NicaNotes: The Gains of Nicaraguan Women during the Second Sandinista Government

By Stansfield Smith

[Stan Smith was on delegations to Nicaragua in February 2020 and October 2021. He is editor of the Alliance for Global Justice’s “Venezuela & ALBA Weekly News” and]

Members of the Madre Tierra Agricultural Cooperative in Jinotepe. Yorlis Luna, left, bee specialist.

Women, particularly those in the Third World, often find themselves with limited ability to participate in community organizations and political life because of the bondage poverty and their traditional sex role imposes on them. On them falls sole responsibility to care for their children and other family members, especially when sick; they maintain the home, cook the meals, wash the dishes, the clothes, bathe the children, clean the house, mend the clothes. This labor becomes unending manual labor when households have no electricity (consequently, no lights, no refrigerator, no labor-saving electrical devices), and no running water. The burden of this work impedes the social participation, self-expectations, and education of the female population.

Women in the Third World (and increasingly in the imperial First World) face problems of violence at home and in public, problems of food and water for the family, of proper shelter, and lack of health care for the family, and their own lack of access to education and thus work opportunities.

In Nicaragua, before the 1979 Sandinista revolution, men typically fulfilled few obligations for their children; men often abandoned the family, leaving the care to women. It was not uncommon to hear the abuse that men inflicted on women, to see women running to a neighbor for refuge. It was not uncommon to encounter orphaned children whose mothers died in childbirth, since maternal mortality was high. Common illnesses were aggravated because there were few hospitals and if there were, cash payment was demanded.

After the 1979 Sandinista victory, living conditions for women drastically improved, achievements the period of neoliberal rule (1990-2006) did not completely overturn. Throughout the second Sandinista period (2007- today), the material and social position of women again made giant steps forward.

The greatest advance has been made by poor women in the rural areas and barrios, historically without safety, electricity, water and sanitation services, health care, or paved roads. The liberation women have attained during the Sandinista era cannot be measured only by what we apply in North America: equal pay for equal work, the right to abortion, the right to affordable childcare, freedom from sexual discrimination. Women’s liberation in Third World countries involves matters that may not appear on the surface as women’s rights issues. These include the paving of roads, improving housing, legalized land tenure, school meal programs, new clinics and hospitals, electrification, plumbing, literacy campaigns, potable water, aid programs to campesinos, and crime reduction programs.

Because half of Nicaraguan families are headed by single mothers, this infrastructure development promotes the liberation and well-being of women. Government programs that directly or indirectly shorten the hours of household drudgery free women to participate more in community life and increases their self-confidence and leadership. A country can have no greater democratic achievement than bringing about full and equal participation of women.

Women’s Liberation Boosted with the FSLN’s Zero Hunger and Zero Usury programs

These programs, launched in 2007, raise the socio-economic position of women. Zero Hunger furnishes pigs, a pregnant cow, chickens, plants, seeds, fertilizers, and building materials to women in rural areas to diversify their production, upgrade the family diet, and strengthen women-run household economies. The agricultural assets provided are put in the woman’s name, equipping women to become more self-sufficient producers; it gives them more direct control and security over food for their children. This breaks women’s historic dependency on male breadwinners and encourages their self-confidence. The program has aided 275,000 poor families, over one million people (of a total of 6.6 million Nicaraguans), and has increased both their own food security and the nation’s food sovereignty.

Nicaragua now produces close to 90% of its own food, with most coming from small and medium farmers, many of them women. As Fausto Torrez of the Nicaraguan Rural Workers Association (ATC) correctly noted, “A nation that cannot feed itself is not free.”

The Zero Usury program is a microcredit mechanism that now charges 0.5% annual interest, not the world microcredit average of 35%. Over 445,000 women have received these low interest loans, typically three loans each. The program not only empowers women but is a key factor reducing poverty, unlocking pools of talent, and driving diversified and sustainable growth. Many women receiving loans have turned their businesses into cooperatives, providing jobs to other women. Since 2007, about 5,900 cooperatives have formed, with 300 being women’s cooperatives.

