NicaNotes: Women’s struggle in Nicaragua: from liberation fighters to building an alternative society

NicaNotes, like most of Nicaragua, will take a vacation for Semana Santa (Holy Week). We’ll be back on April 21st.

By Erika Takeo and Rohan Rice

[This article was first published by the People’s Dispatch on November 04, 2021, at ]

Erika Takeo is a member of the International Relations Secretariat of the Rural Workers Association (ATC) and Coordinator of the Friends of the ATC. Rohan Rice is a writer, photographer, and translator from London. You can find his work at:

A woman from the Matagalpa’s Rural Women’s Cooperative of the Rural Workers’ Association (ATC) shucks corn. Photo: Friends of the ATC

Part I (The second part of this article will appear in the next NicaNotes.)

“Throughout Central America, women are actively mobilizing for their rights; the crucial difference in Nicaragua is that the new government has a commitment to support them. The challenges they face are similar to those faced by each of the neighboring republics – but only in Nicaragua have concrete opportunities for change arisen.” – Helen Collinson et al., ‘Women and Revolution in Nicaragua’ (1990)

According to the Global Gender Gap Index, the Central American country of Nicaragua currently places twelfth in the world for gender parity, above the likes of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Since the 1979 Sandinista revolution, the living conditions for women have drastically improved, successes which even the period of neoliberal rule from 1990 to 2006 couldn’t completely overturn. Throughout the second Sandinista period—from 2007 until today—the material and social position of women has continued to strengthen. Recently, new laws protecting the political and economic rights of women have been ratified after organized campaigns from the Nicaraguan women’s movement while women’s organizations are receiving unprecedented investment and interest from the socialist government.

What can we learn from the Nicaraguan women’s movement about the global struggle for women’s rights and gender parity? This is the central question we will answer, by first giving a general overview of the conditions for women under the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FLSN) before, during, and in-between both revolutionary periods.

Firstly, it must be said that it is impossible to separate the women’s movement in Nicaragua from the Sandinista revolution. They are mutually interdependent. The reason is quite simple: women’s lives are dramatically better under Sandinista governance.

During the Somoza dictatorship, supported by the US and its allies, many campesina women lived in slave-like conditions. Because of economic conditions imposed by the regime, they were de facto prevented from owning property, acquiring adequate health care, or attending formal education. Reproductive rights and information on sexual health were virtually non-existent. Rape was extraordinarily common, particularly on the plantations. Under Somoza’s tyranny, women existed for expropriation and nothing more. Lola del Carmen Esquivel Gonzales, today a member of the Gloria Quintanilla Co-operative in Santa Julia, shared reflections on her life under Somoza:

“At the very young age of 11 years (during the Somoza dictatorship), I worked in the fields, the campesino life. I didn’t have land; I was an agricultural worker. It was hard because there was no education, no protection for children. There were no rights for women. There was no healthcare. My mother and I were nomads, moving through various departments looking for work, harvesting cane sugar. We didn’t have a home. I became a woman: I learned to walk with a machete, pick coffee and cotton and cut cane, sell fruit, and clean rooms in Corinto, Chinandega.”

Much of this changed after 1979: women were instrumental in the overthrow of Somoza, both as combatants and in supporting roles. Throughout the 1980s women fought for all the basic human rights, many of which were immediately granted by the socialist FSLN. In Nicaragua’s first democratic elections in 1984, 67 percent of the women who voted in that election voted for the FSLN.

Following the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in 1990 after a decade of the US-Contra war, Nicaragua entered a period of three neoliberal governments (1991–2006) whose policies had little interest in improving the qualities of life for women. Neoliberal policies in Nicaragua were harsh on women, especially for working class and rural women, who were made invisible despite being key actors in Nicaraguan production. Public education was privatized [fees were charged for all] and public healthcare was left without funding. The informal job sector boomed, dramatically worsening labor conditions. The burden of this increasing poverty fell disproportionately on women.

