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

By Erika Takeo and Rohan Rice

[This article was first published by the People’s Dispatch on November 04, 2021, at https://peoplesdispatch.org/2021/11/04/womens-struggle-in-nicaragua-from-liberation-fighters-to-building-an-alternative-society/ ] [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: https://rohanjrice.wordpress.com/]

Continued from NicaNotes of April 7, 2022.

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.

Women founders of ATC including Lola Esquivel (center), El Crucero.

Working for liberation

The most essential component of Nicaragua’s economy has for centuries been its agricultural sector. Prior to the revolution, all available fertile land was forcibly converted into vast monocultural cash-crop plantations and worked by the local population, be that slaves, Indigenous people, or mestizos. From the moment William Walker’s men invaded in 1855 up until 1979, Nicaragua was a victim of this agro-imperialism. However, when the Sandinistas launched a comprehensive agrarian reform in the 1980s, land was democratized and given to peasant families, creating the base for Nicaragua’s food sovereign model today. Moreover, when men went to fight in the mountains during the US-funded counter-revolution in the 1980s, women took on agricultural jobs that had been traditionally held by men—carrying out the field work, driving tractors, applying inputs, tending to the animals—in addition to all of the traditional housework and childrearing. This was an important moment that showed that women too could carry out agricultural activities other than harvesting, breaking off from traditional machista ideas about the division of agricultural labor.

In the build-up to the Sandinista revolution, the ATC was founded with the goal of organizing peasants and farm workers in defense of their rights as well as to improve living conditions in the countryside. Shortly after the historical triumph, they made the decision to found the ATC’s Women’s Secretariat (later adding the ‘Movimiento de Mujeres del Campo’/MMC or Rural Women’s Movement). This space was perhaps the first in a Nicaraguan organization specifically created to address women’s issues, and in this case, to meet the demands of peasant and working-class women. The Secretariat and MMC have since their inception struggled for better wages, access to education, respect for women’s physical and moral integrity, and equal opportunities. This union has continually played a crucial role in defending the needs of both male and female land workers, especially during the first phase of the revolution when many workers left bondage for the first time in their lives to then define a new form of workplace that would transform society.

With the arrival of the neoliberal period in 1990 and the concomitant decline in workers’ rights, women’s organizing became even stronger as a response. ATC women led shutdowns of main roads in Managua to ensure that the land they had obtained during the 1980s agrarian reform was respected. They also spearheaded the creation of new autonomous zones in northern regions of the country, especially the department of Jinotega.

Today, the ATC has 18,000 women members in different social sectors. Both women and men are trained by the likes of the Francisco Morazán Peasant Worker School in gender relations and eliminating violence against women. These programs also work on fostering women’s leadership for rural movements; in the ATC itself the majority of both national and departmental leaders are women, not just the Women’s Secretariat.

Government social programs such as those organized by the Ministry for Family, Cooperative, Communal, and Associative Economy/MEFCCA, have a particular focus on women heads of households, providing them with the productive resources they need to run their own small business and contribute to the country’s economy. One such notable initiative is the Zero Usury program, that provides financing at an annual interest rate of two percent to women entrepreneurs, farmers, and producers. Women are also given quick access to credit and without the risk of being dispossessed of their land or belongings. This is in sharp contrast to the neoliberal system that, through private microfinance companies, charged rates of up to 11 percent per month, snatching from women the little they had because they did not provide support or training for the development of their businesses. Since 2007, the Zero Usury program has provided one or more loans to over a half million women in Nicaragua.

Another notable MEFCCA program is the Hunger Zero program (modeled on the one in Brazil), whereby all agricultural assets are put in the woman’s name, including livestock, inputs, and technology. This model, not seen anywhere else in Central America, has empowered economically rural women to be self-sufficient. These initiatives are crucial because they allow women to break the dependency on male breadwinners, giving them more autonomy and stopping the cycles of violence that have historically existed in the Nicaraguan countryside.

One example of where this has all come into action is the Gloria Quintanilla Cooperative in El Crucero, a nationally-recognized women’s coffee farmer cooperative. The 22 women members are leaders in their community that is made up of 79 families. With assistance from both the ATC and the Sandinista government, the women have organized to build an elementary school in the community, inaugurate a well for potable water, and all of the women farmers are trained in agroecological techniques that they implement in their plots, contributing to the national food sovereignty and security campaigns.