Poverty has been reduced from 48% in 2007 to 25% and extreme poverty from 17.5% to 7%. This benefited women in particular, since single mother households suffered more from poverty. The Zero Hunger and Zero Usury programs have lessened the traditional domestic violence, given that women in poverty suffer greater risk of violence and abuse than others.

Giving Women Titles to Property Is a Step towards Women’s Liberation

Since most Nicaraguans live by small-scale farming or by small business, possessing the title of legal ownership is a major concern. Between 2007 and 2021, the FSLN government has given out 451,250 land titles in the countryside and the city, with women making up 55% of the property-owners who benefited. Providing women with the legal title to their own land was a great step towards their economic independence.

Infrastructure Programs Expand Women’s Freedom

The Sandinista government funded the building or renovation of 290,000 homes since 2007, free of charge for those in extreme poverty, or with interest free long-term loans for other families. This aided over one million Nicaraguans, particularly single mothers, who head half of all Nicaraguan families.

In 2006 only 65% of the urban population had potable drinking water; now 92% do. Access to potable water in rural areas has doubled, from 28% to 55%. This frees women from the toilsome daily walk to the village well to carry buckets of water home to cook every meal, wash the dishes and clothes, and bathe the children. Homes connected to sewage disposal systems have grown from 30% in 2007 to 57% in 2021.

Now 99% of the population has electricity compared to 54% in 2006. As we know from experiencing electrical blackouts, electricity significantly frees our lives from time-consuming tasks. Street lighting has more than doubled, increasing security for all. Reliable home electricity enables the use of electrical labor-saving devices, such as the refrigerator and electric iron.

Today, high speed internet connects and unites most of the country, reducing people’s isolation and lack of access to information. Virtually everyone has a cell phone, and free internet is now available in many public parks.

Nicaragua’s road system is among the best in Latin America and the Caribbean, given it has built more roads in the last 15 years than were built in the previous two hundred. Outlying towns are now connected to the national network. Women in rural areas can travel elsewhere to work, sell their products in nearby markets, attend events in other towns, and take themselves or their children to the hospital. This contributes to the fight against poverty and the fight for women’s liberation.

Better roads and housing, almost universal electrical and internet access, as well as indoor plumbing greatly lightens the burdens placed on women homemakers and provide them with greater freedom to participate in the world they live in.

The Sandinista Educational System Emancipates Women

The humanitarian nature of the FSLN governments, as opposed to the disregard by previous neoliberal regimes, is revealed by statistics on illiteracy. When the FSLN revolution triumphed in 1979, illiteracy topped 56%. Within ten years they reduced it to 12%. Yet by the end of the 16-year neoliberal period in 2006, which dismantled the free education system, illiteracy had again risen to 23%. Today the FSLN government has cut illiteracy to under 4%.

The FSLN made education completely free, eliminating school fees mandated by the IMF during the neoliberal period. This, combined with the aid programs for poor women, has allowed 100,000 children to return to school. The government began a school meal program, a meal of beans and rice to 1.5 million school and pre-school children every day. Preschool, primary and secondary students are supplied with backpacks, glasses when needed, and low-income students receive uniforms at no cost. Now a much higher proportion of children are able to attend school, which provides more opportunities for mothers to work outside the home.

Nicaragua has established a nationwide free day care system, now numbering 265 centers. Mothers can take their young children to day care, freeing them from another of the major hurdles to entering the workforce. Children receive breakfast, lunch and two snacks during the day in these child development centers.

Children get lunch every day at school. Photo: 19 Digital

Due to the vastly expanded and free medical system, the Zero Hunger, Zero Usury and other programs, chronic malnutrition in children under five has been cut in half, with chronic malnutrition in children six to twelve cut by two-thirds. Now it is rare to see kids with visible malnutrition, removing another preoccupation off mothers.