The Sandinistas were voted back into power in 2007. During this second revolutionary period, women’s rights have returned to the fore. Many of the laws enacted in the 1980s were put into better practice and the women’s movement found a new lease on life. Women’s working conditions have become a priority of the government. The advances have positively impacted urban and rural women-led households as different social programs have focused specifically on them. Yet international attention, notably that of Western middle-class feminist groups, have often ignored these advances, instead focusing on one issue: abortion rights. Both deserve equal attention, inseparable as they are, and will be covered below. Let us initially make a sweeping pass through the history and praxis of the organizations involved in the women’s movement, including the victories and the problems they faced.

The women’s movement – history and praxis

The women’s movement began in earnest with the guerrilla war against Somoza that culminated in victory in 1979. Thirty percent of guerilla combatants were women. Some militias were made up exclusively of women, while others took up leadership of mixed units and entire battalions. A handful of these same women went on to senior military positions in Sandinista society and have worked tirelessly ever since to move the revolution forward, like Doris Tijerino, who led the Sandinista Police, or Leticia Herrera, who directed the Sandinista Defense Committees.

This composition of all-women militias and women in mixed formations came to inform the women’s movement as it progressed. The Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women, or AMNLAE, the first revolutionary group dedicated solely to women’s rights, emerged around 1978. AMNLAE, saw “itself as an umbrella organization incorporating women from all the different sectors, including the trade unions”, and by 1985 was registered as an official non-profit (Collinson et al, 1990). In its early years, one can think of AMNLAE as reflecting the all-women militias that emerged during the revolutionary war. Alongside AMNLAE, women were also setting up initiatives within their mixed institutions to give a voice to their struggle.

The most notable of these latter groups was the Women’s Secretariat of the Rural Workers’ Association, or ATC to use the Spanish acronym. The approach of women in the ATC was that forming a separate women’s organizations would only serve to ghettoize the women’s struggle. In other words, it would remain an issue only for women rather than for both men and women.

Young Nicaraguan women students at IALA

This mentality was also informed by the widespread skepticism about the feminist movement at that time. For broad sections of the Nicaraguan population, suggests Lea Guido of AMNLAE, feminism was seen as a Western ideology that only further divided men and women in their journey to “mutual liberation”. For the women’s movement of past and present, it is “capitalism [that] has divided men and women so that we couldn’t join together and change things,” remarked former AMNLAE worker, Heliette Ehlers. As it was the Western imperialists who imposed capitalism, who aided Somoza during his dictatorship, and who still fund armed conflict in Nicaragua today (see the 2018 coup attempt), Western ideologies are treated with a healthy distrust, to the extent that even in this second Sandinista period some women prefer to use the term ‘women’s movement’ rather than ‘feminist movement’.

The tactical split in the women’s movement has not gotten in the way of it making tremendous gains. The first major victory was the Agrarian Reform and Co-operatives laws of 1981 whereby Nicaragua became the first country in Latin America to recognize women’s rights to wages, land, and co-operative organizing as equal to those of men. This was soon followed “by the Law Regulating Relations Between Mothers, Fathers and Children [1981] . . . which created equal rights over children for both parents; and the Law of Nurturing [1982] which obliged all men to contribute to their children’s upkeep and to do their share of household tasks” (Collinson et al, 1990). Both of these latter laws were won after campaigning by AMNLAE. In these early revolutionary years, single women also won the right to legally adopt; the trafficking of Nicaraguan children was banned; and women began to fill various positions in the National Assembly.

One of the most significant moments in the 1980s for the women’s movement came in 1987 with the Proclama. The Proclama was the result of seven years of lobbying and agitation by the movement. Numerous open meetings had been held during this time discussing the plight of women, namely their dual role as unpaid caregivers for the family and poorly paid salaried workers. The popular Sandinista newspaper Barricada ran dozens of articles on the matter, as well as on questions of reproductive rights and sexual liberation. The Proclama, a policy published by the FSLN, acknowledged for the first time that, “women suffer additional exploitation specific to their sex and that struggles within the revolutionary process were legitimate; it also roundly condemned machismo. Most importantly, it argued that women’s issues could not be ‘put off’ till after the war” (Collinson et al, 1990).

Machismo no longer had anywhere to hide. A huge societal shift emerged in Nicaragua and the discussion of women’s rights, as well as the attitude of men, went mainstream. Extensive education programs challenging domestic violence were rolled out, with harsher punishments for repeat offenders. The first TV show on sexual education, “Sex & Youth,” aired on the Sandinista channel SSTV, discussing everything from masturbation to homosexuality. Following the Proclama, the salient Divorce Law of 1988 was passed, permitting women to leave their toxic and/or abusive relationships.

