November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day: In the face of barbarism, we care among ourselves, in community

This year in Mexico five women defenders searching for disappeared family members were victims of feminicide. In Nicaragua 21 women are still prisoners for struggling against the totalitarian drift of the Daniel Ortega government, while many more have been banished, gone into exile, seen their organizations illegally shut down, or live with their families in an atmosphere of fear and persecution. 

In Honduras landlords, extractive companies, and racist, corrupt institutional powers continue to attack and criminalize women defenders and communities resisting the plunder of their lands. In El Salvador women defenders and journalists live under an arbitrary state of exception as they confront digital attacks that identify them and subject them to the wave of violent actions sweeping the country. 

Throughout the region, oppressive ruling powers and our local opponents continue to discriminate against us, accuse us of being “bad women,” attack us sexually, and deny our rights to get organized and speak out. 

These are just a few of our context’s highlights in which we Mesoamerican human rights defenders, work. Things have certainly not changed much from the way they were almost thirteen years ago, when women defenders from diverse social movements in Mesoamerica and other countries came together in Oaxaca, Mexico to share our concerns and impotence over the violence marking our bodies and lives. That’s where a pact emerged to protect and care among ourselves, which we now call Holistic Feminist Protection (HFP).  

This HFP (or PIF, in Spanish) defines the way we women defenders and communities accompany each other when we are attacked; the way we make our risk analysis from a feminist perspective that extends to all dimensions of our situation; the way we build shelters; the way we document acts of violence, denounce them, and seek justice; the way we collectively care for ourselves and heal as we strengthen our ability to protect ourselves. 

It has not been easy to put Holistic Feminist Protection into practice. On the contrary, it continues to be a process fraught with challenges and lessons learned, with achievements and more challenges, with convergence and divergence, pain and suffering, as well as small victories.  

Today, thirteen years later, our region continues to be the same violent, hostile place that it was before, maybe even worse. Capitalist, racist, patriarchal policies aimed for centuries at subjugating and expropriating our lives still prevail, as we have seen in the climate crisis, the COVID-19 syndemic, the upsurge of religious fundamentalisms, extreme right, the power of private enterprise and organized crime groups, and the increasingly self-conscious authoritarianism of certain governments.

In the face of these power groups’ violence, many international bodies, supranational entities, government mechanisms, and other institutions have proved to be at the very least, helpless. What’s more, our Attacks against Women Defenders’ Registry verifies that in the region as a whole, governments – yes, those that in theory are supposed to protect us – are the worst aggressors through the actions of police and military forces, institutions, and authorities at different levels. 

All this only reaffirms our conviction that our best defense comes from each other in our communities and our territories through Holistic Feminist Protection. Our lives do not depend on incapable, complicit institutions. That’s why we have created protection networks among and for the sake of women defenders from different social movements to care for our lives, our organizations, and our communities, and in this way, continue to struggle together for the future of the web of life itself. 

Today, on International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, we of IM-Defensoras acknowledge and salute the struggles of all of our compañeras, denounce the acts of violence that seek to silence us, and reaffirm our pact to care for each other.   

 On this Day of Women Defenders, we also invite you to explore the way in which we have confronted violence as we continue to construct Holistic Feminist Protection. For this, we announce the upcoming release of The Pact of Caring Among Ourselves, which we will publicly present on our YouTube channel this December 9 at 10 AM CST. 

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