By Becca Renk
(Becca Renk is originally from the U.S. but has lived and worked in Nicaragua since 2001 with the Jubilee House Community and its project the Center for Development in Central America.)
“Women are not fighting for space anymore,” declares Nicaraguan National Assembly Deputy Flor Avellán. “Now we have that space and we are empowered every day.”
In recent years, Nicaragua has emerged as the most gender equal country in Latin America, and is currently number seven worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report. Nicaragua has managed to create an historically equal government ranked number five in the world for women’s political empowerment. But perhaps unique to Nicaragua, the women in positions of power are overwhelmingly worker and peasant women – many of whom are Indigenous and Afro-descendant.
The 50-50 Mandate
“In another government, in another time, that was impossible,” says Avellán, a street vendor working at a stoplight in Managua who today is also a member of the self-employed workers union, a leader of the trade union federation’s Women’s Secretariat, and a member of the legislature.
“I was there [at the stoplight thinking] that was my life, that was as far as I was going to get,” says Avellán. Then, on International Women’s Day in 2012, Nicaragua passed a law requiring that 50% of elected positions be held by women. Since then, half of all candidates must be women – if the mayor is a man, the deputy mayor must be a woman and so forth, right up to the President and Vice-Presidential positions. This gender parity mandate has had its intended effect across the board.
Today, women represent more than 50% of both the judiciary and executive branches of government, of the National Assembly, of mayors, deputy mayors and municipal counsellors and they occupy many of the most important positions of power including the Vice President of the country, President of the Supreme Court, President of the Supreme Electoral Counsel, Attorney General, Minister of Defense, and Minister of the Interior and represent more than half of the leadership of the National Assembly and the Central Bank.
Particularly of note is the participation of Indigenous and Afro-descendant women at all levels of national, regional and local government – including the fact that currently both regional autonomous governments are led by Indigenous women: a Miskito woman in the northern Caribbean coast and an Ulwa woman in the southern Caribbean coast.
“These statistics underscore the fact that women are firmly in leadership,” states Shaira Downs Morgan, an Afro-descendant member of the National Assembly elected to represent the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. “We are investing our talents, creativity, knowledge, and ability in the construction of a better and brighter future for all our Nicaraguan people.”
Today, the Nicaraguan National Assembly is not only the most gender-equal legislature in the world with 50.6% women, but it is also composed of a cross-section representative of Nicaraguan society.
“Union leaders in the health sector and education sector, artisans, peasants, workers, self-employed,” says Avellán, are all represented there. “That is something historic, it really fills one with pride because…when our affiliates, our sisters and brothers look at us they say, ‘Wow, now we have a [National Assembly] deputy; now it’s us in there; we are really included.’”
Real Achievements for Women
“We are empowered women; we are not afraid,” says peasant farmer Eloisa García of the Gloria Quintanilla Women’s Coffee Cooperative, located in the mountains outside Managua. “We have houses; we have titles to our land; we have a school; we are heard; we are respected.”
Over the past 15 years, women in positions of power in Nicaragua have made possible real change in the lives of working and peasant women, reducing the gender gap by 81%. According to the WEF Report, Nicaragua has achieved equal or near-equal rights in access to justice, financial services, and land and non-land assets:
- 185 women’s police stations have been opened around the country where only female police officers (40% of Nicaragua’s national police force) attend women and children exclusively. Nicaragua has passed laws against femicide and violence against women, allowing for stricter sentencing and swifter justice. Today, rape carries a 20-year sentence and it’s not uncommon for an aggressor to be charged, tried and sentenced within a matter of weeks.
- $18 million dollars per year is loaned exclusively to women in low-interest business loans through the Zero Usury program.
- Over 23,400 micro and small businesses have been formalized, the majority owned by women.
- Over 500 new women’s co-ops have been formed.
- The Zero Hunger program furnishes pigs, a pregnant cow, chickens, seeds, fertilizers, and building materials to women in rural areas, benefitting one in every six families in the country and contributing to the nation’s food sovereignty – Nicaragua now produces 90% of the food it consumes.
- Legal title has been given to more than half a million property owners, the majority of whom are women heads of household.
- Hundreds of thousands of low-income homes have been built, mostly for women.
- Improved access to basic services has vastly improved women’s lives. Washing machines, once rare in all but the wealthiest homes, are now common, thanks to installation of electricity and running water.
