Women on the Run in Central America

By Britanny Vanderhoof

Women on the Run in Central America

Two passers-by look at graffiti condemning violence against women, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on January 31, 2014.


A new report released by UNHCR calls attention to the growing plight of women in Central America and the forces that are causing them to flee from their home countries in ever increasing numbers. It includes first-hand accounts from 160 women who have fled persecution in Central America and Mexico.

At an October 28 event in Washington, D.C. marking the release of Women on the Run: First-Hand Accounts of Refugees Fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said of the of the problem “we are seeing another refugee situation unfolding in the Americas.” (You can view the webcast of that event here.)

There are many forces driving people to flee that region, but the widespread, nearly inescapable violence that flows from the transnational gangs that exercise control over the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) is a primary factor. According to the report, women in the Northern Triangle are at almost daily risk for targeted violence including sexual assault, extortion and murder. There is also little assistance available for them at home, should they be targeted for violence of this sort. Law enforcement is either unable or unwilling to provide protection. Transgendered women face additional harassment, discrimination and attacks. 

Many of the women interviewed in the report tried to find safety elsewhere in the country but were ultimately unsuccessful and therefore compelled to seek safety outside their home countries.

The report documents a fivefold increase in the number of asylum-seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the United States since 2008. Nor are targeted women exclusively headed to the United States. Rather, the report shows a thirteenfold increase in asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle region to Mexico and other Central American countries over the same period. 

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