Of course, no policy can force attitudes to change, so machismo still remains an issue in 2021. Yet the difference between the women’s movement under the FSLN and the movement under neoliberal governments, is that the FSLN has provided important support to the fight for gender equality, and since the return of the FSLN government in 2007, a number of laws have been passed in this vein.

The Gender Policy and Law No. 648: Equal Rights and Opportunities Law (2007)—quickly passed after FLSN re-assumed power—are based on the premise that gender equality, strengthening women’s protagonism, and more humane, equitable, and complementary gender relations are both human rights and a strategic necessity for the country’s development.

Later came the approval of Law 779: the Integral Law against Violence against Women (2014), a policy first proposed in the 1980s and finally ratified, despite strong opposition by the religious sector, with the return of the FSLN government. It gives Nicaraguan women a legal framework for the protection and defense of their lives which is implemented with the assistance of 85 all-women police stations, comisarias, whose main focus is on protecting women and children from abuse.

In 2021, the government additionally passed a law enshrining women’s representation at the legislative level, which was vehemently condemned by the opposition. All electoral lists, from local councils to the National Assembly, must now include 50 percent women. The percentage of congresswomen now stands at 48.4. For comparison, Canada is only at 28.9 percent. Today, Nicaragua ranks fourth in the world for women in parliamentary positions and first in the world for women in ministerial positions. It is one significant indicator of the FSLN’s attempts to eradicate gender disparity and make it easier for the women’s movement to both have a voice and enact laws.

In the 21st century, the women’s movement has undoubtedly made huge gains at parliamentary level, yet it has also made a big impact in other areas of society. One of the most important actors in this regard is the aforementioned ATC.

To be continued….

By Nan McCurdy

2.1 Million People Participate in Multi-Threat Exercise
The National Center for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Attention (SINAPRED) organized the First 2022 National Multi-Threat Exercise for Preparation and Preservation of Life with 2.1 million Nicaraguans participating in the exercise which simulated a major earthquake. Six thousand local emergency committees in the areas most vulnerable to the effects of a major earthquake that could generate a tsunami and in areas subject to volcanic eruptions were activated. This exercise tested the VHF and HF frequency communication system at a national and international level in the event of possible collapse of conventional services. Likewise, the response protocols for hydrocarbon spills and for access of officials to the risk management platform for timely identification of critical points were evaluated. (Nicaragua News, 1 April 2022)

Government to Cover Fuel Price Increases
The price of a liter of gasoline will increase by 1.33 Córdobas per liter this week, an impact that would have been greater had it not been for the subsidy announced by government authorities on April 1. The government is covering 100% of the increase in the cost of diesel so it remains at 163.55 Córdobas per gallon. Regular gasoline should go up 10.33 Córdobas per gallon, but the government will cover 52% of the increase, so that a gallon will be 180.96 Córdobas. As for cooking gas, its price should increase by 30.25 Córdobas for each 25 pound cylinder; however, the Government will cover 100% of this increase. (Radio La Primerisima, 2 April 2022)

New Port Will Bring Jobs
The modernization of the port of Corinto will generate more than 700 jobs. 566 jobs will be generated during construction and once the new facilities start operating at least 150 people will be hired on a permanent basis. The investment in the modernization of the port is US$184 million; it will have a modern terminal to attend cruise ships and each shipping line will have its own space assigned for unloading. (Radio La Primerisima, 31 March 2022)

More than 13,000 enrolled in trade schools
In the first quarter of 2022, 13,624 young people and adults were enrolled in trade schools, 72% of them women. This is 156% more than the target for this first quarter, which was 8,750 participants. The Municipal Schools of Trades, in alliance with INATEC, offered 58 trade courses to entrepreneurs, highlighting traditional cuisine and typical beverages, bakery, confectionery, styling, masonry, carpentry, floral arrangements, costume jewelry making, cutting and sewing. There were also courses in mechanics, automotive electricity, event decoration and assembly, marketing and advertising, business accounting, English, computer courses and beauty. (Radio La Primerisima, 31 March 2022)

