2020, who would have thought that we would live such a complex time in our lives, our struggles, and our territories. The pandemic shook a world already sick from capitalism, racism, and patriarchy, and forced us into confinement, to respond to new emergencies, increasing uncertainty, fear, also grief.
All the same, Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) already had a long experience of facing all types of violence – political, economic, racist, and gender – jointly creating strategies to combat it and building community alternatives for life. Since March 2020, IM-Defensoras has worked non-stop to enable women defenders to face this crisis together and in safety, deploying all the Feminist Holistic Protection resources, strategies, knowledge, and experiences that we have built over the past ten years.
To understand the impact of the pandemic, and governments’ responses to it, on our lives, our political action, and our human rights defense work, we conducted a mapping exercise along with the national WHRD networks, with the participation of 475 defenders from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua.
This research shows that we have a diversity of contexts and identities, that governments have not considered our work as essential, and as such, many of us have had to suspend activities or conduct them with huge restrictions and exposing ourselves to risk. Alerts issued by IM-Defensoras between March and November 2020 are more than double (123%) the number from the previous year; 10 WHRD sisters were killed.
Our health and living conditions have worsened: many of us lack the sufficient resources to ensure our basic needs (58%), including medicine (54%); nor do we have access to health care (40%) or permanent access to drinking water (34%).
Because we are locked in our houses, we have more housework and care-work, which the large majority of us have taken on alone (86%). Working and communicating safely online is not an easy alternative for the majority of us: 34% don’t have access to Wi-Fi and can only connect through phone data, 53% lack sufficient resources to keep our mobile phone with credit, and 13% share a phone with other people.
In this scenario, we have once again confirmed that the most effective protection is activated in the territory and the nearest surroundings. Our national networks and articulations have been crucial in the accompaniment of WHRDs, above all weaving a community of care, closeness, and permanent contact. Through the networks, we have mobilized resources so defenders can purchase food and basic necessities, including phone credit and equipment.
Regarding health, we have channeled support through resources, medicines, and medical insurance, and we have strengthened alliances with networks and organizations of healers, accompaniment providers, guides, and therapists to jointly take care of ourselves and reflect on self-care, collective care, healing, and the grief that we are experiencing.
Regarding security, we have developed a mechanism through the networks of continuous online monitoring and risk analysis for WHRDs at risk. We have developed protocols and actions that allow us to move safely across territories, and we have strengthened online security training, measures, and accompaniment. We have also intensified our communications and advocacy work to denounce abuses and violence committed in this moment and have contributed to developing a narrative of the pandemic from the perspective of peoples and women defenders.
This is why today, 29 November, as part of the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, we raise our voices with pride and love, and, against this system of death that wants us confined and silenced, we re-affirm our intention to continue centering the care for life, and to make the principle that Networks Save Lives a reality. Because we do not give up on hope, today more than ever, the experience of Feminist Holistic Protection brings us closer together and gives us strength so that the deep changes that our world needs continue to be possible.
Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders