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'Vogelvrije' Daysi Flores combats political violence

Author Mama Cash

Mama Cash has previously reported on the women who want to bring an end to the use of excessive violence against human rights activists in Central America and Mexico, also referred to as Mesoamerica. One of these women is 35-year-old Daysi Flores. She herself was threatened, but is determined not to be forced into submission.

Violence against women already occurs alarmingly often in Mesoamerica. The chance of being threatened, raped or murdered is even greater for activists who speak up for women’s rights and indigenous land rights, while speaking out against state violence. In response to this violence, six women’s rights organisations joined together to launch the Mesoamerican Initiative of Human Rights Defenders. One of the spokeswomen for this network is structural engineer Daysi Flores, who is active in the envrionmental rights, women’s rights, and human rights movements in Honduras. She declared herself a feminist at the age of 15. ‘I was on my way to my grandma when a man tried to rape me. He held a machete to my throat. After almost two hours of violence and resistance, I managed to escape. But I was quite seriously wounded, both physically and psychologically. My mother brought me to a support group for women who had survived violence. It was there that I began to understand that I was not the only one who had experienced such violence and that I wouldn’t, unfortunately, be the last. This was how I came to discover feminism and a world of alternatives. Since then, I have been fighting against injustice and oppression.’

Police torture
Since 2009, Daysi has been involved in Feminists in Resistance (Feministas en resistencia), an action group that is committed to promoting democracy and human rights in Honduras. ‘It is not easy to live in a fundamentalist military dictatorship. The regime is looking to gain control and power wherever it can, and exercises that all too often by trampling on women. Militant activists are challenging this oppressive regime. They are paying the price for this with their bodies: assault and rape are everyday occurrences. Feelings of outrage and pain about this can all too easily get bogged down in a feeling of hopelessness. But my fellow activists and I will stand strong. We are as different as women can possibly be. What ties us together is that we are fighting for our right to a dignified life.’

The Mesoamerican Initiative is, in turn, fighting for the rights and safety of human rights activists. Daysi: ‘We want to expose the severe violence committed against activists – the murders and the rapes, but also the death threats, the harassment and the random arrests. You will inevitably experience this as a human rights activist. I myself have been threatened regularly, assaulted by the police and have had to deal with cyber sabotage. Furthermore, I have witnessed violence against fellow activists countless times, ranging from domestic violence and smear campaigns to police torture during protests.’ With a Rapid Response Network (which makes it possible to react more quickly to violent incidents against female activists), the network intends to increase safety for activists. It is also kicking up a fuss, both regionally and internationally, in order to mobilise political support.

#VogelvrijeVrouwen
Thanks to a generous contribution from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, Mama Cash was able to award a two-year grant to the Mesoamerican Initiative. At the same time, the #VogelvrijeVrouwen campaign has been launched, which is seeking to gain attention and support in the Netherlands for the Mesoamerican activists this year. Daysi: ‘I am very happy with this campaign. It is extremely important for us to know we are not alone. That it doesn’t go unnoticed if something happens to us. That we can count on solidarity, not only in words, but also through concrete actions that support our fight.’

Theatre maker Adelheid Roosen has undertaken the role of campaign ambassador. ‘Of course, all kinds of things need to happen at UN level too, but you can also do something about it yourself. By sending tweets to and about women who are being oppressed, you are doing something essential: ensuring that the other knows she is being seen.’ Kirsten van den Hul, columnist with the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (AD) and ‘change agent’, has also given her support to #VogelvrijeVrouwen. ‘In my view, the campaign is a two-way process. We can let the activists in Mesoamerica know that we are thinking about them here in the Netherlands, that they are not alone. However, we can also learn a lot from them at the same time, purely because they show how you can have the courage to make your voice heard and succeed in doing so in a context that is much more difficult than our own.’

Your tweet gives her wings!
Are you a Twitter user? Take action then on behalf of Daysi and other human rights activists in Central America and Mexico! Send a tweet into the world to express your solidarity with all the women who risk their lives for human rights. You can find ready-made tweets that you can use at www.vogelvrijevrouwen.nl. With your help, we want to start a Twitter wave in the coming months, which will lead to an actual Twitter tsunami on 29 November. Tweet along with #VogelvrijeVrouwen!

* ‘Vogelvrij’ is linked to the ‘Vogelvrije Vrouwen’ campaign in the Netherlands. The phrase Vogelvrije Vrouwen in Dutch has deep literal and figurative meaning. Vogelvrije literally means “free as a bird” but also has the connotation of a person who is outside the boundaries of the legal system, someone who is not protected by the law. Vrouwen means “women”, thus the campaign slogan, Vogelvrije Vrouwen, sheds light on the women whose struggles for justice and freedom are threatened by institutionalised impunity.