The women who paid the ultimate price

Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, an opportunity to reflect upon the role of women in society. In the midst of a war in Europe and global economic crisis it is easy to focus on the immediate, on the current existential crisis, but there is an onus on us to remember what is happening further afield.

On Wednesday for International Women’s Day I addressed students on behalf of the Anne Frank Trust. I highlighted the importance of not only telling women’s stories but also the power of amplifying their lived experiences, wherever they may be. Collectively we all made a promise that this week – and I hope in future weeks – we would seek to tell the stories of the women who have made a mark and ensure that the world knows their names.

I seek to deliver on that promise.

I am proud to be the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, a charity which endeavours to provide a voice to the persecuted, which campaigns for freedom of expression around the world. I work daily with dissidents who risk everything to change their societies and their communities for the better. Men and women. But today I would like to highlight the names of some of those women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last year for the supposed “crime” of doing something we take for granted every day – using the human right of freedom of expression.

  • Deborah Samuel – a student brutally murdered in Nigeria after being accused of blasphemy on an academic social media platform.

  • Nokuthula Mabaso – a leading woman human rights defender in South Africa and leader of the eKhenana Commune. She was assassinated outside of her home, in front of her children.

  • Shireen Abu Akleh – a veteran Palestinian-American correspondent for Al Jazeera who was killed while reporting on an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

  • Jhannah Villegas – a local journalist in the Philippines was killed at her home. The police believe this was linked to her work.

  • Francisca Sandoval – a local Chilean journalist was murdered, and several others hurt when gunmen opened fire on a Workers’ Day demonstration.

  • Mahsa Amini  – a name all too familiar to us, as her murder inspired a peaceful revolution which continues to this day. Murdered by the Iranian morality police for “inappropriate attire”.

  • Oksana Baulina – a Russian journalist killed during shelling by Russian forces in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

  • Oksana Haidar – a 54-year-old Ukrainian journalist and blogger better known under the pseudonym “Ruda Pani”, killed by Russian artillery, northeast of Kyiv.

  • Oleksandra Kuvshynova – a Ukrainian producer who was killed outside of Kyiv, while working with Fox News.

  • Petronella Baloyi – a South African land and women human rights defender gunned down while in her home.

  • Yessenia Mollinedo Falconi, a Mexican journalist who was the founder and editor of El Veraz. A crime and security correspondent, she received a death threat a fortnight before she was shot. She was killed alongside her colleague Sheila Johana García Olivera

  • Vira Hyrych – a journalist for Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian service, killed by Russian shelling.

  • Yeimi Chocué Camayo – an Indigenous women’s rights activist, killed in Columbia when returning to her house.

  • Cielo Rujeles – wife of social leader Sócrates Sevillano, shot and killed alongside her husband in Colombia.

  • Luz Angelina Quijano Poveda – a delegate of the Community Action Board in Punta Betín, Colombia, murdered at her home.

  • Sandra Patricia Montenegro – a PE teacher and social leader was shot and killed in front of her students in Colombia.

  • Melissa Núñez – a transgender activist shot dead by armed men in Honduras.

  • María del Carmen Vázquez – a Mexican activist and member of the Missing Persons of Pénjamo, murdered by two men at her home in. She was looking for her son who disappeared last summer.

  • Blanca Esmeralda Gallardo – activist and member of the Collective Voice of the Missing in Puebla, who was assassinated on the side of the highway in Mexico as she waited for a bus to take her to work. She was searching for her 22-year-old daughter who vanished in 2021.

  • Yermy Chocue Camayo – treasurer of the Chimborazo indigenous reservation in Colombia, and human rights defender, killed as she headed home.

  • Dilia Contreras – an experienced presenter for RCN Radio in Columbia, shot dead in a car alongside her colleague Leiner Montero after covering a festival in a local village.

  • Edilsan Andrade – a Colombian social leader and local politician, shot and killed in the presence of one of her children.

  • Jesusita Moreno, aka Doña Tuta – a human rights activist who defended Afro-Colombian community rights. Facing threats against her life, she was assassinated whilst at her son’s birthday party.

  • Maria Piedad Aguirre – a Colombian social leader who was a defender of black communities, violently murdered with a machete; she was found at home by one of her grandchildren.

