I recently travelled to Honduras, my country of origin, to vote on the presidential elections on Sunday November 26, 2017, to give a presentation on forced displacement of Hondurans and asylum seekers in the United States at Plan Internacional, and visit my family.
I was excited and looking forward to giving my presentation on forcibly displaced Hondurans and asylum seekers in the U.S. to practitioners and policy makers working on violence prevention in Honduras. As an academic, one of my aims is to bridge the gap between academia and policy makers. How many times have I asked myself: how can research influence policy?
The presentation was scheduled on Thursday November 30, 2017 at Plan Internacional. I based it on my work as an expert witness for Hondurans seeking asylum in the U.S. as well as conversations with U.S. immigration lawyers who have helped me understand the difficulties that Central Americans face in trying to obtain asylum. As I wrote in my previous blog entry, forced displacement and migration of nationals from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala is a serious problem. Violence and crime are the main factors of forced displacement, affecting especially women and children from social and economic disadvantaged backgrounds.
My presentation at the weekly meeting at Plan Internacional was about this phenomenon. Because the audience were practitioners and policy makers working on violence prevention at NGOs or the government (Secretary for Education), my presentation included suggestions for prevention of violence, gender-based violence, and state protection.
However, the unexpected happen. Sunday’s elections took an unexpected turn. The irregularities of the electoral authorities plunged the country into a crisis. I recently published a note in The Conversation analyzing the electoral crisis in Honduras. On the day of my presentation, protesters from the opposition, Alliance against the Dictatorship, had begun and the government deployed the police and special units. I received a call while I was on my way that the meeting was cancelled due to the crisis and the uncertainty in Tegucigalpa. I understood, but I could not help feeling a bit down. Lorena Reyes, one of the organizers who had arrived at the building, suggested that we meet anyways and drink coffee. “Some people might arrive because this cancellation has been so last minute”.
I arrived and a few minutes later three practitioners showed up. Lorena suggested we go to a café and that I talk about my presentation. We entered a café, organized the tables, introduced ourselves -meanwhile 3 more practitioners arrived- ordered breakfast, and I started talking about my presentation to a small audience who worked with NGOs (Save the Children, Plan International, US Aid, Interamerican Bank) and the Secretary for Education.
Eating breakfast and discussing violence prevention in Honduras (Photo: Aminta Gutiérrez)
After two hours discussing forcibly displaced Hondurans, asylum seekers, as well as policy suggestions for violence prevention -we moved outside because of the noise inside the cafe (Photo: Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera).
So it wasn’t all lost after all. Just as Honduras’s elections were unexpected, so too my presentation that day. I spoke about my work as an expert witness for Hondurans seeking asylum and the factors behind the violence -which are not only local, but also global.
I mentioned mentioned the local factors or ‘push factors’ of the forced displacement of Hondurans:
- Violence from gangs and maras
- Domestic violence mainly from male spouses and partners
- Lack of state protection
Practitioners asked that I expand a bit on lack of state protection. I mentioned that when victims of violence seek state protection, they generally go to the police. State protection -or rather the absence of it- is gendered. For instance, male police officers discourage female victims of violence to file reports.
Some of the recommendations I gave for policy on violence prevention were:
- Focus on and work with grassroots organizations.
- Include a gender perspective in work with local communities, community leaders, and grassroots organizations. For instance, establishing a Center for Gender Equality in the neighborhoods that informs residents of their rights and about gender-based violence.
- Establish an action plan for victims of violence.
- Training police officers on gender relations and gender.
The practitioners and policy makers made recommendations based on their work in the field such as change in traditional forms of punishment for children and the need to include a psychologist in schools and in the action plan to help victims deal with trauma.
Despite the electoral crisis in Honduras, which, as I write this blog entry, remains unresolved, practitioners, policy makers, and an academic we are able to meet and discuss not only about violence and forced displacement in Honduras, but also on possible solutions.