The following is a guest post from a friend of mine, Martin Simonneau. He is currently working on a charity project in Honduras and has been there for around six months now. Martin said his experiences so far have given him much to think about. He says that certain aspects of Hunduran life are “real eye-openers”, in particular the role, and treatment, of women. What follows is an honest, almost cathartic account of Martin’s time in Honduras.
These are Martin’s words, albeit with a few minor edits from myself.
Honduras has often been cited as the ‘most dangerous place on earth’ outside of a war zone. In particular, women in the country find themselves subjected to the most horrific violence one can imagine.
I have witnessed cases of extreme misogyny, I have laughed at sexist jokes because I wanted Hondurans to accept me, I let my adoptive ‘mother’ wash my clothes, cook my food and clean my room, I did not say anything when a friend showed me the most brutal and degrading porn video that he casually carries around on his phone, and like everybody else, I read through the local newspapers without being utterly shocked – that’s after six months of living here – at women having their hands chopped off, or even worse, murdered, because one daughter dared to cheat on her father. Life went on as normal.
However, I know that I respect women; I know that I want equality between both sexes; I wish we, human beings, could see men and women as a single entity. Yet, I find it incredibly hard to write about feminism, about women in general. Why? Is it because I don’t know what it is? Is it because I am afraid? Is it because nothing is changing and we still remain profoundly rooted in male dominance and superiority? I think this is most definitely the case.
I was once asked if I was a feminist. I responded with all of the above but never answered the question. I’m sad, depressed and miserable because I take part in the reigning apathy that surrounds this matter. Nothing is changing. There is no reaction.
Let’s do something! Let’s talk, write, read, debate, create and get everybody involved. Da Vinci once said ‘I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.’ Vamos!
Here are some facts about being a woman in Honduras. You cook, you clean, you stay in the house and you are expected to be married young and have children. In Honduras, a woman is murdered every 13 hours. A woman can be murdered or brutalised because she dared to cheat on the man she never wished to marry, because she did not do the weekly shopping, or simply because she did not cook the desired supper. Women are killed because they did not respect their ‘role’ within the male-orientated society. Even in the “most dangerous place on earth” violence remains incredibly male dominated.
Not a day goes by without a sexist remark. I would like to illustrate the machismo that exists in the region with an anecdote of mine. People are always intrigued to know me because they seldom see a ‘gringo’ in this remote part of Honduras and especially one that stays for six months. They are always eager to question me, ask about my life, my upbringing, my work and where I see myself in five years. I question them too because my reality is a world away from what they are used to and I enjoy discovering their stories. At the beginning I was not confident enough to bring up my thoughts in conversations. I did not want to be too controversial in case I offended them. However, as I got to know them I gradually expressed my beliefs and talked about religion, gender, homosexuality, drugs, sex and politics. They listened. Sometimes they agreed, and sometimes they disagreed.
There is one topic though that I never really mastered with them; women. Women are seen as different and are simply a man’s companion. Many of the people I have met will believe this until the day they die. I can tell them for hours that a man and a woman are equal and are free to do as they please, but they will always come back to the fact that they believe a woman needs a man to survive. Men, after all, are providers.
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a pleasant discussion with a salesman who was waiting for his car to be washed. He has a decent phone business, a wife and two children, and lives a relaxed life. We conversed for a few minutes about his life and then he asked about mine, and wanted to know about Paris. Normally the first question people ask me is how expensive life is in Europe. This is what I assumed he had asked me. I replied with the answer I always give. In Paris, you pay about €700 for rent, €200 for food, etc etc. Before I could carry on listing the exorbitant prices of the French capital, he interrupted me. He told me I had misunderstood the question. I don’t know whether it was because he spoke very fast or because I am so used to being asked that particular question, but I was answering a question he had not asked. In reality, he wanted to know how much we, Europeans, pay for a prostitute. Bear in mind his wife and kids were inside the car a few meters away from us. I was so astonished that I fell silent. After a few seconds, I just looked at him and managed to babble something about wine, before finally deciding to walk away.
I felt angry, awkward and ashamed. I had not even tried to tell him what I thought about his outrageous question. Conversations like these are not unusual and are often more a joke-related matter. Despite the effort of many, machismo remains sadly normal in the everyday lives of Hondurans. I could say the same for all the countries around the world, but it is so glaringly obvious in this region that I feel particularly uncomfortable and incapacitated when these situations occur.
If someone were to ask me, “Should I visit Honduras?” I would tell them this. Forget about all the corruption, the machismo, the violence, the drug-trafficking. Forget about all the contradictions and what the Western media tells you. Honduras is an inspiring and magical place. Hondurans will force you inside their homes for a coffee because they love receiving. You will see a multicolour bird, a red frog, a fluorescent green snake. You will taste exotic and organically produced fruits and vegetables, buy an exquisite avocado and a delicious mango for 10p. Don’t be scared to go to Honduras. Don’t be scared to share your experiences, discoveries and knowledge with the homeless person you meet on the central plaza, the carpenter, the taxi driver or the big banker. The world is the cheapest university and its people your best teachers. Enjoy it for as long as you can and you’ll come back with new ideas, new challenges and hopefully a desire to change this beautiful yet bizarrely cruel society.
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