Schools and businesses never closed during the covid pandemic, and Nicaragua’s health system has been among the most successful in the world addressing covid. The country has the lowest number of covid deaths per million inhabitants among all the countries of the Americas.

Nicaragua has also built a system of parks, playgrounds, and other free recreation where mothers can take their children.

Throughout the school system, the Ministry of Education promotes a culture of equal rights and non-discrimination. It has implemented the new subject “Women’s Rights and Dignities,” which teaches students about women’s right to a life without harassment and abuse and the injustices of the patriarchal system. Campaigns were launched to promote the participation of both mom and dad in a child’s education, such as emphasizing that attending school meetings or performances are shared responsibilities of both parents.

Sandinista Free Health Care System Liberates women 

In stark contrast to Nicaragua’s neoliberal years, with its destruction of the medical system, in contrast to other Central American countries and the United States with their privatized health care for profit, the Sandinistas have established community-based, free, preventive public health care. Accordingly, life expectancy has risen from 72 years in 2006 to 77 years today, now equal to the US level.

Health care units number over 1700, including 1,259 health posts and 192 health centers, with one third built since 2007. The country has 80 hospitals, 22 of them built in recent years, and 46 hospitals remodeled and modernized. Nicaragua provides 178 maternity homes near medical centers for expectant mothers with high-risk pregnancies or from rural areas to stay during the last weeks of pregnancy.

The United States is the richest country in the Americas, while Nicaragua is the third poorest. Yet in the US since 2010, over 100 rural hospitals have closed, and fewer than 50% of rural women have access to perinatal services within a 30-mile drive from their home. This has disproportionately affected low-income, particularly Black and Latino women.

Nicaragua has equipped 66 mobile clinics, which gave nearly 1.9 million consultations in 2020. These include cervical and breast cancer screenings, helping to cut the cervical cancer mortality rate by 34% since 2007. The number of women receiving Pap tests has increased from 181,491 in 2007 to 880,907 in 2020.

In the pre-Sandinista era, a fourth of pregnant women gave birth at home, with no doctor. There were few hospitals and pregnant women often had to travel rough dirt roads to reach a clinic or hospital. Now women need not worry about reaching a distant hospital while in labor because they can reside in a local maternity home for the last two weeks of their pregnancies and be monitored by doctors. In 2020, 67,222 pregnant women roomed in one of these homes, and could be accompanied by their mothers or sisters. As a result, 99% of births today are in medical centers, and maternal mortality fell from 115 deaths per 100,000 births in 2006 to 36 in 2020. These are giant steps forward in the liberation of women.

Contrary to the indifference to women in the US, Nicaraguan mothers receive one month off work before their baby is born, and two months off after; even men get five days off work when their baby is born. Mothers also receive free milk for 6 months, although most women breast feed for at least the first six months. Men and women get five days off work when they marry.

The Question of Abortion Rights

The law making abortion illegal, removing the “life and health of the mother” exception, was passed in the National Assembly under President Bolaños in 2006. There had been a well-organized and funded campaign by Catholics and Evangelicals all over Latin America as well as large marches over the previous two years in Nicaragua in favor of this law. The law, supported by 80% of the people, was proposed immediately before the presidential election as a vote-getting ploy by Bolaños. The Sandinistas were a minority in the National Assembly at the time, and the FSLN legislators were released from party discipline for the vote. The majority abstained, while several voted in favor. The law has never been implemented or rescinded.

Since the return to power of the Sandinistas in 2007 no woman nor governmental or private health professional has ever been prosecuted for any action related to abortion. Any woman whose life is in danger receives an abortion in government health centers or hospitals. Many places exist for women to get abortions; none have been closed nor attacked, nor are clandestine. The morning after pill and contraceptive services are widely available.

Sandinista Measures to Free Women from Violence 

Nicaragua has created 102 women’s police stations, special units that include protecting women and children from sexual and domestic violence and abuse. Now women can talk to female police officers about crimes committed against them, whether it be abuse or rape, making it easier and more comfortable for women to file complaints, receive counseling for trauma, and ensure that violent crimes against women are prosecuted in a thorough and timely manner.

