Gender inequality in Honduras

An old Honduran woman resting at the road side in San Ramon Choluteca.

Honduras has experienced major economic and social developments since the 1980s. These changes have been positive overall, bringing more gender equality in Honduras and much higher quality of life for everyone, especially women. Even with the improvements, there is still a long way to go in shrinking the gender gap that by the world's standards is very high. In the 2011 Human Development Report, Honduras placed 121st out of 187 countries.[1]

The country's ranking specific to gender inequality is 105th out of 146 countries, with an overall value of 0.511 out of 1 in terms of HDI (with 1 representing perfect inequality).[1]

Many of the inequalities stem from longstanding cultural norms and traditions that have been in place for hundreds of years revolving around the tasks and roles played in the agricultural society of old gender roles in Mesoamerica.


Honduras on the map

Honduras is a country in Central America. Honduras became independent from Spanish colonization in 1821, and has since been a republic, although it has consistently endured social problems, violence and political instability, remaining one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate.[2] More than half of the population lives in poverty, with per capita income being one of the lowest in Latin America. Poverty is especially high among rural and indigenous people.[3]

Gender roles in Honduras

Honduran girl. Honduran traditional societal norms dictate a primarily domestic role for girls and women.

As Honduras is known for having a patriarchy system, gender roles which put women in a subordinate position are quite prominent. Such gender roles dictate that men dominate the public sphere, while women are supposed to conform and adhere to the realm of the domestic sphere. Subsequently, women are not allowed to participate in traditional male positions in society; the male is expected to be the head of the household and the main provider. This also gives men the right to make important decisions over women such as when they may procreate, how many children women may have, when and how many daily chores shall be done, if they may receive education, and whether or not they may enter the workforce.[4] Honduran men are expected to father many children, and there is little social stigma attached to men's premarital and extramarital sexual relationships.[5] Although women who do not conform to what is socially deemed as appropriate behaviour are often subjected to violence, such violence is also targeted towards men who are perceived as effeminate and do not conform to traditional notions of masculinity.[6]

Gender Inequality Index (GII) of Honduras

In 2011, Honduras ranked 105th out of 146 countries on the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Gender Inequality Index (GII). This is a multidimensional index that measures and reports a country's level of gender inequality. It is represented in a single number which helps represent where countries stand on gender issues. This number is based on the average of statistics in three categories: reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. These statistics can give a general idea of how a country fares on gender issues relative to all 146 countries in the study, and also against other countries from the same region. The overall comparison between the HDI and the gender inequality index would suggest that Honduras is performing better and progressing faster on gender issues than on general welfare. These changes have come as a result of social and political shifts in opinion on the role of women in society. Since the 1980s the overall value of Honduras' HDI has averaged an increase of 1.6% annually, which is an impressive improvement that has brought them over a 30% positive increase to date.[1]

Reproductive health

Reproductive health is usually gauged in terms of the maternal mortality rate, which is the number of mothers per 100,000 who die from pregnancy-related causes. In 2015, Honduras had a rate of 129 deaths/100,000 live births.[3] Many of these deaths come as a result of unregulated and illegally performed abortions which leave the women at great risk for infection. Another indicator is the adolescent fertility rate, which is the number of live births per 1,000 adolescent mothers (ages 13–18). For every 1,000 births in Honduras, 93.3, or almost 10 percent, were to adolescent mothers. This high rate is a negative indicator not only for the women who are having children at such a young age, but also for the community as a whole. Women who have children as adolescents put their children in a situation where they are much more likely to be raised in poverty, due to the fact that the secondary education dropout rate is significantly higher among adolescents who have children.

The GII also shows that as of 2011 only 65 percent of women aged 15–49 are using any form of contraception and only 67% of women have a skilled professional present for the birth of their child. This low level of contraception use has not equated to a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Only 0.2 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men are infected. Having fewer women than men infected with AIDS is usually a trend found in more developed countries. The bad news on that front is that, according to Sister Namibia, "the sale of young girls and women into prostitution slavery plays a major role in the transmission of AIDS among heterosexual couples."[7] This practice is leading to an increase of cases of AIDS.

