Between poverty and inequalities

Suyapa Martínez, Ana María Ferrera, José Filadelfo Martínez
Equipo del Centro de Estudios de la Mujer - Honduras (CEM-H), Equipo del Centro Hondureño de Promoción para el Desarrollo Comunitario (CEPRODEC)

Despite efforts proclaimed by successive democratic governments, reality shows a distinct discrepancy between objectives and achievements. Inequities persist although the state has repeatedly attempted to tackle the phenomenon of social inequality which affects the population in general, and women in particular. Welfare projects have failed one after another, giving rise to increasing uncertainty and insecurity among the citizens.

Hondurans areexperiencing one of the most contradictory moments of the democratic paradox. After 25 years of government freely electedby the will of the people, the old issues of poverty and social exclusion remainunresolved. Improvements in the legal framework have not helped to increasecitizen participation nor to consolidate the rights of women in electoralprocesses. On the contrary, small groups remain in power, holding the governmentapparatus hostage, while party structures survive under a vertical andauthoritarian framework which denies poor women all access to elected andpowerful positions in the country. Although there are 31 congresswomen out of atotal of 128 legislators, they do not represent poor women, but rather thefundamentalist thinking of the Catholic Opus Dei sector, and their actionsobstruct all progress which might have been made in the field of women’srights during the last quarter of a century.

Increasing corruption, which causes losses estimated at USD 500 million a year,the fragility of institutions and the system of patronage in party andtrade-union organizations within the government are, among others factors, thecause of inefficiency in the state system. Instead of attempting to banishcorruption, laws such as the so-called “Law Against Grey Traffic” arepassed, which does nothing but generate a loss of over USD 69 million a year forthe Honduran Telecommunications Company (HONDUTEL) with the manifest intentionof causing its bankruptcy, although it is the state’s most profitable company.The counterpart to this phenomenon is the Public Ministry’s inaction regardingthe more than 20 cases of corruption involving presidents, ministers and otherpersons with a great deal of economic power in the country.[1]

In spite of millions invested by the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), bothofficial and unofficial figures make it clear that the state still maintains asocial debt to the majority of its population. According to the Social ForeignDebt Forum (FOSDEH), about USD 3.85 billion[2]was spent on PRS programmes and projects during the 2000-2006 period, whereasthe percentage of poor people was reduced by only 4%.[3]

Budgets which discriminate against women

The inefficiency of the governmental apparatus, the dispersal of publicinvestment and the lack of a strategy arrived at by consensus and with a visionembracing the country as a whole, are among the reasons for these results. Thethree successive governments which have conducted the PRS have implementedprojects which have historically proven to have little chance of contributing tothe objectives and goals of the programme. In the case of women, it was possibleto observe in a mapping exercise carried out by CEM-H that only 14% of PRSresources which reached local governments were assigned to women. Theseinterventions will, therefore, never be able to change the unequal powerrelations between men and women, or achieve strategic changes in genderrelations in the country; nor will women ever be able to overcome the situationof poverty and violence in which the state has immersed them.[4]

According to the report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2007,female-headed households constitute 25.6% of poor homes (UN System in Honduras,2007). The government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales has made attempts to reformulatethe PRS, but in the new document women still appear as a vulnerable population,which makes it clear that gender mainstreaming has been fully ignored by thecurrent authorities.

Faced with this perspective, it would not be going out on a limb to say that thecountry is very unlikely fulfill the PRS goals and the eight MDGs establishedfor 2015.

An unwieldy and inefficient apparatus

Faced with the serious problems of citizen and juridical security, the issue ofsocial security does not appear among the basic concerns of the majority ofcitizens, who are already used to living beyond the boundaries of universallyaccepted rights.

The 1954 strike in the banana plantations of thecountry’s Atlantic coast laid the foundations for the present social securitysystem. Five years later, the current Labour Code was passed and the HonduranSocial Security Institute (IHSS) was established.

