Nicaragua is commemorating International Women’s Day this March 8th with historic deficits in women’s human rights, and in their social and economic protection. The Ortega regime has made no progress towards stopping the escalation of machista violence that costs the lives of some 70 women victims of femicides each year.
Instead of positive measures for protection, the regime has dismantled the network of feminist NGOs that supported women at risk and has shown particular cruelty to the female political prisoners. In an effort to cover up, they reopened the Women’s Commissions run by the police, offices which offer no real path to justice. These are the reflections of three Nicaraguan advocates for women’s rights, now in forced exile.
Maria Teresa Blandon, well-known sociologist and feminist, Maryorit Guevara, journalist and founder of the media outlet “La Lupa” (“the magnifying glass”), and recently released political prisoner Samantha Jiron participated in a panel on the online television news show Esta Noche to discuss the status of women’s issues in Nicaragua. The show will be transmitted at 8 pm on Wednesday, March 8th over the Confidencial channel on YouTube.
The women addressed the challenges of the feminist movement in Nicaragua, a movement the Ortega regime began going after even before the 2018 Civic Rebellion. Within this theme, they noted the violations that migrant women are vulnerable to, and the importance of recognizing women’s rights in the process of democratizing Nicaragua.
The three women have all been victims of Nicaragua’s repressive government. From exile, they expressed their commitment to continue organizing and denouncing the violations taking place in their home country.
What’s the principal demand of women and the Nicaraguan feminist movements inside and outside Nicaragua on this March 8, when the country remains under the thumb of a consolidated dictatorship?
Maria Teresa: We must begin with the reality that Nicaragua has a historic debt with women’s rights. In all areas of human rights recognized by most societies, Nicaragua has gone significantly backwards, but particularly in the case of women.
Nicaraguan women haven’t succeeded in maintaining their social and economic rights. There’s been an enormous increase in poverty and the gaps in equality have broadened. This particularly affects all women, but obviously those living in poverty, who form the majority, are the most affected.
There’s also an enormous debt in areas of sexual and reproductive rights. We can observe this in the data on maternal deaths, in the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, in child and teen pregnancies. All of these have some of the highest incidences in Latin America.
Of course, we could also speak about the gender violence that takes some 70 lives each year. Unfortunately, this drama has continued growing, and there’s been no effective response to it from the Nicaraguan government.
Samantha, as a young feminist and a direct victim of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s repression, do you think this regime displays special malice towards the women who have challenged it?
Samantha: Totally. Proof of that are the many feminist women who were imprisoned, and the cruelty we experienced at the hands of the regime. The regime has gone after the young women activists since the crisis began, and even long before. But it’s now been seen in a manner that’s especially clear and direct.
A perfect example is the brutal way they treated Tamara Davila for being a young woman and a feminist. She was one of those who suffered most in the [el Chipote jail].
It’s worth the effort to examine the statistics on the 20 or 30 women who were imprisoned: how many of us were young women and feminists who were actively struggling for women’s rights?
What’s the real situation among the Nicaraguan women migrants? How does it differ from that of the male migrants? Why are they leaving their country, and what conditions do they face when they arrive at their destinations?
Maryorit:Whether you’re a man or a woman, when you migrate, if you’re a person in poverty, you’re going to face different exclusions. However, because of gender roles, stereotypes, and sexual divisions, we women must deal with greater discrimination and violence.
This great migratory wave in Nicaragua has political roots, but we know that, historically, many women leave for economic reasons as well. There’s recently also been a greater increase in those leaving [to escape] machista violence.
In their journeys, depending on the routes they take, these women are going to confront different types of violence: sexual and physical aggression, exploitation, imposed pregnancies, even miscarriages[SH1] .
To date this year, 16 femicides of Nicaraguan women have been reported, both within and outside of Nicaragua. Last year, there was a total of 69. How have the causes of these murders been addressed under the current regime? They announced with drums and trumpets the reopening of their police offices for women. Is that enough?
Maria Teresa: Not only is it not sufficient, it’s also false. The problem is that machista or gender violence, however you want to term it, has both long-standing and structural causes. (…) That’s why we in the feminist organizations have insisted that the State must develop integrated public policies aimed at preventing violence, protecting the victims, and punishing the aggressors according to the law.
The Women’s Commissions (police structure created to serve women victims) were opened at the beginning of the 2000s. At that time, they were crucial, because they comprised a doorway for victims to denounce their aggressors and begin the whole [investigation] process. This structure was later dismantled. There’s no longer any institutional route to assure opportune attention on the part of the National Police, with a path towards the verification, investigation, arrest and finally the trial of the aggressors.
What now exists are some offices managed by police officials without training, who don’t even know the contents of Law 230 (Reforms and Additions to the Penal Code) and who in many cases revictimize the victims.
The feminist NGOs that worked in the departments have been shuttered by the dictatorship. What’s happening at this time in the communities?
Maria Teresa: The collectives and the women’s centers had prioritized the topic of gender violence, because we know it’s a very serious problem that affects thousands of women and children. These women’s organizations also had centers, shelters, where they could protect the women who were at imminent risk of being attacked or being killed, and finally there was a process of legal and therapeutic accompaniment for the victims of violence. It was a very complex working system that has always annoyed the Ortega-Murillo regime because, effectively, they don’t put any real effort on confronting violence against women – in reality, that was never their priority.
Despite all their smear campaigns, they could never silence us. We continued doing this work, defending women’s rights, because it forms part of our most significant position. (The government has since closed over 200 of these groups with legal status).
Maryorit, you decided to found a movement of migrant women in Extremadura, Spain. What does that movement do, why is it important for the Nicaraguan migrant women to organize formally?
The idea has always been to support those who arrive, extend a hand to her, because the first years are very difficult, not only for the lack of documentation, but for all of the grief that migration brings. If you come from Nicaragua, you can’t just set aside the whole political situation, so unfortunately, you end up in two different time zones.
We want to help support these women, not only to help them with their documentation, to submit the permitted residency requests allowed those who demonstrate social and work roots here in Spain. But also, to help them get established, know the resources that exist, and continue studying.
Following the release of the over 200 political prisoners, there’s once again been talk about unifying all the sectors of society that oppose the dictatorship. However, there are those who still stigmatize the feminist movements. Why do you think that’s true, and what would you tell them?
Maria Teresa: The fact that some opposition groups reject feminism is, in part, because there’s enormous unawareness of the support we feminists have given to democracy. If they understood the depth of the feminine proposals, they’d realize that in order to carry out the transformations that Nicaraguan society requires, it’s indispensable that we put gender equality and women’s rights in the center of these debates.
Maryorit: I believe there can’t be real democracy with exclusions. The ones who have put their faces and bodies on the line to denounce the dictatorship’s atrocities and human rights violations have been those in the feminist movement. We didn’t start doing this in 2018 but have been doing it for a very long time.
Samantha: We all know that the centerpiece of this peaceful civic struggle is democracy, which implies respect for rights – including those of women – and equality. They should understand that without women, it will be impossible to go forward with this process of democratization in Nicaragua.