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She Promised to Empower Girls. Will Honduras’s President Succeed?

She got here to energy pledging to chill out among the world’s steepest restrictions on ladies’s reproductive rights. However months into her time period, rights teams say, Honduras’s first feminine president, Xiomara Castro, is struggling to meet guarantees, as makes an attempt to empower ladies rekindle the nation’s bitter ideological divisions.

Ms. Castro, 62, turned the nation’s first ever leftist candidate to win elections in November by promising to carry social equality after greater than a century of practically uninterrupted conservative and navy rule. She constructed a broad coalition of city intelligentsia, small businessmen, landless farmers, Indigenous and Black teams, L.G.B.T.Q. folks and ladies that propelled her to a landslide victory in opposition to the opponent of the incumbent party.

In her campaign manifesto, Ms. Castro mentioned she would advance sexual schooling, combat gender violence, carry extra ladies into the economic system, legalize abortion in restricted circumstances and overturn a ban on emergency contraception tablets.

“The political agenda of girls and feminists shall be my precedence,” she said throughout her marketing campaign in August.

Such slogans carried immense symbolism in a male-dominated society with the highest rate of killings of girls and ladies in Latin America, and the place one in 4 ladies turns into pregnant earlier than reaching 19, in response to the United Nations.

Now, a sexual abuse scandal is testing Ms. Castro’s guarantees to carry lasting social change to ladies.

In March, college students on the prestigious Zamorano College close to Tegucigalpa, the capital, protested over allegations {that a} male undergraduate raped two feminine friends. The police briefly arrested the person, however launched him and closed the case after the 2 ladies declined to testify.

Though the authorized case and the protests rapidly waned, they sparked a bigger debate in Honduras over entry to emergency contraception, in addition to the function of faith in politics, exposing rifts in Ms. Castro’s fragile governing coalition.

Feminist organizations and their political supporters have referred to as on Ms. Castro to make good on her promise to legalize emergency contraception. Many Honduran activists who supported Ms. Castro’s candidacy have since joined her administration, elevating the interior stress to behave.

“That is the second to approve the PAE,” a outstanding lawmaker in Ms. Castro’s occasion, Jorge Cálix, wrote on Twitter on March 21 after the Zamorano protest, utilizing the generally used abbreviation for the emergency contraception capsule in Honduras.

Honduras is presently the one nation on this planet identified to have a blanket authorized ban on emergency contraception tablets, in response to the Worldwide Consortium for Emergency Contraception, a coverage analysis group. It’s also among the many 5 Latin American international locations that prohibit abortion below any circumstances.

Although banned, emergency contraception tablets are offered overtly in some Tegucigalpa pharmacies for round $10 per dose. However ladies in poor and rural areas lack entry, in response to ladies’s rights advocates.

Human rights activists say the loosening of the emergency contraception ban has been delayed by the socially conservative occasion in Ms. Castro’s coalition, highlighting the president’s problem of maintaining collectively the varied alliances which have introduced her to energy.

Up to now, Ms. Castro has largely delegated the difficulty of emergency contraception to Dr. José Manuel Matheu, the well being minister and a member of the center-right allied occasion, Savior of Honduras. Dr. Matheu has mentioned that legalizing the capsule is not his priority, including in March that he would consult the Catholic Church on the difficulty.

Main Christian congregations in Honduras oppose using emergency contraception, arguing that the capsule can terminate a longtime being pregnant.

To help their case, they cite the label of Plan B One-Step, probably the most well-known emergency contraception in the US, which says that there’s a risk it could forestall a fertilized egg from implanting within the uterus.

Nevertheless, scientific proof doesn’t help the concept emergency contraception tablets can forestall implantation of a fertilized egg. As an alternative, because the Plan B One-Step label states, the tablets work primarily by stopping ovulation — the discharge of an egg earlier than it may be fertilized by sperm.

Ms. Castro’s workplace, Dr. Matheu and the spokesman for Honduras’s Catholic Church, Rev. Juan Ángel López, didn’t reply or declined to remark for this story.

