According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world. People are killed in Honduras at more than twice the rate than that of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Jamaica – all countries known for having high levels of violence.
While many assume the violence in Honduras is gang-related, and primarily affects young men, women are also being killed at alarming rates. The Nobel Women’s Initiative found that femicides increased by 257% between 2002 and 2010, and at least one woman is murdered in Honduras every day.
On a recent trip to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, I met with a group of peer educators who volunteer for our Member Association, Ashonplafa. Disturbed by the violence they see daily, the peer educators talk to young people in their neighborhoods about the violence that is rampant in their communities. They use comprehensive sexuality education programs – which focus on gender equality and human rights – as a tool to prevent violence and promote healthy relationships.
Ever Montoya has been volunteering with Ashonplafa for the last five years. Now twenty years old, Montoya grew up in Colonia El Carrizal, a poor neighborhood with some of the highest levels of violence in the city. His own brother was killed recently in a family dispute.
Montoya sees violence all around him: in his family, on the streets, and at school. Determined to do something about it, he uses his training and role a peer educator to change his community.
“There are two types of citizens – passive and active,” he said. “The active citizens know their rights. I give talks in my community about how to be an active citizen. Young people have rights, and with this information, they can be part of the solution.”
Montoya also speaks to his peers about machismo and the importance of gender equity in violence prevention. He said, “Nobody is on top of anybody else.”
Eder Arturo Montoya Martinez, an 18-year-old university student, lives in Colonia La Travesia, a neighborhood known for gang activity. He explained that his neighbors are afraid to leave their houses, even to go to work, and said working with Ashonplafa taught him that violence takes many different forms.
“Violence begins with preventing somebody from doing what they want,” he said. “Demanding that your girlfriend gives you her Facebook password can be violence.”
As part of his work as a peer educator, Martinez sets up booths in his neighborhood and leads interactive games or art projects to spread the message about preventing violence. He talks to his peers about respecting each other’s rights and valuing their own lives. He also refers young people to Ashonplafa, where they can receive assistance, counseling, and health services.
Jasson Alexander Matute Puerto lives in the same neighborhood as Martinez and grew up being physically abused by his mother. Although education was not prioritized in his home, the seventeen-year-old peer educator began taking advantage of English language and computer classes being offered in his neighborhood for free. Through self-improvement, he gained confidence and a desire to help others.
Puerto believes violence is biggest problem in his country, especially violence that takes place in the home. He knows that change is an uphill battle – given the high levels of unemployment and lack of economic opportunities – but he also sees the progress being made. Puerto’s grandfather used to tell him that women were only good for sweeping and cooking, but he sees himself as part of a new generation of Honduran men.
“I talk about sexual diversity, machismo, and gender,” Puerto said. “It’s time to really value women. It’s time to change!”