Women make up 34.3% of the 16,399 National Police officers, a high number for a police department. For instance, New York City and Los Angeles police are 18% women and Chicago is 23%.

The United Nations finds Nicaragua the safest country in Central America, with the lowest homicide rate, 7.2 per 100,000 (down from 13.4 in 2006), less than half the regional average of 19. It also has the lowest rate of femicides in Central America (0.7 per 100,000), one more testament to the Sandinista commitment to ending mistreatment of women.  The government organizes citizens’ security assemblies to raise consciousness concerning violence against women and to handle the vulnerabilities women face in the family and community. Mifamilia, the Ministry of the Family, carries out house-to-house visits to stress prevention of violence against women and sexual abuse of children.

Nicaragua is the most successful regional country in combating drug trafficking and organized crime, freeing women from the insecurity that plagues them in places such as Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Women Leadership in the Nicaragua Government

The progress women have made during the second FSLN era is reflected in their participation in government. The 1980s National Directorate of the FSLN contained no women. In 2007, the second Sandinista government mandated equal representation for women, ensuring that at least 50% of public offices be filled by women, from the national level to the municipal. Today, 9 out of 16 national government cabinet ministers are women. Women head the Supreme Electoral Council, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s office, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and account for 60% of judges. Women make up half of the National Assembly, of mayors, of vice-mayors and of municipal council members. Women so represented in high positions provides a model and inspires all women and girls to participate in building a new society with more humane human relations.

No Greater Democratic Victory than the Liberation of Women

The headway made in women’s liberation is seen in the Global Gender Gap Index. In 2007, Nicaragua ranked 90th on the index, yet by 2020 had jumped to 5th place, behind only Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

Nicaragua is one country that has accomplished the most in liberating women from household drudgery and domestic slavery because of its policies favoring the social and political participation and economic advancement of poor women. Women have gained a women’s police commissariat, legal recognition of their property, new homes for abused women and for poor single mothers, economic programs that empower poorer women. Abortion is not criminalized in practice; half of all political candidates and public office holders are women; extreme poverty has been cut by more than half; domestic toil has been greatly reduced because of modernized national infrastructure; women have convenient and free health care. In their liberation struggle, Nicaraguan women are becoming ever more self-sufficient and confident in enforcing their long-neglected human rights. They are revolutionizing their collective self-image and ensuring their central role in building a new society. This betters the working class and campesinos as a whole by improving the quality of life of all and is a vital weapon in combating US economic warfare. As Lenin observed, “The experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the women take part in it.” Nicaragua is one more living example that a new world is possible.

By Nan McCurdy

Inauguration of Nicaragua’s Second Longest Bridge
Nicaragua’s second longest bridge was hydraulically designed to serve for a period of 100 years. Óscar Mojica, head of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI), said that the Wiwilí Bridge, which crosses the Coco River connecting Wiwilí of Nueva Segovia Department with Wiwilí of the Jinotega Department is a work of great international quality. It is 313 meters long and 12.10 meters wide with pedestrian walkways. Hundreds of people attended the inauguration and walked across the bridge. It was built with an investment of US$24 million. The bridge will greatly boost trade, production and tourism. Production in this area includes coffee, grains and livestock. (Radio La Primerisima, 1 March, 2022)

Statement to UN General Assembly on Feb. 28 by Nicaraguan Ambassador Jaime Hermida Calls for Peaceful Resolution of Conflict
Nicaragua reiterates its commitment toward Respect for Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity and Security for all Countries. The Member States must emphatically comply with the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter. This applies to all United Nations Member States.

The de-escalation of tensions is urgently needed, always taking into account the legitimate interests of security of all the countries of the Region and in particular of the Russian Federation and Ukraine, with the aim of guaranteeing long-term Peace and Stability in that Region and beyond, as established by the Minsk Accords.

