She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “Without women’s participation, peace is impossible to reach. For centuries men have gone to war and the result is chaos. We all need another world. If we live on equal terms, with mutual respect, solidarity, harmony and justice, we shall be building it. And such a world will be a peaceful world”.
She says also: “I worked in a tobacco factory and on Sundays I washed clothes in the stream. I took refuge in God, in religion, because like all human beings I needed something more in my life. That made me a very religious girl. I worked in the tobacco factory until I was 17. I had a pair of sandals made of rubber, a dress to go to mass in and two dresses to wear to work. (I washed one of them and wore the other.) In that way I lived out my youth”.
María Esther Ruiz Ortega – Honduras
She works for La Nueva Esperanza / The New Hope Women’s Association (not named in the web).
And she says: “My father was a rural teacher and my mother a housewife. My father became an alcoholic, which led to the domestic violence that I experienced during my childhood. He ill-treated my mother both physically and psychologically. I could not stand it, so when I was only four years old I took my little dress and went away to live with my grand mother and my aunt. And I think that was the beginning. That marked the way”. The one who is speaking is María Esther Ruiz, a feminist from rural Honduras, born in Casa Quemada, a community in the administrative district of Santa Bárbara, in the Northwest of the country.
María Ester was a silent girl and for that reason her mother thought she was mentally retarded and decided to not send her to school. But her father, who was a good reader, registered her at school when she was nine years old. Shortly afterwards, in 1959, he was murdered for being an activist member of the Liberal Party.
“My mother and my three sisters and brothers moved into my grand mother’s house where I was already living. Two years after my father’s death, my mother began a new relationship and went to live with her partner”. So at 11 years old, María Esther had to become a ‘mother’ taking care of her three brothers and sisters and also her grand mother. The old aunt was already dead.
But she was the best student in her class and that increased her self-esteem.
Shortly afterwards other difficulties began. She was only 17 but her mother put pressure on her to get married. She left home and obtained a position as a maid not far from the village. Her mistress also began to press her to get married. She had to marry: she was almost a ’spinster’ at 19! She fled once again.
In the 70’s she worked to promote the well-being of women for the Catholic institution Caritas. “Father Gabriel Cima, who was the director, belonged to the Pasionista order and was committed to working for the social good. He became my adopted mother and father. Because I had never received tenderness from anybody in life I thought that love did not exist. I thought that God was able to love, but that love did not exist in human kind. I wanted to serve God”.
The Pasionistas gave her a religious and social education, even sending her on training courses in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil.
It was the time of the revolutionary struggles in Honduras. From 1979 to 1981, Maria Esther Ruiz was involved in a peasant organization that promoted cooperatives and participated in Radio-schools. In both projects she was the only woman and her ideas were invariably rejected.
Father Gabriel suggested that she should put her thoughts in writing and she did so. That gave birth to several documents, some educational directed to peasant women, others informative and for a wider audience. But Father Gabriel continued to press her to marry. According to society the only valid choices for a woman was to be married or to enter a convent.
At that time Maria Ester became very sick. She was only 29 but felt as if she would die. “I already knew the one that would be my husband. His name was Dionisio Córdoba. In the clinic I began to realise that I had fallen in love but I was denying my feelings. I told myself: I am not going to die before I see him. I asked the priest to call him even if, because of my health, I had no clear idea what I would say”.
Dionisio, who was a peasant leader, came to see her. María Esther declared her feelings to him and it seemed like her illness started to disappear at the same time that she expressed her proposal. “I negotiated with him about what I wanted to do with my life. I was very clear that I did not want only to have a husband but I wanted a companion that would be involved with me in the fight to transform conditions in our country. And he agreed. He accepted. I proposed that we should build a force to promote the cause of women. Dionisio fulfilled our agreement. He is a companion both in times of struggle and in times of quiet reflection. We have two children”.
And María Esther made the idea a reality by creating an educational programme for women in the parish church. She led it between 1985 and 1990. Afterwards she repeated the same experience in another parish church, this time in the city of Macuelizo. They were 6 female trainers. “We initiated education for women, mostly through activities to promote self awareness and self-esteem. We often used Bible readings. We organized an assembly of 60 fellow femal’s groups. We decided to say no to subordination. We demanded equal conditions and equal treatment and participation in decision making”.
But the parish priest with the support of representatives from the government expelled these women from the parish church. They regarded María Esther as a feminist and a communist who was trying to usurp their power. Nevertheless María Esther along with 200 other women created the Women’s Association, La Nueva Esperanza (New Hope). She has continued to regard herself as a Catholic.
As a feminist she believes that “the patriarchal society has its base in verticality and authoritarianism. Often women themselves, once they get power, convert themselves into ‘patriarchs’ and authoritarians. These women are machos with vulvas and our society does not need them. On the contrary, we demand equality between men and women, but also equality between women”.
She has also taken a position concerning the relationship between feminism and the environment: “Women and nature are under patriarchal-capitalist and neo liberal control. The depredation of nature does not matter to the system, which is only interested in economic benefits. We cannot separate the feminist struggle from the defence of nature because both are in the same condition. We have to articulate both claims for the defence of life”.
In the Association La Nueva Esperanza, in spite of their growing awareness and the increase in the number of challenges they have to meet, they promote projects for production and manufacturing because, “We rural women have nothing. The house belongs to the man. If they own land, it belongs to him. Therefore we continue the fight with projects to increase women’s income. Because politics in this country is made for rich people and men. I think we must create an economic base in order to get access to political participation”. (1000PeaceWomen).
Sorry, I can’t find more informations about María Esther Ruiz Ortega, Honduras, in the Internet.
link: RADIO INTERNACIONAL FEMINISTA – JULIO 2005, 1000 Mujeres y un premio Nóbel de la Paz 2005, 25 Centroamericanas y 3 panameñas entre las 1000 Mujeres de Paz.