As shown by the Gloria Quintanilla Co-operative, raising employment for women cannot happen without increasing participation and standards of education. Before 1979, there were no public educational provisions for children of any gender under six years old. Schooling post-13 was rare. Illiteracy was at 50 percent with women forming a majority of the illiterate (Collinson et al, 1990). Responding to the successes seen in Cuba—over a thousand Cuban teachers came to Nicaragua in 1981 to assist in the education sector—the FSLN embarked on a ‘Literacy Crusade’. Within only a year, illiteracy was reduced to 12 percent, with women being the primary beneficiaries. This is reflected in the mass training of ‘popular teachers’ after the crusade, 95 percent of whom were women. Education thereafter became another key source of employment for women, especially in rural areas. As of 2017, 78 percent of the teachers are women. Starting in 2012, the government has promoted a program of specialization and professionalization of school teachers to improve the quality of the education system across the country.

This is an education system that under the FSLN has always been rooted in the popular pedagogy of Marxist thinker, Paulo Freire. In the second revolutionary period, his teachings are embodied in the creation of the Latin American Institute for Agroecology/IALA, an education centre established with the global peasant movement, La Via Campesina, and former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. The IALAs, including the IALA campus in Nicaragua called IALA Ixim Ulew (meaning “land of corn” in Maya Quiche) are training centers for youth that come from social movements and rural areas providing political, ideological, and technical training in agroecology. Part of this training is about dismantling patriarchal systems that have acutely affected rural areas and replacing them with a model that not only acknowledges women as the cornerstone of agriculture, but values seed saving, fights machismo, builds shared responsibilities between women and men, and boosts food production. These concepts are included in the ‘popular peasant feminism‘ modules that are imparted at the IALAs.

Bertha Sanchez is an 18-year-old young woman from the department of Masaya. She is a single mother and is currently studying to be a specialized technician in Agroecology at IALA. In her testimony as an IALA student, she shared the following:

“My experience has been unique because, truthfully, I never thought I’d say, ‘I’m going to keep studying’. I am a single mother of a three-year-old child; I thought I’d just get a job and struggle from paycheck to paycheck. But by the grace of God, I now have the opportunity to continue studying. I like to work the fields. I have a plot where I grow vegetables…. I have to think about the fact that I have someone who comes after me, in this case my son. I need him to feel proud of me, to be an example of discipline and show him what it means to be from the countryside”.

While there are IALA campuses throughout Latin America, the IALA campuses in Nicaragua and Venezuela are unique in that their training programs are state-accredited, meaning that the students receive a valuable certificate in acknowledgment of the studies they have carried out.

Reproductive rights and healthcare

Women’s healthcare and reproductive rights are a major priority of the FSLN. With the reinstatement of the universal right to healthcare after 2006, a series of impressive achievements have been made that mean that women, and consequently their families too, are living healthier lives.

Through Nicaragua’s extensive public healthcare system, women receive access to free, high-quality, and culturally-appropriate healthcare from the Pacific to the Caribbean Coast. This includes a whole fleet of mobile clinics that tour the country to perform regular cervical and breast cancer screenings, along with the opening of a women’s hospital in 2015 to specifically treat women’s health issues.

The Maternal Waiting Homes program, that covers women from rural areas or with high-risk pregnancies, ensures accommodation, food, and prenatal training for pregnant women. In 2015, 51,189 pregnant women were housed in 174 Maternal Waiting Homes and in 2018, 61,648 pregnant women were housed in 178 of these homes. According to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, these types of programs have contributed to the 60 percent reduction of maternal mortality rates, going from 78.2 deaths in 2007 to 47 deaths per 100,000 live births registered in 2018.

Family-planning methods are widely available in the Nicaraguan public healthcare system, where five types of contraception are freely dispensed. The Ministry of Health also connects with local community health promoters to ensure that women can access their preferred birth control method without even having to leave their communities, helping to reduce teenage pregnancies.