Nicaragua considers that the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are essential to strengthen diplomatic efforts and thus guarantee Security and Peace; where NATO has insisted on ignoring the Agreements that were assumed at different times, with the Russian Federation, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Because we want peace and we believe in the prevention and solution of conflicts through peaceful means, we reject unilateral measures, such as political and economic sanctions of any kind, which are being launched like bombs of mass destruction against the Russian Federation, by the United States and NATO, while also multiplying the shipment of weapons to Ukraine, which evidences that the United States and NATO are already involved in this conflict, that has global dimensions. All this escalation does is feed the war; having as its painful consequences deaths, injuries, mass migrations of Families, who are victims of hegemonic policies and who are already causing serious damage to the global economy, being the peoples of the planet the victims of this crisis, that adds to the aftermath of the crisis in loss of life and damage to the economy, caused by the virus that has imposed a pandemic on all peoples.

The United Nations must play a constructive role in resolving the issue of Ukraine and give priority to peace, regional stability, and the universal security of all countries, and not promote tensions or actions that escalate the conflict.

Mr. President, this unfortunate conflict and loss of life could have been avoided. It didn’t have to happen. All of this is a product of disrespect and violations of the Charter of the United Nations, a product of interventionist policies in the internal affairs of the States, which gave rise to the coup d’état in Ukraine in 2014, and the attacks and bombings against the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk, causing the deaths of thousands of people. This is a fact that cannot be forgotten.

It is time, it is the moment to avoid a total catastrophe, and we call on NATO, the United Nations and the international community to firmly encourage and support the dialogue and the negotiation for peace between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, which are the ones with the authority and strength to achieve stable, lasting and sustainable peace in that region of our planet.

Therefore, it is not with biased policies and double standards that we will strengthen a world of peace. It is with unity, solidarity, and brotherhood among our peoples. With policies of peace and development. It is with efforts and diplomatic solutions that we will achieve international peace and security, and we repeat, it is not with policies of double standards.

We express our condolences to the families in Ukraine who have suffered the loss of loved ones, also to the families of the soldiers of Ukraine and the Russian Federation who have died in the conflict.

Award for Advances in Fight against Malaria.
On Feb. 24, the World Health Organization Board of Directors announced that the Nicaragua Ministry of Health had been selected to receive the 2022 United Arab Emirates Health Foundation Prize, in recognition of the advances obtained through the implementation of the National Plan to Fight Malaria in the Communities of the Nicaragua Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions. This United Arab Emirates prize was created in 1993 to recognize outstanding contributions to health development by individuals, institutions, or non-governmental organizations. (Nicaragua News, 28 Feb. 2022)

Launching of 2022 Nutritional Census
On March 1st the Nicaragua Ministry of Health (MINSA), with support of the Ministry of Education and the Community Healthcare Workers Network, launched the 2022 Nutrition Census. The purpose of the census is to study the nutritional conditions of children to improve the implementation of Programs such as Zero Hunger, Home Vegetable Gardens, School Lunches, Food Production Packages, and the Family Support Plan. These programs have contributed to the reduction of chronic and acute malnutrition of children between the ages of 0 to 14 in rural and urban areas of the country. During the Nutrition Census, MINSA plans to measure and weigh 1.5 million children. (Nicaragua News, 1 March, 2022)

8,500 Rural Students Enrolled in Rural Technical Education
The Nicaragua Technological Institute (INATEC) announced the enrollment of 8,500 students in the Program for Rural Area Technical Education for the 2022 academic year that began February 1st. This year the institute is offering classes in the 225 centers throughout the country. The National Program for Rural Area Technical Education seeks to strengthen the skills and practical knowledge of small producers with the purpose of encouraging sustainable agricultural production, contributing to food security and economic revitalization in rural areas. (Nicaragua News, 24 Feb. 2022)

NED Continues to Finance False News in Nicaragua
The main objective of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Nicaragua is to finance the continuation of a malicious disinformation campaign to make people believe that the country is living in an alternate reality to the one known by its own citizens. It has allocated US$1.65 billion for a group of self-styled “defenders of human rights and democracy” based in Costa Rica, to continue lying about government authorities and their policies for the benefit of the people. This was revealed in a news article by Radio La Primerisima this week. There are three objectives: 1) unite the “tranqueros” [those involved in the 2018 coup attempt] living in Costa Rica and convert them into an instrument of 2) lobbying and 3) shock forces.

