Fresh off a 40-hour return trip from Indonesia, I traveled down to Tegucigalpa this week. I couldn’t resist joining Vital Voices leaders across Central America for the launch of the VV Chapter in Honduras, our 10th Chapter in Latin America.
From middle, left: First Lady Rosa Elena de Lobo and Alyse at the launch. Photo credit: El Heraldo
Honduras sits at the heart of Central America along the Caribbean sea. Devastated in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, the economy has been slow to rebound. 65% of the population live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers around 30%. Just 33% of women are currently part of the labor force.
In response, the Vital Voices Chapter here is focusing its efforts on economic development. Chapter leaders have tapped top women in business throughout the country to serve as mentors to a rising generation of women entrepreneurs.
I always find it inspiring to travel out and support women leaders in our network as they take the mission of Vital Voices back to their home countries and spread it to many others. Here in the capital city, they have created a women’s marketplace where the entrepreneurs proudly display their products.
The First Lady of Honduras, Rosa Elena de Lobo, opened the launch event with an impassioned plea to the women in her country who have achieved success. “Mentoring is key to women’s leadership… those who have overcome great obstacles should help pave the way for other women coming behind them,” she said.
The impressive Head of the Central Bank of Honduras, Maria Elena MondragĢ_n, also spoke at the event. Although economists have called this “the Decade of Latin America,” she believes that Honduras will not live up to its full potential until her country taps the potential of women.
Maria Cristina Handal, a businesswoman and former Vice Presidential candidate, highlighted an even greater problem: “What we have right now is not an economic crisis; it is a values crisis.” Maria pointed to corruption, violence and the lack of rule of law as obstacles to economic and social development, making Honduras one of the most dangerous places to live in the region and significantly hindering foreign investment.
But Maria believes women have the power to shift that reality. “Women must be the moral voice as leaders,” she continued. “We must bring a new kind of leadership. We must speak for those who have no voice. Women are different than men. Our leadership is complimentary to men’s.”
Women’s leadership, however, in both business and government, has stagnated. Although the electoral law established a quota of 30% for women’s leadership in elected office, women’s shares of government positions in Honduras is just 13%.
Maria closed her remarks by reading a letter from her daughter, who left Honduras to go to college in the United States and has not yet returned due to the lack of opportunities. She said, “if the past has been built by great men, the future of Honduras must be built by great women.”
I am hopeful that the Vital Voices Chapter here is a step towards that new reality.