me. That’s how I came to Calidad de Vida.”
Calidad de Vida (Quality of Life) is a women’s refuge located in the heart of Tegucigalpa that has been working with the Trócaire office in Honduras for the last 14 years through the prevention of gender based violence programme. They support women experiencing violence – whether it is physical, sexual, emotional or psychological – to leave an abusive relationship, to seek justice and to become independent.
The women who come to Calidad de Vida can access legal help, psychological support, participate in occupational therapy and seek support and understanding from other women who have lived through similar situations. They have space to shelter up to 30 women and children who are escaping violent relationships and have nowhere else to go.
Lucía says that now “I am stronger, I have managed to survive and I have seen a radical change in myself. I look after myself as a woman, I feel better about myself. I don’t put up with any kind of violence from anybody now. The workshops and trainings have been incredible. I have learned about my rights as a woman and they have helped me leave the past and all that pain behind.”
Top: DENMAH project members march for International Women’s Day 2014. Bottom: DENMAH women’s group members. Photos: Aisling Walsh
Many of the women who have sought help at Calidad de Vida have also gone on to help other women experiencing violence to seek help. As part of a joint programme between Trócaire, the European Union, Calidad de Vida and a sister organisation Opportunities and Alternatives, local women have been participating in the DENMAH project (for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents). One of the main focuses of the project is on the education and promotion of women’s rights and violence prevention. The project involves working with women in various rural and urban contexts including sales women in local markets, women working in ‘maquila’ factories and women who have sought help at women’s refuges.
Mayra, 51, has been a volunteer with Opportunities and Alternatives for 15. She has been working for 22 years selling cosmetics in the San Isidro market, Tegucigalpa, one of the most dangerous places for women to work in Honduras.
Over these 22 years she has witnessed violence against women on an almost daily basis “you see lots of violence in the markets, women are very vulnerable. There is so much poverty, lack of work and opportunities. This leads to frustration and more violence. But I have learned to recognise when a woman is experiencing violence and I know about her rights and how she can seek help.”
“I like to share what I have learned and help other women. It can be risky sometimes and often the women are scared to do anything. You have to evaluate the situation, the type of violence she is experiencing first, then she has to be ready to accept help. The good thing is that we have good networks and support groups and, if the situation is very bad, there are refuges where the women can go to be safe.”
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, outside of a war zone, to be a woman.
The DENMAH project offers women like Mayra and Lucia the opportunity to participate in a series of 12 workshops where they learn about their rights, mechanisms for reporting violence, opportunities and strategies for leaving a violent situation or relationship and support services for women who have experienced violence. At the end of these workshops they will be trained to identify women experiencing violence and support them in taking steps to free themselves from the violence. This accompaniment can include support through the legal process, referrals to women’s refuges, finding alternative housing and ways to generate an alternative income.
Mayra says that the most important aspect of her work is “To help women realize they are not alone and they have a right to live a life free of violence.”