Challenging Violence against Women
According to a survey carried out in 1998 by the Statistics and Census Institute.
- Three out of every ten women in Nicaragua have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner
- One out of ten women are survivors of sexual abuse
- Two out of ten women had experienced domestic violence in the previous twelve months
- Of these, more than three out of ten had experienced violence whilst pregnant
- Violence against women is not confined to one social class but crosses all class boundaries
Violence against women is not unique to Nicaragua. However, the culture of 'machismo', economic and social subordination, a long history of wars and violence have increased women's vulnerability to all forms of violence.
Women have publicly highlighted the problem over the last 15 years and in the 1990s the Women's Movement successfully placed the issue on the political agenda , but now, as one Nicaraguan woman activist put it,
"a second revolution is needed to tackle the roots of violence against women and children".
A Brief History: Women in Nicaragua
Nicaragua under Somoza 1936-1979
Nicaragua was under the dictatorial rule of the Somoza family which enriched itself at the country's expense and deepened social and economic inequalities.
Women bore the brunt of high levels of poverty.
In this deeply conservative Catholic society, women were expected to accept their lot and violence against women was not acknowledged let alone challenged.
The Sandinista Government 1979-1990
In July 1979, Somoza was overthrown in a popular revolution led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
Women constituted over 25% of the guerrilla army that overthrew Somoza. Many women supported the struggle through providing safe shelter for combatants, servicing clandestine communication networks, hiding weaponary etc.
AMNLAE (The Nicaraguan Women's Association :Luisa Amanda Espinosa ) the official Sandinista women's organisation was created in 1979. Its primary task to integrate women into the revolutionary process.
The Sandinista revolution opened a space for women to organise around women focused interests.
Throughout the Sandinista government, women played a major part in implementing policies including the internationally acclaimed literacy and vaccination campaigns of the early 1980s. These policies had a positive impact on women's lives.
The new constitution, approved in January 1987, was very progressive in the area of women's rights. For example Article 36 stated the right of all Nicaraguans to physical and psychological security and behaviour which jeopardises this right is treated as a criminal offence.
The March 1987 Government Statement on Women explicitly addressed the issue of violence against women and children and pledged to introduce stiffer penalties for such offences. However, as the revolution came under increasing attack from the US through the financing of a counter-revolutionary war and a trade embargo,the progressive legislation was not fully implemented.
In this difficult political climate the women's movement came under extreme pressure to suppress overtly 'feminist' demands and to concentrate all energies on the war effort.
The space created by the revolution for women to voice their demands did produce lasting benefits and the women's movement that was born under the Sandinistas is today one of the most vibrant in the region.
Nicaragua since 1990
In February 1990, the war-weary electorate voted the Sandinistas out in favour of the US-backed UNO coalition that promised an end to the war and the trade embargo.
The UNO Government had the full backing of the traditional Catholic Church which resulted in the revival of traditional religious and moral values.
In 1996 the right wing President Arnoldo Aleman was elected and has since gained a notorious personal reputation for corruption as has his government.
In 1998, a Ministry of the Family was established in order to restore the 'traditional family' described as "a man, a woman and their children".
Despite a more conservative political climate, the autonomous women's movement has ironically been freer to pursue a radical agenda in the 1990s and is working strategically with state institutions to achieve their objectives.
The women's movement has flourished during the 1990s since gaining increased independence and autonomy from the paternalistic tendencies of the FSLN.
The Women's Network against Violence against Women
The women's movement is probably one of the most active social movements today in Nicaragua, and the Women's Network against Violence, is perhaps the most dynamic expression of that movement.
The Network grew out of the January 1992 National Conference for Women where participants identified violence as one of the main problems facing Nicaraguan women. The theme of this conference was "Unity in Diversity" and it is in this spirit that the Network was set up as a non-hierarchical organisation, open to any group or individual committed to ending violence against women, regardless of their political affiliation. It currently comprises more than 150 local groups from all over the country and several hundred individual members. The Network plays a very important role in uniting women from all over the country. The strategies the national Network have implemented include a holistic approach aimed at supporting survivors of domestic violence whilst at the same time carrying out preventative public campaigning and lobbying.
Improving National Legislation
The Network ran a highly successful public campaign resulting in the approval of Law 230 in 1997 prohibiting all forms of violence in families. The Law is unique in that it recognises not only physical, but also psychological violence, such as repeated threats, insults and other forms of humiliation. To improve the implementation of the law the Network has launched a public awareness raising campaign and have been training lawyers and judges on its application.
Currently, the National Assembly is rewriting the Penal Code and has officially invited the Network to be part of the reform process. The Network is participating in a coalition of women's groups to draw up and present proposals to the National Assembly commission responsible for reforms. The main concerns of the coalition are to include a definition of the specific characteristics of physical, psychological and sexual violence against women and children, both inside and outside the family. In addition, they are working to change several aspects of the current code, for example, to eliminate any paternity rights a rapist can claim of a child who has been conceived as a result of rape; the eradication of the crime of "sodomy" in the case of consensual sexual relations, therefore, abolishing the current legislation against homosexuality; and a guarantee that the legality of therapeutic abortions is threatened.