Rights teams have questioned Dr. Matheu’s determination to seek the advice of the church, stating that Honduras is a secular state below the Structure.

Nevertheless, ignoring spiritual considerations over contraception would merely stoke additional social tensions at a time when Ms. Castro is confronting conservative pursuits in different areas of the economic system and society, mentioned Natalie Roque, Honduras’s human rights minister, who helped draft the federal government’s progressive agenda.

9 out of 10 Hondurans consider themselves Catholic or evangelical Christians.

The federal government “proper now shouldn’t be in circumstances to open one other entrance in opposition to such a robust adversary because the church,” mentioned Ms. Roque, including that legalizing the capsule now “would merely throw extra gas on the bonfire.”

This sense of warning partially displays the enduring impression of the navy coup that deposed Ms. Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, from the presidency 14 years in the past, reducing brief the earlier try to redistribute energy in Honduras.

As president, Mr. Zelaya thwarted an earlier try by the nation’s conservative-dominated Congress to ban emergency contraception, vetoing their proposal. A month later, in June 2008, the military arrested him in his residence and put in a conservative caretaker authorities that proceeded to place the ban in place.

Ms. Castro is now struggling to steadiness the stress for larger reproductive rights from civil society and feminist organizations in opposition to “the nice energy acquired by the church within the aftermath of the coup,” mentioned Joaquín Mejía, a Honduran human rights lawyer.

“I don’t suppose she will be able to proceed ignoring these pressures for for much longer,” he added.

The controversy over emergency contraception comes as Argentina, Colombia and Mexico have widened entry to abortion in current months, energizing abortion activists throughout Latin America and hardening opposition within the international locations that proceed banning it.

Anti-abortion teams in Honduras say legalizing emergency contraception would open a path to legalizing medical abortion sooner or later.

“Not the whole lot that’s legalized within the developed international locations must be imitated,” mentioned Michelle Zacapa, president of Honduras’s largest anti-abortion group, Professional Vida. “A Honduran loves life, and opposes all these ideologies which are being imposed on us.”

Her group didn’t present any opinion polls supporting its positions, however she mentioned that sexual abuse must be fought with harder punishments for the perpetrators, not with emergency contraception.

Periodic opinion polls commissioned by the Middle for Girls’s Rights, which helps emergency contraception and abortion, present {that a} slight majority of city Hondurans help emergency contraception, in addition to abortion in circumstances when a being pregnant threatens the lady’s well being.

Feminist activists and advisers to Ms. Castro mentioned the president stays dedicated to ladies’s rights, however acknowledge that she has to tread rigorously to keep away from frightening the conservative forces that toppled her husband.

The federal government’s development of girls’s rights shall be gradual, mentioned Ms. Roque, the human rights minister. Step one below evaluate by the federal government can be legalizing emergency contraception for victims of sexual abuse, and increasing sexual schooling earlier than making it broadly out there at a later, unspecified date, she mentioned.

Since taking energy, Ms. Castro has confronted difficulties in different areas. She has struggled to revive an economic system that was devastated by the pandemic and up to date hurricanes and is now hurting from rising meals and gas prices. In January, Ms. Castro barely stopped a rebellion within her party, and in current weeks her authorities moved to extradite her predecessor, Juan Orlando Hernández, to the US to face drug-related fees, a transfer which threatens to create tensions between her and segments of the nation’s safety forces.

Regardless of the setbacks, a few of Ms. Castro’s feminist supporters stay assured within the president. Three who met with the president on March 8 mentioned she appeared dedicated to advancing her gender coverage, however was held again by the reticence of the extra conservative sections of her coalition and forms.

“She may be very aware of all of the sexual violence suffered by the ladies,” mentioned Jinna Rosales, the sexual well being researcher. “She mentioned that in a rustic with the primary feminine president in its historical past, sexual and reproductive rights can not proceed to be trampled.”

Anatoly Kurmanaev reported from Mexico Metropolis, and Joan Suazo from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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