The final contributing factor to reproductive health is the number of children women have. The total fertility rate in Honduras is 2.78 children born/woman (2015 est.).[3]

Reproductive and sexual rights

Fifty percent of births to women under the age of twenty were unplanned and nearly the same number of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 reported becoming sexually active, poorer women at higher rates. Access to birth control is typically more available to married women between the ages of 18 and 24. In regards to women's understanding of safe sex practices in Honduras, the vast majority of adolescents understand how and where to obtain condoms and have knowledge of HIV/AIDS prevention, but only a third of the population have a full educational awareness of the virus itself. Young women in urban areas have twice as much knowledge of HIV/AIDS compared to urban youth. The highest formal awareness is among the wealthiest of teens, and the least amount of awareness is among the poorest. Abortion has been illegal in Honduras since it was banned in 1997. The Honduran Supreme Court banned the use of contraceptives for emergency purposes in 2012, making the unlawful administering or receiving of it punishable in the same way as abortion. Teenagers must have parental consent in order to be tested for HIV/AIDS. In 2010, the Honduran government signed the Ministerial Declaration of Preventing through Education, which set the goal of bettering the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents by implementing more quality sex education programs in schools, among other related goals.


The UNDP's GII includes two measures as indicators of empowerment. These indicators are the percentage of parliament seats held by women compared to men, and the percentage of women with a least secondary education compared to men.

Perhaps the most telling statistic on empowerment, the question "who is the decision maker" was posed to families in Honduras and 91.3% of those people answered the man was the primary decision maker vs. 8.7% female.[8] This response suggests that the root of the gender problem in Honduras is the idea of patriarchy being the only way to operate and that women should always be the followers and caregivers, but not the decision makers. This insight into the culture of Honduras may be the key to development. Countries cannot simply stop in their tracks and change. It is only through the merging of old and new in the most seamless way that true and lasting change can be achieved.

A common form of empowerment is through political channels. Women in Honduras find themselves almost entirely cut out of the political system. The constant fight for survival has kept most women out of organized labor parties where their grievances could potentially be heard. If people want their plight to be recognized, they typically need an organized movement to make the government listen. Honduran mothers who spend countless hours providing unpaid labor while also playing the role of the primary breadwinner, have no time to bring their case to the political stage.

Economic activity

Economic activity in the GII is based on only one statistic: the proportion of females compared to males in the labor force. As of 2014, women made 34.6% of the labor force in Honduras.[9] Many women work in low-skilled jobs, often in bad conditions.[10] Honduran women have a much lower participation in the workforce than other Latin American women, due to Honduras being more conservative than other countries in the region.[11] The labour opportunities in rural areas are very limited for women, owing to a combination of lack of jobs and social views which dictate that women belong in the home.[11]

In the 2008 Global Gender Gap Index, Honduras was ranked 21st out of 74 countries on their general index value.[1] Pulled from the same data but for the economic participation and opportunity sub-index they were ranked 47th.[1] That is a change of 26 spots when talking about general-well being versus economic inclusion. This is yet another indicator that gender inequality is lower in economic indicators.

On issues of women's health, Honduras did better than other countries close to it on the index, but the economic opportunities and participation leave a lot of room for improvement economically.

There has been a recent wave of immigration consisting mostly of young women moving from rural to urban areas in order to find work. This has led to urban centers in Honduras being made up of over 53% women.[1] According to Sister Namibia this has resulted in "rapid urban growth in recent years has spawned various social problems, including unemployment, lack of adequate housing and basic services, all of which affect women most severely."[1]

Labor force participation

Men are twice as likely to be employed in Honduras as are women, and there are very strong stereotypes of what men's and women's jobs should be. Much of this comes from the Mesoamerican ideas of gender. Gender role stereotypes are reinforced from a young age. Boys are given machetes and girls are given meteates (the instrument women use to grind corn into meal).

Rural women carry out very important roles in agricultural life, but are prohibited from stepping out of those boundaries. Women cook, clean, plant crops and even tend animals, but only men are allowed to plow the fields. These roles from ancient culture are still evident even today - women are seen as limited on what they can and can't accomplish. The idea of male and female jobs also carries over into the field of unpaid labor, as women perform a great deal more unpaid labor than men.

