Human rights activist Miriam Miranda

Miriam was born into a small community in Santa Fe, Colón, a small Garifuna village located on the north coast of Honduras. Like many others in Garifuna, Miriam and her family moved around the country to find work and education. While in college, Miranda immersed herself in social movements working closely with women living in poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. As she travelled, listened to their stories and spoke with them about women’s rights she became aware of the injustices faced by many women in the country. This experience, she says, is “… where (her) feminist consciousness was born.”

After graduating from college she continued to advocate for women, specifically those who shared her Garifuna heritage. The Garifuna are descendants of West Africans who escaped the slave trade and found refuge on the island of Saint Vincent in the early 1600s where they intermarried with Carib, Indian, and Indigenous peoples. The group were expelled from the Carribean in 1797. Approximately 100,000 Garifuna now live in Honduras. Additional communities are also in Brazil, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Land reforms in Honduras have disregarded cultural land titles and made it easy for foreigner tourism and real estate investors to displace MIriam’s people. Illegal drug cartels have also stolen Garifuna land to be used in their operations.

Miriam became the leader of Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) – an organisation founded in 1976 to protect the legal, economic, social, and cultural rights of Garifuna communities. Since then, she has played a pivotal role in the organisation by challenging development plans that pose threats to the land, environment, and livelihoods of the Garifuna peoples. Her involvement in these activities against big organizations such as the palm oil industry has proven extremely dangerous. Between 2010 – 2017, approximately 120 Honduran activists were killed and Miranda has endured violent attacks, been a victim of kidnapping, and has been publicly branded as a criminal on local news. In 2012, she was beaten, arrested, and held for 12 days by Honduran police during a peaceful protest. She was charged with sedition, which refers to a resistance against established authority.

Throughout her activism, Miriam has been vocal about her belief that women are capable, competent, and strong defenders of communities and cultural heritage, particularly those from Garifuna backgrounds. In 2013 she famously said, “Everywhere throughout Honduras, like in all of Latin America, Africa, [and] Asia, women are at the forefront of the struggles for our rights, against racial discrimination, for the defense of our commons and our survival. We’re at the front not only with our bodies but also with our force, our ideas, our proposals. We don’t only birth children, but ideas and actions as well.”

In 2015, Miriam was the co-recipient of the Óscar Romero Human Rights Award alongside fellow environmental activist Berta Cáceres. The award is given to individuals or organisations that have made a significant contribution to decreasing human suffering and injustice. In 2016 Miriam lost her dear friend and co-recipient when armed gunmen entered Berta’s home and killed her. This, however, did not deter her work. She is quoted saying “If they could go after a woman like Berta Cáceres- an internationalist, a woman who won a major prize […] they can do anything, they can strike anyone, because there’s no respect for any human rights defended in this country”.

A year later she was awarded the Carlos Escaleras environmental prize for 30 years of activist work defending the Garifuna communities. In times of extreme violence, I applaud her bravery and her steadfastness in continuing to fight for those unable to fight for themselves.

-Brittany Hill
Sites of Girlhood Manager
Girl Museum Inc.

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