The coalition's main proposals will be used as guidelines by local women's organisations who are part of the National Assembly's consultation on the law. The coalition will be involved in lobbying National Assembly members to approve key elements of the new law.
The Network has promoted the establishment of Women's Offices in police stations to provide legal advice and counselling to women and children who are survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc. There are currently 13 Women's Offices throughout the country and they are run by a structure of the police, the State Institute for Women INIM or is it the Ministry of the Family and the Women's Network against Violence. The fact that the Network is officially part of the organizational structure is the results of years of negotiations and pressure.
The Women of Faith Commission
Within the Network there are many diverse organisations including different religious groups. The religious groups work together within the Network in the Women of Faith Commission. One of their campaigning slogans has been
"Violence Against Women and children is not the will of God nor in the teachings of the Bible."
The National Plan Against Violence Against Women
In 1998 the Network joined a government-instigated national inter-institutional commission to develop a national plan against violence against women. As well as state organisations three NGOs including the Women's Network are participating in the coalition. The Network's goal is to develop a plan that involves participation and implementation at a local level through coordination among the governmental and non-governmental entities.
Breaking the silence on sexual abuse and tackling impunity: the case of Zoilamerica
In March 1998, Zoilamerica Narvaez publicly accused her step-father, former President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, of having sexually abused her from the age of eleven. The Network has taken up her case to raise public awareness of what many Nicaraguan women face. As a member of the National Assembly, Ortega claims parliamentary immunity and has refused to stand trial.
The Network is campaigning to strip Ortega of his immunity, not only because of Zoilamerica's right to justice, but also in order to contest the impunity with which crimes of violence and sexual abuse are committed against many other Nicaraguan women and children.
At the end of October 1998, Hurricane Mitch struck Nicaragua, killing 3,250 people and causing large-scale destruction and suffering in many parts of the country. The Women's Network Against Violence was one of the many groups to respond swiftly and effectively. Many of the member women's centres served as temporary shelters for people who had lost their homes. The Network launched an international appeal, and ten thousand families benefited through the local distribution of this aid. At the same time, their slogan "Hurricane Mitch didn't wash away our right to live without violence", drew attention to the fact that violence against women escalated during the emergency situation.
Following the disaster, the Network identified psychological support as an urgent need for those affected and set up a project for hurricane survivors which incorporates the Network's preventative philosophy around violence against women. Specifically the Network is training mental health promoters in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition suffered by both survivors of natural disasters and violence and abuse.
Men against Violence
The importance of working with men to tackle the root causes of violence is gaining increasing recognition in Nicaragua. In 1994, the Men's Group against Violence was formed and has attracted men from all over the country. The fundamental aim of the Group is to bring an end to violence and "machismo" and members are bound by their commitment to change their own attitudes and behaviour. The Group's work is chiefly focused around awareness-raising and encouraging men to reject male violence whilst also pointing out the positive benefits of developing closer and more loving relationships with their partners, children, and other men. The Men's Group complements the work of the Network; they are currently involved in promoting a public campaign with the slogan: "Violence against women is a disaster that men can prevent." The campaign (designed and organized by Puntos de Encuentro, a founding member organization of the Network) is aimed principally at men in the areas most affected by hurricane Mitch as violence often increases in situations of uncertainty and stress. This is the first campaign directed at men and will probably help to mainstream the violence debate.
Freedom from violence - a fundamental human right
The Vienna Declaration of the Second World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 was the first international statement to set violence against women within the human rights framework. This significant step forward was subsequently reinforced at the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing. The Network believes that this is just a first step and that, in order for women to reap the benefit of these advances, women's access to the legal system and enforcement of the law must be ensured. According to Violeta Delgado, the Co-ordinator of the Network, the onus is also on women to defend their hard fought for rights:
"We all have the right to justice. It is a basic right to be defended... We should not forget this right because if we don't claim it and we don't defend it, we will lose it."
In just seven years since it was established, the Network's contribution towards justice for women and children in Nicaragua has already been significant. The organisation's innovation, diversity and commitment have provided inspiration and a new model for political activism beyond national boundaries. However, the challenge they have taken on is a huge one and in many ways, their work has only just begun. As one Nicaraguan woman activist put it
"a second revolution is needed to tackle the roots of violence against women and children".
Campaign activities that you can become involved in:
- Distribution our Special Report on Challenging Violence Against Women
- Join the NSC
- Make a donation to the Challenging Violence Against Women Campaign
- Purchase "You can't beat a woman" T-Shirt or mug (see NSC
Sales & Fairtrade
- Participate in a Fair Trade Brigade or study tour to Nicaragua (see
For further information:
Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign,
129 Seven Sisters Rd,
London N7 7QG
Tel: 020 7272 9619
Fax: 020 7272 5476
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