Although women have seen an increase in labor force participation in the past few decades, that is not necessarily an indication of equality in the labor force. This slow transition for women from unpaid to paid labor is a step in the right direction, but there is still much to be done in the battle for equal pay, jobs, and treatment. Women, in addition to having to work twice as hard in order to get a traditionally male-held job, are then paid less than their male counterparts for doing exactly the same job. Women are seen as a second choice as breadwinner in the home. They are preferred to stay home, work as homemakers, and become dependent on their dominant husbands. This gender role is carried into the workplace, making women secondary priority as employees.

Although women are seen as a second choice for a breadwinner, it is becoming more and more common for women to be the main, and in many cases the sole breadwinner. Yoked with this burden of providing for a family while living in a country where one's labor is not valued can be extremely difficult. This has forced many women to be innovative and flexible when it comes to providing for their families.

Many resort to operating food carts or peddling cheap merchandise on street corners. While this is a way to feed a family, it is also detrimental to the cause for women and plays a part in widening the gender gap even further. Overall the average woman makes considerably less than her male counterpart, and is usually forced into industries with little to no benefits and almost no job security.

Distribution of wealth by gender

Woman with horse

Much can be said about the power any one group has in its respective society, based solely on what share of the wealth that group has. Women in Honduras have a very small share of the overall wealth, and even the parts that they have seem to reinforce their roles as homemakers and caretakers. This is a table showing the ratio of ownership.

Home ownership: Women- 38% Men- 59% joint- %3 Land ownership: Women- 12.8% Men- 87.2% Cattle: Women- 13% Men- 72% Joint- 15% Work animals: Women- 10% Men- 85% Joint- 5%[8]

Women have a slight edge in ownership over chickens and pigs, but the place where women really have ownership is in consumer durables. They tend to own more sewing machines, blenders, irons, stoves, toasters, and fridges, whereas men tend to own the computers, bikes, motorcycles, and cars. The assets that are predominantly owned by the women are of relatively small value compared to the high-value items that are owned almost exclusively by the men.

The underlying message given here is that women own the chickens and the pigs, because they can then prepare them into a meal. They also own the items necessary to sew, blend, iron, cook, bake, and prepare and serve food. They do not, however, have the assets necessary to gain physical mobility through the means of owning a car or bicycle, check email, or cultivate a field.

Educational attainment of women

School girls in Honduras

Due to the traditionally patriarchal nature of Honduras, girls were often educationally disadvantaged. The reason for this being that if times got tough and only one child in a family was going to be educated, any female children would lose their chance at education before the boys. This is due to the fact that it is much harder for a female to find work regardless of educational achievement. The sought-after, well-paying jobs are commonly associated with masculinity in Honduras, including heavy manual labor, technical work, and anything that requires extensive training or an advanced degree. The main reason that girls are pulled out of school in the first place is usually to help in the family, leading to differences in educational attainment. Nevertheless, the situation is changing, as the school life expectancy is today estimated to be higher for girls (12 years) than boys (11 years) -as of 2013.[3] Honduras does have a fairly high literacy rate, which is similar for both sexes: 88.4% for males and 88.6% for females.[3]

Gender/sexuality-based violence

Gender-based violence is violence against an individual or group based on their gender. This consists of physical, mental, or sexual actions by force or taking away someone’s liberty. Although gender-based violence is often targeted towards women, men may also be victims of harassment or beatings because they "do not conform to the view of masculinity, which is accepted by society".[6]

Violence against women occurs in public and in private, and demonstrates the inequality of power between women and men. This has led to women being dominated and discriminated against by men and this violence forces women "into a subordinate position compared with men".[6]

The most common form of gender-based violence is sexual in nature. Understandably, sexual violence involves exploitation and abuse and is related "to any act, attempt, or threat that results in physical and emotional harm".[6] Sexual violence can occur in the family, through rape or marital rape, coercion, by attempt, in the form of harassment and as a weapon of war or torture.[6] There are four more types of gender/sexuality-based violence:

In Honduras, the rate of gender-based killing, or femicide, is rated in sixth place according to a study done in 2011.[12] In current years the rates of violence against women have increased. In this country, femicide is extremely brutal. Sometimes bodies are found burned or with the feet and hands tied. During the autopsies, it is often discovered that rape has occurred before the victim's death. In Honduras, any form of rape is considered a public crime and a report will be made even if charges are not pressed by the victim.