To contextualize about the NED, this is a US organization founded in 1983 by Congressional initiative to finance projects that promote “democracy” in the world, and as indicated on its website, each year it makes more than 1,000 “donations” to support the “projects” of non-governmental groups that are at the service of “democratic objectives” in more than 90 countries. But it is really an instrument of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This US government organization disbursed money to carry out, between March and May 2022, a media campaign in Nicaragua with its main emphasis on social networks denouncing alleged “human rights violations and promoting the right to free and fair elections,” a rhetoric they have used since 2018, when they directly participated in the failed coup against the government of President Ortega.

The NED also aims to recruit young people and women to hinder the municipal electoral process scheduled for November 2022, infiltrate the participating political parties and delegitimize the results. Likewise it will work to strengthen a network of hitmen dedicated to the creation of “Fake News” which is headed by Carlos Fernando Chamorro of Confidencial.

According to information acquired by La Primerisima, some of it from the NED web page, its intention in Nicaragua is to carry out eight programs and work in 24 areas. For this, NED chose the following people:  Luciano Rafael Garcia, Cindi Regidor, Alvaro Navarro, Roberto Courtney, Aminta Ramirez Jennifer Ortiz, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Wilfredo Miranda, Gerall Chavez, Elvira Auxiliadora Cuadra, Pedro Javier Molina, Lucía Pineda, Roberto Danilo Samcam, Juan Carlos Ampié, Luis Galeano, Álvaro Leiva, Willih Francisco Narváez, Álvaro Navarro, David Quintana and Javier Meléndez. See funding details here: (Radio La Primerisima, 28 Feb. 2022)

Improving electricity coverage in Southern Caribbean Region
The National Electricity Transmission Company (ENATREL) inaugurated a 60-panel solar system in Rocky Point community, Pearl Lagoon municipality of the Nicaragua Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region, benefiting 350 inhabitants. The US$144,971 investment was provided by the General Budget of the Republic, with support of the Export and Import Bank of South Korea (Korea EximBank) and is part of the Supply and Installation of Solar Panels in Rural Areas Project of the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy (PNESER), that the Nicaragua Government is implementing in the 153 municipalities of the country. (Nicaragua News, 28 Feb. 2022)

Rude Ambassador Expelled
The Government of Nicaragua decided on Feb. 23 to cancel the accreditation of Alfredo Rangel Suarez, Ambassador of Colombia to Nicaragua. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denis Moncada Colindres officially communicated to the Colombian Foreign Minister, Marta Lucía Ramírez, the decision to expel Mr. Rangel. Nicaragua’s decision has been provoked by the statements made by Rangel against the Nicaraguan Government, which “contravene diplomatic and international norms by offensively interfering in the internal affairs of our country.” The note adds that “these statements show that your Ambassador is not complying with the objectives for which he was granted his accreditation in Nicaragua, for which reason we are proceeding to withdraw his credentials.” (Radio La Primerisima, 23 Feb. 2022)

Two More of Those Accused of Conspiracy Changed to House Arrest
A judge changed the precautionary measure from preventive imprisonment to house arrest with police custody of two persons accused of various crimes, at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The two are Edgard Parrales Castillo, 79 years old, arrested for the crimes of conspiracy to commit undermining national integrity and propagation of false news through information and communication technologies to the detriment of the State and the Nicaraguan society; and Mauricio Díaz Dávila, 71 years old, arrested for conspiracy to undermine the national integrity. The Prosecutor’s Office reported that, upon learning of the health condition of the aforementioned persons, for humanitarian reasons, it requested the judicial authority to make the change. (Radio La Primerisima, 25 Feb. 2022)