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By Christina Green, Project HOPE

Sonia became a role model in her community, balancing her family and business while providing answers to women with questions about health. But as her social status grew, so too did the bruises under her clothes.

Like so many men in the machismo dominated Honduran society, her husband didn't like her newfound confidence as a small business owner, even though her profits were used to help their family. Unfortunately, like so many women, Sonia saw no alternative but to endure the beatings and insults.

Until 1997, assaulting a wife or a girlfriend wasn't considered a crime in Honduras. One year after the Law Against Domestic Violence took effect making domestic violence and sexual harassment criminal offenses approximately 3,000 women who filed complaints under protection of the new law were still waiting for their day in court.

Unfortunately, domestic violence still remains commonplace today. According to the United Nations Population Fund's State of the World Population 2005 report, in Honduras, almost one in six women over age 14 reports having been the victim of physical violence. While official Honduran statistics estimate incidents of domestic violence occur every 45 minutes, unofficial data compiled by women's organizations show that the actual rate is closer to every 20 minutes.

A Safe Haven

When the law was approved, Project HOPE had already been working for three years in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with low income women through its Village Health Bank (VHB) program an innovative combination of micro-credit and health education to teach women how to use their new income to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families.

Recognizing the VHB meetings as a safe place to discuss sensitive issues like their bodies, safe sex, and how to claim their right to make decisions about their own health and that of their children, participants began inquiring about their right to a safe, secure home. At the VHB members' request, Project HOPE began gradually introducing education about women's rights in abusive relationships into its VHB curriculum.

"We began with casual training sessions, TV forums and radio spots about claiming justice and the law against domestic violence," explained Marco Antonio Suazo, Project HOPE Country Director for Honduras.

With support from fellow VHB members and staff, Sonia filed a denouncement with the Family Court soon after being chased out of her home by her husband. She joined a support group promoted by Project HOPE and facilitated by one of its partners, the Family Counsels of the Secretary of Public Health. She also participated in a course for legal promoters and other educational events on domestic violence.

Under leadership of survivors like Sonia, VHB members began coordinating public outreach events to raise awareness about domestic violence and promote ways to end it. These events included community leaders, the police, legal workers, women's rights organizations and domestic abuse survivors.

The Other Side of the Issue

Reactions from men were mixed."Some of the members' partners did not look well on the domestic violence education that the women were receiving, believing that it was better for them to remain ignorant on the subject," said Suazo. To help men become more comfortable with the complexities of personal and legal issues related to domestic violence, HOPE began inviting them to activities. As expected, some men expressed anger at such frank discussions about where women can seek help, including legal protection.

"On occasion, during workshops some men were not in agreement with the content of the education, stating that their wives could denounce them as a result of the information being provided and that they could resolve these issues at home," said Suazo. "The concept that the man has the right to treat his wife or partner however he pleases, machismo, was evident in the workshops as some men did not want to be educated on this topic."

"On the other hand, some men began to change their attitudes just knowing their wives were learning about domestic violence, according to members' testimonies," he said. "Regardless, the disclosure of informative materials and the training of promoters and community trainers on domestic violence in the community added to the education received through the VHB, allowing women to learn to value themselves and their rights and to improve their self-esteem."

A Chance for a Happier Ending

Today Sonia is a leader in her community as the President of Communal Board, the main community organization in her village, and is recognized as a person who can help in cases of domestic violence. She facilitates domestic violence education at health fairs promoted by Project HOPE. Most importantly, she has learned to put an end to domestic violence in her life and lives happily on her own with her children.

To learn more about Project HOPE and the Village Health Bank program, visit us online at www.projecthope.org.

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