According to the Social Insurance Law, affiliation to IHSS is compulsory for“private workers who lend their services to a natural person or a legalentity; state workers; those who work for autonomous and semi-autonomousentities and the state’s decentralized entities.”[5]Likewise, the Law of Equal Opportunities for Women, passed in 2000, establishesin Article 50 that women in domestic service should be protected by socialsecurity. However, the law is rarely obeyed.

The IHSS covers the following: illness, non-work-related accidents, maternity,labour accidents and work-related illness, old age, disability, death, familysubsidies, pensions for widows and orphans, enforced work stoppage for legalreasons or proven unemployment, and social services.

Other institutions later emerged, such as the National Pensions Institute forEmployees and Officials of the Executive Branch (INJUMPEMP) in 1971, theMilitary Social Security Institute (IPM) in 1972, the Teachers’ NationalSocial Security Institute (INPREMA) in 1980, the Journalists’ Social SecurityInstitute (IPSP) in 1985, and the Honduras National Autonomous University SocialSecurity Institute (INPREUNAH) in 1989.

The state formally recognizes social security as a right. In the Constitution of1982, Article 142 states that “all persons have a right to the security oftheir economic means of subsistence in the case of disability to work or toobtain remunerated work” and Article 143 compels the state, employers andworkers to “contribute to the financing, improvement and expansion of socialinsurance.” (Rojas Caron, 2001).

It is within this framework that the health sector operates. It comprises theMinistry of Health, the IHSS and the private sub-sector, with no coordination orfunctional links among them, in spite of commitments to align and harmonizegovernment action and international cooperation.

In practice, the state has not fulfilled its constitutional mandate, anddifferent governments during recent history’s so-called democratic period haveevaded their obligations. As an example, successive governments have maintainedan increasing debt with IHSS regarding their obligations both as employers andgovernment, and regarding the amounts retained from the salaries of stateemployees.

The administration of the IHSS is shared by the government, the private sectorand workers’ associations. After half a century, coverage provided by IHSS isdeficient. Out of 5,507,697 persons of working age, only 580,000 are insureddirectly by IHSS and 843,900 are beneficiaries located in the country’slargest cities (NSI, 2006).

Although there have been efforts to improve its efficiency, in particularafter 2001, when employers’ and workers’ percentages were increased, thequality of the services rendered is still poor; a request for a doctor’sappointment may take between two and three months to fill, there is a longwaiting list afflicting beneficiaries in need of surgery, and the usual answerobtained from the IHSS’s pharmacies is that “there is no medicationavailable.”

INJUPEMP members are employees of the executive branch with indefinite workcontracts. The benefits provided are retirement pensions, disability pensions,benefit transferral, compensation for death in active service or withdrawal fromthe system, transfer of actuarial values, and also a mortgage and personal loansservice. Until September 2002, membership amounted to 109,205 persons, of whom54,654 were active contributors and 2,190 were retirees and pensioners. Of thetotal contributors to that date, 50.4% were women and 49.6% were men (Martínez,2003).

INPREMA provides coverage for an approximate population of 50,000 primary andsecondary school teachers. INPREUNAH provides coverage for about 4,500university workers throughout the country.

Bearing in mind the quality of the services and the low level of coverage, thepensions system faces serious threats. According to the newspaper ElHeraldo, in 2005 public social security institutions were burdened by acumulative operating deficit of over USD 200 million (López García, 2005).Although at present these institutions have sufficient funds to pay memberstheir benefits, in the medium and long term the situation could become quiteserious.

Growing discontent among the population in general and direct users of thenational social security system has allowed plans for the privatization ofpension funds in particular to be re-launched. Companies devoted to thisbusiness are already operating in the country and a law is being promoted whichcould be a starting point for putting it into practice.