  • Elizabeth Mendoza – social leader, was shot and killed in her home in Colombia.  Her husband, son and nephew were also murdered.

  • María José Arciniegas Salinas – a Colombian indigenous human rights defender, assassinated by armed men who said they belonged to the Comandos de la Frontera group.

  • Shaina Vanessa Pretel Gómez – who was known among the LGBTIQ+ community for her activism, including work to establish safe spaces for homeless people and a passion for the arts, was shot dead early in the morning by a suspect on a motorbike.

  • Rosa Elena Celix Guañarita – a Colombian human rights defender was shot while socialising with friends.

  • Mariela Reyes Montenegro – a leader of the Union of Workers and Employees of Public Services was murdered in Colombia.

  • Alba Bermeo Puin – an indigenous leader and environmental defender in Ecuador was murdered when five months pregnant.

  • Mursal Nabizada – a former female member of Afghanistan’s parliament and women’s rights campaigner murdered at her home.

This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination. Compiling the names and profiles of women who have been killed as a result of their right to exercise freedom of expression is almost impossible, not least because of the nature of the repressive regimes which too many people live under. But every name represents thousands of others who day in, day out put their lives at risk to speak truth to power. They were mothers, grandmothers, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, sisters, aunts, friends, partners, wives.

To their families, they were the centre of the world. To us, today, their stories bring fear and inspiration in equal measure. They are heroes whose bravery we should all seek to emulate.

Wendy Funes: Despite the pain that violence has left in Honduras it is wonderful to see a world with so much solidarity


2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

“Despite my fears and the pain that violence has left in my country, it has been wonderful to see that it has been worthwhile to dream in a world with so much solidarity,” Wendy Funes, winner of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship for Journalism, told Index on Censorship.

Freedom of expression has suffered a steep decline in Honduras, a country where 70 journalists have been killed over the last nine years, with Gabriel Hernández’s murder on 17 March marking the first of 2019. Wendy Funes, an investigative reporter who runs her own online news website, Reporteros de Investigacion, is one of the few remaining journalists in the country that continues reporting and investigating issues despite the immense pressure to remain silent.

As a woman journalist in Honduras, a country in which gender-based violence is a serious issue, as is violence against journalists, Funes finds it important to attend events for women in leadership, such as the one she attended in Mexico City with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

“It helped me to realise that I am not alone in the continent and to know that there are other places with women who are specialised and do methodical and rigorous work,” said Funes.

Although she has faced a great deal of adversity as a woman journalist, Funes considers herself lucky having been given the opportunity to study and have a career in journalism, when seven out of every ten Hondurans live in poverty, with more than a million children without access to school and a small percentage of people who finish high school.

2019 is proving to be a busy year for Funes as she undertakes a new project, Sembrando el Periodismo de Investigacion en Honduras, with the help of a grant from National Endowment for Democracy. The project consists of four major investigations, two of which Funes and her team are currently working on.

The first is an investigation into the Trans 450, a transmetro that was promised to Hondurans and cost them $9 million, but has not been put into operation yet. The second investigation examines the impunity on aggressions against freedom of expression.

“The NED project is our first significant project and the support and respect they have shown for our work is really important to us,” said Funes.

The biggest project Funes has planned for the future, however, is the building of a Centre for Investigative Journalism that will be the first centre of its kind in Honduras.

“We want the office to become a training space for press and media professionals, advocates, professionals from universities, and academics who wish to learn,” said Funes.

In preparation for building the centre, Funes and her team are working with Factum magazine of El Salvador to train journalists and students. They will hold the first workshop in April of this year and the hope is that they will develop a network of journalists that will then serve as the foundation for the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

“For now, our priority is to strengthen our office and our business model, to nurture alliances and strengthen the network that will one day become the centre we are talking about,” said Funes.

Being an Index fellow has opened up many new opportunities for Funes, but has also renewed her own sense of confidence in herself as a woman and as a journalist.