- With free universal health care, women’s health overall has improved drastically. A network of maternity waiting homes around the country decreased home births, dropping the maternal mortality by 66%. Cervical cancer mortality is down by more than 25%, and this year the government will begin vaccinating girls against HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer. With free access to family planning, the mean age for a woman to have her first child is now 27 years old, and the total fertility rate is 2.38.
Now that women are occupying positions of power in all branches of government, a full 57% of the national budget is destined for social projects, making possible these real improvements in the quality of life.
Better quality of life leads to increased women’s participation
“I am a self-employed worker at the traffic lights,” says Maribel Baldizón, a member of the workers’ union. “Like me, my mother was a street vendor. Unfortunately, she never went to school and she wasn’t able to send me to school. I am the mother of eight children, and I have helped all my children through school.”
Mothers like Baldizón were once forced to make a decision between sending their children to school or sending them to work at the stoplights to eat. Older daughters were almost never sent to school and instead were left home to look after the youngest children while their parents worked.
“Free education, together with important programs that provide students with daily food, backpacks, shoes and eyeglasses, have allowed more children to remain in school and have created more opportunities for mothers to participate in the workforce and participate in political activities,” explains Downs. Now, women like Baldizón can now make the choice to send their kids to school.
In fact, Nicaragua has gone from a country where nearly a quarter of the population had no schooling** to being the number one country in Latin America in educational attainment for women. Nicaragua is also first in Latin America for women’s literacy, women’s enrolment in third-level education, and women professional and technical workers.
“Now we have the right to organize ourselves, we have our own union,” says Baldizón.
“We work in peace; we are listened to by the institutions. We are given training; we are sent to study.”
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics come from Nicaragua’s Plan Nacional de Lucha Contra La Pobreza Para el Desarrollo Humano 2022-2026.
**United Nations Development Program 2003
UPCOMING BRIGADES TO NICARAGUA THROUGH CASA BEN LINDER:
HEALTH & HOPE BRIGADE
Where: Managua, Nicaragua
When: 13-22 May 2023
Cost: $850 per person all-inclusive* brigade
To apply: Write to [email protected]
Application deadline: 30 March 2023
Did you know Nicaragua has free universal health care? Join us to learn from Nicaragua’s family and community-based health care model! Visit state-of-the-art hospitals and talk with policy-makers & health care unions; accompany community health workers; learn Nicaragua’s history & enjoying its natural beauty
VOLTAGE & VOLCANOES BRIGADE
Where: Managua, Masaya, Granada & Leon Nicaragua
When: 19-26th June 2023
Cost: $950 per person all-inclusive* brigade
To apply: Write to [email protected]
Application deadline: 30 April 2023
Explore the land of lakes and volcanoes – natural wonders that also provide electricity – 70% of Nicaragua’s energy production is from renewable sources! Perfect for families of all ages, this tour combines visiting volcanoes – a new volcano or crater lake each day – with renewable energy. Join us to: visit a geothermal plant, solar installation, biogas, and electrical grid and recharging station projects; see bubbling lava & walk through boiling mud pits; zip line among the trees of a dormant giant & swim in the waters of crater lakes.
*Includes all in-country costs: meals, hotels, translation, and entrance fees. Airfare is separate.