Growth in Foreign Direct Investment
On March 30 the Central Bank published the “2021 Evolution of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)” in Nicaragua. The report states that Gross FDI reached US$1.47 billion in 2021, a 52.7% increase compared to 2020. The report also noted that FDI Net Flow was US$1.22 billion, representing 63.4% growth over the amount registered the previous year. The economic sectors with the highest capture of FDI net flow were energy and mining at US$466.5 million; manufacturing at US$263.4 million; telecommunications at US$174.8 million; commerce and services at US$146.4 million. (Nicaragua News, 1 April 2022)

Many Health Professionals Graduate
Doctors, nurses, clinical bio-analysts, physical therapists and other health professionals graduated recently. They will provide their services in communities throughout the country as of April 1st. Two hundred of these doctors have fellowships to study medical and surgical specialties in the country’s public hospitals. Hundreds of specialists have also graduated: in 2022, 450 general practitioners, 170 specialists, 545 nurses, 22 physical therapists, 27 graduates in anesthesia, and 125 clinical bio-analysts graduated. (Informe Pastran, 1 April 2022)

Thousands of People Participate in Arts Programs
The Rubén Darío National Theater, the Institute of Culture and the mayor’s offices in each municipality are promoting artistic expression through singing, dancing, music, painting and the arts in general. Dance schools located in all municipalities already have more than 12,000 members and more than 30,000 young people, children and adults have enrolled since their installation in 2019. There are choirs in each municipality with more than 10,000 people currently and 20,000 participants since they began. (Radio La Primerisima, 2 April 2022)

Potable Water and Sewage for More than 800,000 People
The government, with the support of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), has guaranteed potable water resources to more than 800,000 citizens. The Program for the Improvement and Expansion of Drinking Water and Sanitation Systems in 19 cities impacts more than 562,000 people with drinking water service in their homes and another 272,000 with sewerage services in 15 municipalities. “Every day more Nicaraguans have the universal right to water, improving living conditions through continuous service and sanitation. Currently, CABEI is financing five initiatives with the government for the benefit of almost two million people and investments of more than US$572 million,” said CABEI Executive President Dr. Dante Mossi. The initiative strengthens the operational capacity of the Water and Sewerage Company (ENACAL) through the establishment of six Regional Immediate Attention Centers (CRAI) in the cities of Granada, León, Estelí, Juigalpa, Bilwi and Bluefields. This program is co-financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) with US$87.22 million, the Latin American Investment Facility (LAIF) with US$58.48 million, and the European Union Bank (EIB) with US$97.53 million. To benefit more than 800,000 people, three wastewater treatment plants and five drinking water pumping stations were built, as well as the rehabilitation and construction of 15,326 drinking water connections and 5,144 sewer connections. Drinking water and sanitation systems are complete in Acoyapa, Camopa, Cárdenas, Chinandega, Chichigalpa, Jalapa, La Trinidad, Malpaisillo, Managua, Masaya and Santo Tomás. Repairs in Chontales, Boaco, RACN, Río San Juan and Juigalpa were also completed. (Radio La Primerisima, 2 April 2022)

30 Fishery Packages for Families in the North Caribbean
In support of the Indigenous communities of Prinzu Auhya Un, Karatá and Tawira, Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region, affected by hurricanes IOTA and ETA, the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture delivered 30 Fishery Packages including boats, thermoses, and materials to make nets. The purpose is to promote recovery of production in the fishery sector, strengthening food security and nutrition for families in the communities. The donation is part of the Zero Hunger Program that the Government implements throughout the country. (Nicaragua News, 5 April 2022)

Moody’s Recognizes Nicaragua’s high GCP and Strict Fiscal Discipline
The financial rating agency Moody’s announced last week that the credit profile for Nicaragua is B3 stable, supported by the strength of the national economy. The report highlights that “the Nicaragua economy has recovered swiftly, registering a 10.3% growth of GDP in 2021, due to the balanced debt metric, strict fiscal discipline and  historic growth in exports and foreign direct investment.” (Nicaragua News, 4 April 2022)