“Index appeared in my life as a gift of providence and helped me at a very fundamental moment because the award coincided with the year I made the decision found my own newspaper,” said Funes. “They showcased me and my work and many more people followed in encouraging and supporting me.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1554114253076-1aebf9f6-f8dd-7″ taxonomies=”10735″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Wendy Funes: Fear is a weapon used against the vulnerable in Honduras


2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas)

2018 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winner and 2018 Journalism Fellow Honduran investigative journalist Wendy Funes at the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards (Photo: Elina Kansikas)

“Violence is a way of keeping society under control because a lot of what people do or don’t do is a reaction to fear,” Wendy Funes, winner of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship for Journalism, tells Index on Censorship. “It becomes an indirect method of control, not just over society, but journalism as well.”

Funes worries this kind of violence has become “normalised” in Honduras and says the shooting and wounding of journalist Geovanny Sierra — who has survived numerous attempts on his life — by military police while covering protests of electoral fraud in late November is just the latest example. The Honduran authorities issued a statement saying that law enforcement was attacked first, which is why they started shooting. “With this they have justified the crime,” Funes says, adding that nothing is being done about the attacks on journalists in the country: “The most terrible thing is the impunity that exists because if something like this happened in another country it would a scandal, but here it is already forgotten.”

Funes is no stranger to covering either corruption or protest and has had her own brushes with heavy-handed state forces, although she says for the most part she has been lucky. “I’ve had training opportunities in self-protection and security,” she says. “I am also very cautious — I try to plan my routes and if I go inter dangerous areas, I try to have a safety protocol, to have alliances with civil society groups, so if something happens to me I can let them know.”

Recently, Funes’ investigative website Reporteros de Investigacion has been focusing on issues such as human trafficking, violence against student protesters, femicide and the high-level cocaine trafficking case involving Juan Antonio Hernández, brother of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández. The website has also been covering the caravan of people fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in the country. “They are facing a very cruel situation,” Funes says.

Honduran migrant Daniel Portillo

Honduran migrant Daniel Portillo

Although Reporteros de Investigacion doesn’t have the resources to cross the border, it has been working closely with some of those who have fled, such as 25-year-old Daniel Portillo, who left Honduras in search of the “American dream”. Portillo is now in Mexico. “He has found someone who works with migrants and helps migrants,” Funes, who first met him when she was covering protests in San Pedro Sula, a city in the northwest of Honduras, said. “He is a young person with a lot of leadership qualities, a lot of desire to advocate for other young people.”

While in Honduras Portillo organised sports tournaments in an area controlled by the criminal gang MS-13. “He resisted joining the gang,” Funes says. “He was always trying to negotiate with them so that he could help other young people so they wouldn’t get into drugs or alcohol.”

Writing in Reporteros de Investigacion, Portillo explains the difficulty of explaining to his young daughter that he left so she could have a better future: “If God allows it, we will see each other again or else, I am writing this letter to you in case unfortunately they killed me on the way and buried me; my heart is that of a warrior and I will continue forward, whatever happens, my mother suffers for my departure.”

“He told me that he has seen many people carved up since he was a child,” Funes tells Index. “Violence weighed on his psyche and made him very vulnerable young person. He told me that he looked for employment in Honduras, and when he could not find he decided to migrate with the caravan.”

It is such vulnerability that makes poor Hondurans so susceptible to human trafficking. “It’s like Russian roulette,” Funes says. “I have come to realise that there are many Hondurans who have an eagerness to migrate to the USA, but have ended up staying in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize and have become victims of sexual exploitation, domestic service and forced matrimonies as they flee from gangs and narco-politics. Some of the people who have left come back mutilated because they lose limbs on the trains.”

For those that do make it to the USA, they face discrimination, but at least they have the opportunity for better salaries, with which they can send money to their families struggling back home, Funes says. These remittances play a key role in sustaining the Honduran economy. In May 2018 Hondurans abroad sent back an all-time high of $456.2 million in a single month.

While Funes would like to see more Hondurans stay at home, not only to avoid the very real risks that come with being a migrant, but also to fight for real change, she is all too aware of why people choose instead to leave. “You have to work five times harder than a corrupt individual to be able to sustain yourself and get ahead in Honduras. This economic model displaces the most vulnerable individuals.”

