Gender Inequality

The most powerful men in my country tried to destroy my life – while I was still in high school

Political operatives frequently harness fear. They harness fear in effecting policy change, rendering cults of personality, and even broad social movements. But rarely do they do it as effectively as in the case of seeking to garner public animus against women. And, due to machismo as a cultural manifestation, nowhere in the world politicians are as effective doing that as in Latin America. 

As a female politician living in a country deemed to be one of the most dangerous places to be a woman and one with a particularly feminist agenda and a no-nonsense attitude toward powerful male godfathers in the Honduran political landscape, I live with a target the size of my body on my back. 

Non-figuratively speaking.

When I first returned to Honduras after studying at Yale College and Michigan Law and having worked at the left-of-center Brookings Institution, I held high hopes for my contribution to Honduran politics, only to find myself, almost immediately, the target of a propaganda campaign raging through political TV shows and social media. It all happened within less a month of my arrival.

Upon investigation, my sources led me to realize that most venoms were coming from political operatives under orders from Honduran Congress, an entity conformed mostly of men with no university-level education, and in a more disconcerting level: no legitimate form of secondary school education, either.

I had returned at a dramatic time for the nation, to be sure, but you would have to be blind not to see something unusual about suddenly being placed at the receiving end of congressional and artificially created public outrage.

Had I made powerful enemies during high school in my country? 

I had been a little geek, after all, AST 2006 valedictorian, nicknamed “Dixie” – short for dictionary – on the opposite pole of popularity. Not so much for being quite the geek, as it turned out, but for having actually grown a social conscience at an early age. 

I had written two books of poetry about the poor people of my country as a child, which earned me nothing but contempt and suspicion. 

The parasitic rich and powerful class of Tegucigalpa hate you the very second the notion of ‘poor people’ comes out of your mouth, since social conscience is poison for them. In your compassion, all they see is a future nemesis.

But did that warrant the endless barrage of attacks from all sides of the political and business spectrums? The next thing I realized was the huge concern my decade-long absence caused. But why? I initially thought that perhaps I was not “Honduran enough.” 

My Spanish had, after all, an English accent that was embarrassing, the consequence of spending a decade at American universities. 

However, it turned out that my English accent was only the trigger for a darker accusation: espionage. 

They accused me of simultaneously being a CIA, NSA, FBI and State Department spy, and not satisfied with that they also threw in the Russian FSB, for good measure. It is no wonder, then, that when I decided to lobby for Honduras’ civil society, I did engage the interest of international human rights strongmen, but I was apprehensively contacted and then seldom called back. 

I imagine the calls they must have received: “Hey, be careful, she is a CIA spy.”

The long, harsh months under this inquisition finally brought me to the unwanted, unspoken truth of my plight: Education.

That was exactly their problem with me. I realized that being educated was not only detrimental for my political expectations, but the justification for a process of social sterilization of my voice, my thoughts, and my presence. I was not to be approached. 

Powerful men feared losing their cool around a woman of my “caliber.”

But that did not work for keeping me quiet. So they decided to change tactics. Someone came up with the funny idea of morally compromising me through sexual harassment. Me – a quite public figure against sexual harassment. 

An endless parade of minions by my house ensued, which would have made wonders for a circus entourage was it not that the intent was to cancel me out as a woman.

Since they couldn’t easily shut me down, they seemed to think the next best idea was to possess me, so as to own my power. I refused dates with TV personalities, journalists and several Congressmen.

When that didn’t work, I was offered the illusion of political participation. I ran and won the vice-mayorship race, but once I assumed the position, no one took me seriously. 

 My own partner on the mayoral ticket wouldn’t even acknowledge or speak with me. I eventually realized it was a trap: by “giving” me the title of vice-mayor, they thought I would finally shut up. 

Trying to stop me is a counterproductive tactic. 

Their attacks have only made me stronger.  The more they push from all sides, the more they help me bring together all my fragments to achieve a unity of purpose.

This path belongs to me and I will walk it to the end. Period. 

Fernanda López Aguilar is a human rights lawyer and a Vice-Mayoral Candidate in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

An earlier version of this article said that the author fielded offers for dates from a former president of Honduras. In light of later conversations with him, she no longer believes that was the case and we removed that information on April 3, 2019.