For the first time, U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), sailing toward Latin America and the Caribbean as part of U.S. Southern Command- (SOUTHCOM) sponsored humanitarian mission Continuing Promise 2022, is breaking down gender barriers by expanding the perspective on traditional security and health issues.
The current mission is engaging with the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Initiative to strengthen a common goal to address gender-based violence and women empowerment.
“When women or anyone in the community is experiencing gender-based violence, it’s one of the roadblocks that keeps them from being able to participate fully in their community, institutions, and programs where they are able to be involved in decision-making, impacting peace, and security in their communities and nation as a whole,” said U.S. Navy Captain Carolyn Carrie, WPS lead for the Continuing Promise mission, during the Gender-based Violence Workshop, held in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, October 31-November 1.
“This is not just a problem in Honduras. It’s a problem all over the world, and we need to address the problem together.”
Aside from providing humanitarian assistance, readiness building, and goodwill, the mission in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, the ship’s first stop, and San Pedro Sula united both U.S. and partner nations military and civilian personnel with federal agencies, international partners, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) under the WPS umbrella, as a global effort to support the contributions of women in the defense and security sectors.
WPS is a cornerstone to SOUTHCOM’s mission of promoting security partnerships across the Western Hemisphere.
The WPS agenda addressed types and roots of gender-based violence, victims and perpetrators, and women empowerment. In addition, the agenda included violence in vulnerable populations and challenges faced in the healthcare system for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. The topics were presented with panelists and group exercises.
Gender-based violence is a topic that brings a lot attention in Honduras. “Honduras has some of the highest rates of female deaths at the hands of a partner. It’s one of the highest in Central America, although Guatemala has even higher rates and it’s largely due to violence,” said doctor Lynn Lieberman Lawry, associate professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics of the School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland.
Doctor Lieberman looked around the participants at the Gender-based Violence Workshop and felt optimistic that changes are possible. Participants eagerly talked about the violence against women in their communities.
“It’s time to address the issues of gender-based violence, their roots and causes with our partner nations in Latin American and the Caribbean, to be able to find solutions. We must prevent it and respond to it,” Professor Lieberman added.
“We saw an opportunity to partner with the Continuing Promise mission. They were interested in doing a workshop on gender base violence; this is a problem that we see on a daily basis here at Ciudad Mujer,” said Laura Noriega, a participant and manager of the Ciudad Mujer Center in Puerto Cortes, an interinstitutional organization that seeks to empower women and improve their living conditions and the workshop venue. “The workshop fits within our priorities and above all allows us to talk and update ourselves on the subject alongside other institutions and organizations.”
Discrimination and violence against women and the LGBTQ community are pervasive in Guatemala.
According to Melisa Portillo, alternate project manager of Urban Municipal Government, a project that focuses on preventing violence and irregular migration, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, gender-based violence is the most reported crime in the country.
“In 2021, over 89,000 reports were made at the Public Ministry with a rate resolution of only 23 percent,” said Portillo to participants at the hybrid women symposium, held in Puerto Barrios, on October 27.
“When women are involved in conflict resolutions negotiations, peace is long lasting and elements of the community and family are taking this into consideration in a country where levels of gender violence are high,” added Portillo, explaining that women must take a stronger role in the peace process, which could potentially benefit the community in making them more secure and prosperous.
Ingrid Alicia Gamboa González, president of the Women Association Iseri Ibagari (new life in Garifuna language) and panelist of gender-based violence from the perspective of the Afro-Caribbean Garifuna people, said that “in our local context, there is almost no talk about gender-based violence. This is daily, excessive, and disproportionate violence specially when it comes to the LGBTQ population.”
Gamboa emphasized the need of a national discussion about gender violence at all levels to make the problem visible, especially when different sectors of the society are suffering from it.
In addition, she stressed the need that the justice system protect the vulnerable population and don’t fail them. “Our society must understand and respects human rights because we all deserve to live in equality.”