Much of what Funes and her team do over the next year will be geared towards her dream of founding a centre of investigative journalism, including training journalists and students with the help of Factum magazine in El Salvador. “This will bring together many different journalists who want to transform Honduras with investigative journalism,” Funes says.

With a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, Funes and her team will also work on a project called Sembrando el Periodismo de Investigación en Honduras (Sowing Investigative Journalism In Honduras), which will involve four major investigations over the course of 2019.

“Many of the things that I dreamt of happening one day, in an idealistic way, have become reality, all thanks to Index,” Funes adds. “Solidarity, love and friendship are really the things that can move this world, and that is what Index is made of with all of the support they have extended to me.”

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Why we find it impossible to talk about birth, death and marriage

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Vital moments during our lifetimes are complicated by taboos about what we can and can’t talk about, and we end up making the wrong decisions just because we don’t get the full picture, says Rachael Jolley in the winter 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][vc_column_text]

Birth, Marriage and Death

Birth, Marriage and Death, the winter 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine.

Birth, marriage and deaththese are key staging posts. And that’s one reason why this issue looks at how taboos around these subjects have a critical impact on our world.

Sadly, there are still many of us who feel we can’t talk about problems openly at these times. Societal pressure to conform can be a powerful element in this and can help to create stultifying silences that frighten us into not being able to speak.

Being unable to discuss something that has a major and often complex impact on you or your family can lead to ignorance, fear and terrible decisions.

Not knowing about information or medical advice can also mean exposing people to illness and even death.

The Australian Museum sees death as the last taboo, but it also traces where those ideas have come from and how we are sometimes more shy to talk about subjects now than we were in the past.

The Sydney-based museum’s research considers how different cultures have disposed of the dead throughout history and where the concepts of cemeteries and burials have come from.

For instance, in Ancient Rome, only those of very high status were buried within the city walls, while the Ancient Greeks buried their dead within their homes.

The word “cemetery” derives from the Greek and Roman words for “sleeping chamber”, according to the Australian Museum, which suggests that although cremation was used by the Romans, it fell out of favour in western Europe for many centuries, partly because those of the Christian faith felt that setting fire to a body might interfere with chances of an afterlife.

Taboos about death continue to restrict speech (and actions) all around the world. In a six-part series on Chinese attitudes to death, the online magazine Sixth Tone revealed how, in China, people will pay extra not to have the number “4” in their mobile telephone number because the word sounds like the Mandarin word for “death”.

It also explores why Chinese families don’t talk about death and funerals, or even write wills.

In Britain, research by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support found just over a third of the people they surveyed had thoughts or feelings about death that they hadn’t shared with anyone. Fears about death concerned 84% of respondents, and one in seven people surveyed opted out of answering the questions about death.

These taboos, especially around death and illness, can stop people asking for help or finding support in times of crisis.

Mental health campaigner Alastair Campbell wrote in our winter 2015 issue that when he was growing up, no one ever spoke about cancer or admitted to having it.

It felt like it would bring shame to any family that admitted having it, he remembered. Campbell said that he felt times had moved on and that in Britain, where he lives, there was more openness about cancer these days, although people still struggle to talk about mental health.

Hospice director Elise Hoadley tells one of our writers, Tracey Bagshaw, for her article on the rise of death cafes (p14), that British people used to be better at talking about death because they saw it up close and personal. For instance, during the Victorian period it would be far more typical to have an open coffin in a home, where family or friends could visit the dead person before a funeral. And vicar Laura Baker says of 2018: “When someone dies we are all at sea. We don’t know what to do.”

In a powerful piece for this issue (p8), Moscow-based journalist Daria Litvinova reports on a campaigning movement in Russia to expose obstetric abuse, with hundreds of women’s stories being published. One obstacle to get these stories out is that Russian women are not expected to talk about the troubles they encounter during childbirth. As one interviewee tells Litvinova: “And generally, giving birth, just like anything else related to women’s physiology, is a taboo subject.” Russian maternity hospitals remain institutions where women often feel isolated, and some do not even allow relatives to visit. “We either talk about the beauty of a woman’s body or don’t talk about it at all,” said one Russian.