By Nan McCurdy
Healthy Women Campaign: More Than 2 Million Consults and Procedures
The Ministry of Health successfully carried out the Healthy Women Campaign between Jan. 16 and March 2, with 2,008,433 services provided for women including 3,692 surgeries, 12,626 specialized care services, 18,426 breast ultrasounds, and 15,654 mammograms. (Radio La Primerisima, 4 March 2023)
Government Has Built 181 Maternity Waiting Homes
Since 2013, the government has promoted the strategy of building maternity waiting homes in order to reduce perinatal maternal mortality. Currently there are 181 maternity waiting homes to assist women in the final period of their pregnancy. The women are mainly from rural areas, although they can also come from the urban sector if they wish. The mayor of Ticuantepe, Dr. Ligia Ramirez, said that the strategy is to have at least one maternity waiting home in each municipality. “It is a strategy that has supported the family, because there are people who live in places that are not close to health centers and here they can be seen by doctors. They can sleep and they will have their baby in a hospital or a well-staffed health center,” Ramirez said. “Here they come to rest, to relax, to de-stress and also to receive timely medical attention. This strategy has led to a decrease in maternal mortality,” she added. “The women can come here two weeks before [their due dates] and sometimes they can stay for more than a month, depending on their condition,” she noted. Among the benefits they receive are lodging, food, and education on subjects such as dental care, self-esteem, women’s rights, risks during pregnancy, and newborn care. They can also learn about how to cultivate family gardens, handicrafts, costume jewelry and cooking recipes. The maternity waiting homes have a staff dedicated to the care of pregnant women who provide 24-hour care. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/casas-maternas-contribuyen-a-reducir-la-mortalidad-materna/ (Radio La Primerisima, 7 March 2023)
CABEI President Praises Nicaragua’s Project Choices and Execution
During an interview with EFE news agency on March 6th in Costa Rica, the President of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), Dante Mossi, stated that “Nicaragua is exemplary in the execution of projects financed by international organizations. It is a country that has an extensive project portfolio that authorities execute effectively, with great transparency and agility. From the perspective of the Bank, Nicaragua is a member country in very good financial standing that always requests funds for projects to promote the integral development of the country; from first-world hospitals, support for the agricultural sector, electricity in the most remote areas and high-quality highways, generating real positive changes for the population. CABEI is pleased to support these types of initiatives.” (Nicaragua News, 7 March 2023)
Nicaragua Launches Booklet on Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Authorities of Nicaraguan government institutions presented the booklet entitled “Attention and care for persons with disabilities” to promote and guarantee the full exercise of their human rights. The booklet states that every person with a disability has the right to be part of education, health, sports, culture, work, and political activities. The booklet guides the family on how to care for and attend in a loving and respectful way people with disabilities who require greater support to live well, with peace of mind, wellbeing and a better quality of life. Minister of Health Martha Reyes recalled that, through the program Todos con Voz, house to house visits are made as well as delivery of aid to individuals and families. The head of the Ministry of the Family, Johana Flores, said, “It is one more effort that adds to this whole strategy of promoting life…. We are mandated to work with the family and the community to strengthen the restoration of the rights of our brothers and sisters with disabilities.” See photos: HERE (19 Digital, 4 March 2023)
National Port Security Highlighted
The executive director of the Central American Commission for Maritime Transport (COCATRAM), Otto Noack, highlighted the model implemented by Nicaragua which has been very positively valued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and shows excellent port security. The 11th Meeting of IMO 2023 was held in Nicaragua and ended on March 4. Virgilio Silva, executive president of the Nicaraguan National Port Enterprise (EPN), said that “This organization [the IMO] is unique in the world where we work as a team with great responsibility for port security in our countries. We have been organizing everything related to the security of the port system nationwide.” Manuel Mora, Director of Water Transportation of the Ministry of Transportation, said, “With this meeting we consider that we have made considerable progress, because at the Central American level, Nicaragua is the only country that has a National Committee for Port Security.” (Radio La Primerisima, 4 March 2023)
65 New Homes for Families in 11 Municipalities
The government reported that during the week beginning with March 6, sixty-five new houses will be delivered to families in 11 municipalities including San Juan de Río Coco, Santa Lucía, Boaco, Wiwilí, El Coral, Villa Sandino, San Pedro de Lóvago, Muy Muy, San Ramón, Jalapa and Nueva Guinea. (Radio La Primerisima, 7 March 2023)
Nicaragua Enters Regional Stock Exchange
The Nicaragua Stock Exchange (BVN) and the Nicaragua Stock Market (CENIVAL) signed the “Incorporation of Nicaragua to the Central American Stock Market Agreement” on March 2. The Agreement formalizes the entry of Nicaragua to the regional stock market, creating an efficient and transparent space for stock trading among investors of member countries. Likewise, it will facilitate cross-border transactions through remote operators, eliminating geographic barriers and promote the modernization and growth of the Latin American capital market. The Central American Securities Market, comprised of El Salvador, Panama, and Nicaragua, offers investors an integrated market of US$54 billion dollars in outstanding securities, 346 issuers and 49 stock exchanges in the three member countries. (Nicaragua News, 3 March 2023)
President Ortega Highlights Fidel Castro’s Solidarity and Hugo Chavez’ Wisdom
President Daniel Ortega arrived in Venezuela on March 5th to pay tribute to the eternal commander of the Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chávez, on the tenth anniversary of his death. Upon his arrival, Ortega described the Venezuelan people as heroic fighters and said that being in these lands is “to feel the presence, the energy, the strength of Bolivar and of Commander Chavez, who are still present in the battle we are waging.”