Internationally, there is much attention around the case of abortion in Nicaragua. In order to understand why abortion has not been nationally legalized, it is important to understand some cultural components of Nicaragua. The large majority of Nicaraguans are Catholics or Evangelical Protestants, which combined with traditional peasant cultures, means public support for abortion is low. At all levels, but particularly at a governmental level, there is a greater focus on family planning (rare in other Catholic countries) and avoiding unwanted pregnancies, as well as ending and criminalizing violence against women. For example, rape is heavily criminalized, with average sentences of 25 to 30 years in prison, significantly more than the average 5-year-sentence rarely handed out in England, for example.

That all said, abortions can be carried out for medical reasons and so far there has not been a case of imprisonment nor a legal case brought against a woman who had practiced abortion.

The right to live in peace

Owing to the Sandinista Revolution, women in Nicaragua now have the political power and organization to struggle for their demands, whether it be land, education, potable water, or community health programs. These in turn support the working class and all Nicaraguans in improving their quality of life, on their own terms and according to their own needs and culture.

What should also be obvious from the above is that the Nicaraguan women’s movement is deeply engaged with the country’s political future and with women’s everyday lives. Whether fighting on a local, national, or international level, it is evidently an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement with a clear sense of identity and autonomy.

In this regard, the last word ought to go to Lea Moncada, secretary of the Gloria Quintanilla Co-operative:

“Now we are prepared for anything. The advice I could give is that we unite more, that we look out for the well-being of our country, of our nation, of our world. We are all human beings and we have to love each other because the big businessmen only look out for their stock market; they don’t look out for the proletarian class, the poor people, the working people, the peasant people.”

The authors would like to thank the Women’s Secretariat of the ATC, the Rural Women’s Movement, Magda Lanuza, Ada Farrach, and Jenny Bekenstein for their invaluable contributions, without which this piece would not have been possible.

This article was written in collaboration with the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign UK. On 7 November 2021, Nicaraguans voted in their national elections. The USA has begun a campaign to try to oust the incumbent socialist FLSN government. This article is part of a year-long series that seeks to present the truth of Nicaragua under the Sandinista government.


Briefs
By Nan McCurdy

Daniel Ortega Rated Second Best President in Latin America
President Daniel Ortega’s administration has a 70% approval rating, which places him in second position among the best presidents in the Americas, according to the “Panoptico de Opinión Pública” from M&R Consultores released April 20. (Ortega beats US President Joe Biden by a wide margin; Biden’s approval rating is 36%.) President Naib Bukele of El Salvador is in first place with 75% approval and President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador with 57% is in third place. After El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico some of the presidencies with relatively high approval are Luis Arce of Bolivia, 50.8%; Luis Lacalle Pou of Uruguay, 52% and Gabriel Boric of Chile 50%. On the lower end are Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, 25%, Alfredo Fernandez of Argentina, 25.2%; Ivan Duque of Colombia, 23%; Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica only 18%; Luis Lasso of Ecuador,37.6%; Laurentino Cortizo of Panama, 31%; Pedro Castillo of Peru, 23.1%. See data: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/daniel-es-el-segundo-mejor-presidente-del-continente-americano/
(Radio La Primerisima, 20 April 2022)

CABEI Renews Credit line to Support Nicaraguan Economy
The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and Banco FICOHSA Nicaragua renewed a global line of credit for US$20 million. With these resources channeled through their allied financial institutions, they support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), as well as other key sectors of the economy that in recent years have suffered difficulties. “[W]e continue to support the economic reactivation of various economic sectors in Nicaragua, promoting sustainable and equitable growth,” said CABEI Executive President Dr. Dante Mossi. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 April 2022)