Citizen security for women: utopia

Between 2003 and July 2007, 673 women were murdered, and these crimes remainunpunished.[6] Despite the fact that in2006 the sum of USD 894,000 was approved in the General Budget of the Republicfor the establishment of special units for the investigation of violent deathsof women, to date the government has not yet managed to identify the fundsrequired in order to make them available to the Public Ministry. Domesticviolence is on the rise, with over 12,000 cases reported in 2006, but thecreation of specialized courts in two large cities (stipulated by the LawAgainst Domestic Violence of 1997) is still being delayed. A significant fact isthat over 12% of the crimes against women are carried out by their partners,with the aggravating circumstance that the victims had already filed acomplaint, without receiving the protection from the state which is required bylaw. The Human Rights Committee, responding to the government and alternativereports on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in November2006, recommended that the state should “take appropriate measures to combatdomestic violence and ensure that those responsible be brought to trial…”and further “invites the State Party to educate the population as a whole onthe need to respect the rights and dignity of women, with a view to changingcultural patterns.”

However, the current situation is far from one of respect for and implementationof these recommendations. Christian fundamentalist groups, together withgovernment forces, have opposed the use of sex education and gender equityguidelines in educational centres, exhibiting a lack of interest in the increaseof HIV/AIDS cases, 46.25% of which affect women. Only 52% of the persons livingwith HIV/AIDS have access to antiretroviral medication (UN System in Honduras,2007).

In addition to all of this, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on theElimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has not yetbeen ratified, a fundamental requisite to enable women’s organizations and thevictims themselves to file the corresponding international reports. In spite ofthe pressure brought to bear by the organized women’s movement, the governmentcontinues to delay ratification, thus demonstrating a lack of political will tomake progress in reducing discrimination against women.

The Solidarity Network and the forbidden dream of the majority

Most citizens are excluded from social security. The Solidarity NetworkProgramme created by President Manuel Zelaya’s government is an attempt toorganize “all existing actions to provide access to mechanisms of socialprotection for families in conditions of poverty and extreme poverty.”[7]During the 2006-2010 period, the Solidarity Network will give priority to252,484 households in a condition of extreme poverty throughout the country. Tomeet this demand, the government has increased the budget for the next threeyears by approximately USD 198 million. Compensation programmes such as theHonduran Social Investment Fund, the Family Allowance Programme whichadministers the conditional family voucher,[8]the School Fund and the senior citizens’ voucher, will now be a part of theSolidarity Network package, under the direction of the country’s ‘firstlady’. The Ministry of Education is in charge of distributing to secondarypublic school students a student voucher for USD 21 a year as well as a schoolmeal and a basic package to handle the more common illnesses. The Ministry ofAgriculture and Livestock distributes what is known as a ‘technologicalvoucher’, which provides recipients with a set amount of fertilizer and seedsfor planting corn or beans. The National Sustainable Rural Development Programmeencompasses credit programmes, road improvement and irrigation systems to fosteragricultural production.

In practice, the Solidarity Network initiative replaces the PRS as a policy. Thegovernment is ignoring the consultation mechanisms established by the PRS in theimplementation of the network, which is being handled with an evidentpolitical-sectarian bias. The resources required are very high in relation tothe government’s capacity, and will have to be obtained from the cancellationof the debt or from new loans obtained from financial institutions. Inconclusion, the Solidarity Network is a welfare package which increases thecountry’s debt and condemns the poor to flee the country or to dependpermanently on handouts.


López García,E. (2005). El Heraldo, 25 June.

Martínez, Y. (2003). Pobreza, seguridadsocial y desarrollo humano en Honduras.

NSI (National Statistics Institute) (2006). Thirty-second Permanent HouseholdSurvey, Tegucigalpa: Presidency’s Office Secretariat, p. 52.

Rojas Caron,L. (2001) La Constitución hondureña,brevemente analizada. Tegucigalpa: Litografía López, p. 200-201.

UN System in Honduras (2007). Objetivos deDesarrollo del Milenio. Honduras 2007. Segundo Informe de País.<>.


[1]Interview with Congresswoman Silvia Ayala, National Congress of Honduras.
[2] Currency exchange rate used: USD 1 = HNL19.
[3] FOSDEH, <>.
[4]Study carried out by CEM-H.
[5] Decree No. 140/1959.
[6]CEM-H Documentation Centre Database and General Criminal Investigation Office.
[7]Executive Decree PCM 33-2006.
[8] Aimed at improving height and weightindicators in children under five and preschool and primary school attendance,the voucher is for approximately USD 11.