At the world meeting entitled “Validity of Chávez’s Bolivarian Thought,” President Ortega, after speaking of Chavez’ values, highlighted Fidel Castro as a determining part of the victory of the Sandinista National Liberation Front over the US-backed Somoza dictatorship. “In that final phase of the war we counted on the solidarity of Fidel, our elder brother. Fidel is one of those men who never dies,” he emphasized. He recalled the hard times of the struggle against the Somoza National Guard whose forces were trained by the United States. “In Cuba Fidel gathered Latin Americans and told them that in Nicaragua Sandinismo was living a crucial and decisive moment.” Fidel asked those present who was willing to fight with Nicaragua; and with that “Latin American sisters and brothers, Chileans, Argentines, Cubans and Venezuelans, joined that solidarity battalion.” Ortega said that the victory was the result of the courage and the decision of the Nicaraguan people with Fidel’s support.
During the closing ceremony President Ortega highlighted Chávez’ values, vision, wisdom and defense of Latin American unity. He talked about Chavez’ political lucidity and revolutionary thinking and how that seed was sown in the Venezuelan people. He conveyed to those present the affection and love of the Nicaraguan people and asserted that they always have Chavez in their hearts. “Chavez and Fidel, we feel them as ours, they are part of our history, they are part of our life,” he underlined. Referring to the battles fought by the Venezuelan people, he said that their role was decisive in the reversal of the US-directed coup d’état against Chávez [in 2002]; and also for President Nicolás Maduro to be able to move forward in spite of aggressions, blockade and assassination attempts by the United States.
He added that now it is Nicolás Maduro’s turn to raise Bolivar’s sword, which Chávez handed over to him and which is in the hands of the Bolivarian people. Ortega emphasized that Bolivar’s sword is also in the hands of the Nicaraguans, who “fight for sovereignty, the unity of our peoples, for independence against the onslaught of imperialism.” “The enemy is the same one that historically has tried to subjugate other peoples, the one that continues to attack, the one that continues to provoke harsh situations for our peoples with blockades and terrorist aggressions.” See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/daniel-destaca-solidaridad-de-fidel-castro/ (Radio La Primerisima, 6 March 2023)
Nicaragua Does Not Accept the Experts Imposed by the UN
Nicaragua will not accept the unilateral designation of a group of United Nations-chosen experts to prepare any report on human rights in the country, saying that the group is biased and unilaterally imposed. On Mar. 6, the Nicaraguan delegation to the Human Rights Council formally stated before that forum that it has not accepted, nor will it accept, the designation by that body of a group of experts on Nicaragua, to prepare any report on human rights in the country. The Nicaraguan delegation indicated that they are convinced that group is nothing more than a curtain to pretend to a non-existent legality in the reports they are preparing on Nicaragua. The delegation reiterated that the inputs to these reports are from opposition sectors and media which disseminate subjective, distorted and false situations and false facts about the country’s reality; acting under the guidelines of imperial powers, whose only purpose is to harm Nicaragua’s independence and sovereignty, as well as to intervene in the nation.
The statement said that the recommendations of this group do not reflect the considerable advances in the most basic human rights such as education, health, women’s rights, electricity coverage, and poverty reduction that have been implemented in Nicaragua and that their recommendations lack objectivity and are even coercive. The Nicaraguan delegation asked this group of experts for respect and equal treatment. (Radio La Primerisima, 6 March 2023; TN8tv, 3 March 2023) [This article by Stephen Sefton explains more about what this Human Rights Council has and has not done, and the role of the United States: https://www.tortillaconsal.com/bitacora/node/1378] (TN8tv, 3 March 2023)
COSEP’s Legal Status Cancelled for Noncompliance with Laws
The Ministry of the Interior cancelled the legal personality of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) which it said had acted outside the laws of the country. The cancellation was approved by the Minister of the Interior, María Amelia Coronel, according to the ministerial agreement published on March 6 in the Official Gazette (La Gaceta). COSEP was granted legal personality by decree number 468, Gazette number 244 of December 26, 1991. The Ministry of Government argued that it closed COSEP and 17 other organizations for not having completed the process of validation of registration, presenting inconsistencies in the information like variations in accounts without justification, differences in balances without reports on the accounts, and non-reporting of details of income and expenses. With these actions, the announcement said, organizations do not promote policies of transparency in the administration and management of their funds; likewise they have not reported financial statements for the fiscal period 2022. To see the organizations canceled: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/cancelan-personeria-juridica-al-cosep-por-incumplir-leyes/ (Radio La Primerisima, 6 March 2023)