Sadly, in Honduras, and in many countries surrounding it, justice against femicide does not get served. Although there are women’s rights activists trying to take a stand, "fewer than 3% of reported femicide cases are resolved by the courts".[12] This only gives the perpetrators more power and confidence to commit these crimes knowing that they will not be convicted, which makes femicide the norm in Honduras.

Domestic Violence Act

An estimated 27 percent of Honduran women report that they have endured some form of physical violence. [13] This may include physical injuries, domestic violence, rape, and homicide. The Public Prosecutor's office recognizes twenty-five forms of violence inflicted upon Honduran women. The violence against women in Honduras is due to multiple reasons which include gender norms, poverty, militarization, drug trafficking, and inequality. [13] As a result, from the years 2005 through 2013, the numbers of violent death arose by two hundred and sixty-three percent. This made the rate of violent deaths of Honduran women increase from 2.7 in 2005 to 14.6 in 2013. [13] This increase in violent deaths is greater than the total amount of homicide rates in countries that are currently engaged in a war zone or armed conflict.

The Domestic Violence Act took effect after a long struggle by women's rights activists to get it passed. The act was focused on dealing with violence in the home, an issue which was largely overlooked by local authorities. The act needed not only to get police to crack down, but the judicial system and social systems also needed to be adjusted to deal with the repercussions. In 1998, the bill was passed and the authorities were charged with the difficult task of dealing with such a widespread and controversial issue. In order to deal with new court cases, special domestic violence judges were assigned to handle the new caseload. The bill was inspired by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as other international organizations in support of women's rights, and had a main goal of reducing violence towards women in Honduras. There was also a network of therapists, charged with providing family counselling to those that were affected by the bill. Men who were sanctioned by the bill were also monitored to reduce the chances of future violence. The bill started off only being enforced around the capital and other major cities, but quickly spread throughout all of Honduras. This was a major step in reducing the frequency and acceptability of gender violence in Honduras.[14]

History of women's rights

Women's organizations have been in existence since the 1920s, when the Women's Cultural Society (Sociedad Cultural Feminina Hondureña) was formed and began to fight for women's rights. One leader, Visitación Padilla, actively opposed U.S. intervention in Honduras in 1924. Women also played important roles in the development of the labor movement,which became particularly active in the 1950s. According to Gladys Lanza, a trade union activist, women were extremely active in the 1954 national banana workers strike. They controlled entrances to towns and markets, closed the bars so men could not get drunk, and ran collective kitchens. Despite the extent of this logistical work, there was not a single woman on the strike committee. In the 1950s women also became active in the fight for women's suffrage, which was obtained in 1955.[5] The current Constitution of Honduras enshrines gender equality: art 60 reads: "Any discrimination on grounds of sex, race, class and any other injuries to human dignity are declared punishable". (Se declara punible toda discriminación por motivo de sexo, raza, clase y cualquier otra lesiva a la dignidad humana).[15]

Women in politics

Despite the fact that women today have equal political rights, they remain under-represented in politics. Nevertheless, the numbers have increased in recent years, and as of 2013, women made 25.80% of the Parliament.[16]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNDP. Human Development Report 2011: Sustainability and Equality. 2011. Technical Report.
  2. Parkinson, Charles (21 April 2014). "Latin America is World's Most Violent Region: UN". InSight Crime. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5
  5. 1 2 Lind, Amy (2003). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Women's Issues Worldwide: Central and South America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 319. ISBN 0-313-32787-4.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5
  7. Glimpse the reality of Honduran women. (1992). Sister Namibia, 4(1), 15. Retrieved from (subscription required)
  8. 1 2 Deere, Carmen Diana, Gina E. Alvarado, and Jennifer Twyman. Poverty, Hardship, and Gender Inequality in Asset Ownership in Latin America. Center for Gender in Global Context, Michigan State University, 2010.
  11. 1 2
  12. 1 2
  13. 1 2 3
  14. Herrmannsdorfer, Claudia. "Case Study: The Inter-Institutional Commission to Follow-up Implementation of the Domestic Violence Act in Honduras." A PARLIAMENTARY RESPONSE TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN (2009): 97.
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. Retrieved April 6, 2007.
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