Elsewhere, Asian-American women talk to US editor Jan Fox (p27) about why they are afraid to speak to their parents and families about anything to do with sex; how they don’t admit to having partners; and how they worry that the climate of fear will get worse with new legislation being introduced in the USA.

As we go to press, not only are there moves to introduce a “gag rule” – which would mean removing funding from clinics that either discuss or offer abortion – but in the state of Ohio, lawmakers are discussing House Bill 565, which would make abortions illegal even if pregnancies arise from rape or incest or which risk the life of the mother. These new laws are likely to make women more worried than before about talking to professionals about abortion or contraception.

Don’t miss our special investigation from Honduras, where the bodies of young people are being discovered on a regular basis but their killers are not being convicted. Index’s 2018 journalism fellow Wendy Funes reports on p24.

We also look at the taboos around birth and marriage in other parts of the world. Wana Udobang reports from Nigeria (p45), where obstetrician Abosede Lewu tells her how the stigma around Caesarean births still exists in Nigeria, and how some women try to pretend they don’t happen — even if they have had the operation themselves. “In our environment, having a C-section is still seen as a form of weakness due to the combination of religion and culture.”

Meanwhile, there’s a fascinating piece from China about how its new two-child policy means women are being pressurised to have more children, even if they don’t want them — a great irony when, only a decade ago, if women had a second child they had to pay.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left” color=”custom” size=”xl” align=”right” custom_color=”#dd3333″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”Taboos, especially around death and illness, can stop people asking for help or finding support in times of crisis” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]

In other matters, I have just returned from the annual Eurozine conference of cultural journals, this year held in Vienna. It was interesting to hear about a study into the role of this specific type of publication. Research carried out by Stefan Baack, Tamara Witschge and Tamilla Ziyatdinova at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, is looking at what long-form cultural journalism does and what it achieves.

The research is continuing, but the first part of the research has shown that this style of magazine or journal stimulates creative communities of artists and authors, as well as creating debates and exchanges across different fields of knowledge. Witschge, presenting the research to the assembled editors, said these publications (often published quarterly) have developed a special niche that exists between the news media and academic publishing, allowing them to cover issues in more depth than other media, with elements of reflection.

She added that in some countries cultural journals were also compensating for the “shortcomings and limitations of other media genres”. Ziyatdinova also spoke of the myth of the “short attention span”.

At a time when editors and analysts continue to debate the future of periodicals in various forms, this study was heartening. It suggests that there still is an audience for what they describe as “cultural journals” such as ours – magazines that are produced on a regular, but not daily basis which aim to analyse as well as report what is going on around the world. Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times newspaper, spoke of his vision of the media’s future at the James Cameron Memorial Lecture at London’s City University in November. As well as arguing that algorithms were not going to take over, he said he was convinced that print had a future. He said: “I still believe in the value and future of print: the smart, edited snapshot of the news, with intelligent analysis and authoritative commentary.”

His belief in magazines as an item that will continue to be in demand, if they offer something different from  something readers have already consumed, was made clear: “Magazines, which also count as print – are they going to just disappear? No. Look at The Spectator, look at the sales of Private Eye.”

The vibrancy of the magazine world was also clear at this year’s British Society of Magazine Editors awards in London, with hundreds of titles represented. Jeremy Leslie, the owner of the wonderful Magculture shop in London (which stocks Index on Censorship) received a special award for his commitment to print. This innovative shop stocks only magazines, not books, and has carved out a niche for itself close to London’s City University. Well done to Jeremy. Index was also shortlisted for the specialist editor of the year award, so we are celebrating as well.

We hope you will continue to show your commitment to this particular magazine, in print or in our beautiful digital version, and think of buying gift subscriptions for your friends at this holiday time (check out for a digital subscription from anywhere in the world). We appreciate your support this year, and every year, and may you have a happy 2019.


Rachael Jolley is editor of Index on Censorship. She tweets @londoninsider. This article is part of the latest edition of Index on Censorship magazine, with its special report on Birth, Marriage and Death.

Index on Censorship’s winter 2018 issue is Birth, Marriage and Death, What are we afraid to talk about?  We explore these taboos in the issue.

Look out for the new edition in bookshops, and don’t miss our Index on Censorship podcast, with special guests, on Soundcloud.

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