Public Sector Investment Program with 97.6% Compliance
Last week the Central Bank (BCN) published the 2021 Annual Report showing that Public Sector Investment Program execution was US$941 million last year, 38% higher than in 2020, a 97.6% compliance with the annual program. BCN President Ovidio Reyes noted that “the institutions with the highest percentage of project execution in 2021 were the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (100%); the National Police (100%); Ministry of Education (99.6%); Nicaragua Institute of Urban and Rural Housing (99%); Ministry of Health (98.8%); National Electricity Transmission Company (98.2%); Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company (92.9%). (Nicaragua News, 5 April 2022)

National Assembly Consultations with Victims of Heinous Crimes Continue
In the consultation on the laws related to heinous crimes made by the legislative committees in the National Assembly, the family of Police Officer Gabriel Vado Ruiz, killed during the 2018 attempted coup, said they support the legislation and asked for justice with all the rigor of the law to punish his murderers. Cintia Vado Ruíz, sister of the officer, kidnapped, tortured, killed and burned in one of the roadblocks of Monimbó, Masaya, on June 14 and 15, 2018, transmitted the message on behalf of the parents of the young unarmed community policeman, thanking the National Assembly for the recent laws approved. Also young Camilo Rosales, a resident of Jinotepe, gave his testimony about the kidnapping and torture he suffered at the hands of the coup perpetrators, for which he asked for justice. The Justice and Legal Affairs Committee together with the Peace, Defense, Governance and Human Rights Committee will continue to receive input on the latest approved criminal laws that apply to those who commit heinous crimes, and those who receive foreign funding to create instability in the country and undermine national sovereignty. (Informe Pastran, 1 April 2022, 31 March 2022)

New Law Regulating Non-Profits and Reform of General Law of Education
On March 31 the National Assembly approved a new General Law for the Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations and annulled the previous law. The General Law of Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations defines the regulatory and legal framework applicable to these organizations, both national and international as well as defines the functions of the Ministry of the Interior in relation to the creation of the Directorate of Registration and Control of legal entities, its structure, operation and direction.

The National Assembly also approved the Reform to Law No. 582 General Law of Education and of Reform and Addition to Law No. 89, Law of Autonomy of the Institutions of Higher Education, which guarantees the modernization of the National Council of Universities (CNU) management and the National Council of Evaluation and Accreditation in order to ensure the right to have a quality higher education. The reforms strengthen the processes to restore the right to education to the youth, to receive free and quality education, an inclusive, equitable and integral, multicultural, contextual and relevant education. The same day, the Central American University, a Jesuit-run institution, lost its inclusion in the list of universities that receive a share of the legally mandated 6% of the yearly government budget. National Assembly Deputy Maritza Espinales stated that the reforms to higher education harmonize the Law of University Autonomy with the National Plan to fight against Poverty and with the recently approved Law of Title and the reform to the Law of Accreditation and Evaluation of the System of Quality Assurance of Higher Education. With the reforms, the legal norm that establishes the procedures, functions and faculties of the CNU is strengthened; it is responsible for the modernization, quality and pertinence of higher education. Also with the reforms to higher education, the Constitutional guarantees of free and quality education are fulfilled, including the allocation of the constitutional 6% to the universities, the fulfillment of the integral processes of university management for research, innovation, and inclusive education, among others. National Assembly Deputy Wálmaro Gutiérrez emphasized that the reform related to higher education is necessary since education is a social public good, a human right and a duty of the State to ensure quality and inclusiveness. He said that only the Sandinista Government has been fully compliant with constitutional 6% and this has allowed an important transformation guaranteeing the right to education to all Nicaraguans. (Informe Pastran, 31 March 2022)

Nicaragua Demands Respect
​​​​​​​The Nicaraguan representative to the UN rejected a resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council as an attack against Nicaragua. “They continue to make instrumentalized assessments derived from economic and political interests of imperialist countries whose sole purpose is to affect the dignity and sovereignty of the world’s peoples without any respect for the sovereignty and historical development of each country. We do not accept any resolution, update or report on human rights in Nicaragua, because these lack objectivity and are coated with a clearly defined political and interference bias; far from being based on a truthful compilation of the reality of the human rights of the Nicaraguan people.” (Informe Pastran, 31 March 2022)