More than a Million People Visited Beaches During Holy Week
Initial estimates indicate that during Holy Week more than 1.25 million people, including national and foreign tourists, went to the beaches. “The reality may be higher,” said Leonardo Zacarías, president of the Association for the Promotion of Sustainable Development, APRODESNI. He added, “They looked completely full. Some of the main beaches for tourism, Pochomil, Masachapa, Huehuete, San Juan del Sur, San Jorge, Granada, Ometepe, San Carlos, Xiloá, and El Trapiche, had a huge influx of people.” Initial estimates of foreign exchange generated by the holiday are more than US$100 million. Hotels and restaurants reported occupancies above 90%. Antonio Armas, who is in the tourism business, stated, “Definitely, Tola and San Juan del Sur beaches are the favorites. A lot of tourism is arriving from Costa Rica through Peñas Blancas, the numbers are encouraging.” Zacarias added, “There were also thousands of tourists in the Caribbean including at Corn Island and Bluefields. The national airlines have had full occupancy, the hotels very high, likewise the platform rentals also report excellent  numbers. We had many people coming from Europe, the United States and Central America. Nicaragua is recovering after the pandemic and the hurricanes. And the tourists are beneficial. They are a recognition of [Nicaragua’s] tranquility, peace, joy and natural resources.” There was a major cleaning campaign during the holidays with the participation of more than 15,000 people from the municipalities to keep all the tourist areas clean. See photos: https://www.tn8.tv/nacionales/primeros-reportes-de-semana-santa-explosion-de-turistas-en-toda-nicaragua/?fbclid=IwAR0kLF3x4DxKx8jmfpX4UUYf165XE_LncQ646CmUqsGuM4a16jw2mviX7ZQ (TN8, 18 April 2022)

Rural University Opened in Bosawas Reserve
The National Council of Universities (CNU) and the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast, in coordination with the Northern Caribbean Regional Autonomous Government, inaugurated a Rural University in the Mayagna community of Musawas, Sauni territory, Bonanza municipality. The goal of the new university is to guarantee the professionalization of Indigenous youth in the science of bilingual intercultural education. CNU President Ramona Rodríguez stated that “this is the first higher education center in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve that offers a space for Indigenous youth to access university education for teachers in their communities and is part of the restitution of historic rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples to an education in their own language”. (Nicaragua News, 13 April 2022)

Nicaragua Honored by Asia-Europe Social and Business Forum
During the XVII Asia-Europe Social and Business Forum held last week in London, the Nicaragua Government received the “Knights of Honour” award in recognition of the country’s excellence and diplomatic leadership in negotiation, persuasion and commitment to resolve global concerns and promote intercultural, commercial and tourism ties. Organized by media group AsiaOne Media Holdings of Singapore, the Asia-Europe Business and Social Forum was created to bring together and recognize business, social and political leaders from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa who promote mutual well-being and collaboration in diplomacy, commerce and culture. (Nicaragua News, 18 April 2022)

Nicaragua Elected to UN NGO Committee
Nicaragua was elected by acclamation to the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations Committee, during a meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held last week. The Nicaragua Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Jaime Hermida stated that “the international community once again places its full trust in the great work of Nicaragua in this important Committee, where we will ensure that the relationship between the United Nations and NGOs is in accordance with the UN Charter, for the benefit of Member States and our peoples.” (Nicaragua News, 19 April 2022)

Second Delivery of Food for the Lunch Program Began this Week
The Ministry of Education began the distribution of 222,000 hundred weights of food for  the school meal program in all schools in the country, which covers 60 days of food for children in public schools. The Vice Minister of Education, Francis Díaz Madriz, explained that 23,000 hundred weights of extra food were allocated for the dry corridor, to prevent malnutrition in children. (Radio La Primerisima, 19 April 2022)

Renewable Energy for South Caribbean Region
The National Electricity Transmission Company inaugurated a 165-solar panel system in Nueva Esperanza community, Pearl Lagoon municipality of the Nicaragua Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region, benefiting 860 inhabitants. The US$357,022 funding was provided by the General Budget of the Republic, with support of the Export and Import Bank of South Korea 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, that the Nicaragua Government is implementing in the 153 municipalities of the country. (Nicaragua News, 19 April 2022)

8,000 Nicaraguan Migrants in Mexico
The National Migration Institute (INM) of Mexico announced it had rescued [from cartel smugglers] 115,379 foreign migrants during their entry and transit through Mexican territory between January 1 and April 13. Some 97,730 are of legal age (69,868 male and 27,862) and 17,649 are minors (10,226 boys and 7,423 girls). 14,105 minors were accompanied by an adult or guardian and 3,544 were traveling alone. Some 21,965 are from Honduras, 21,954 from Guatemala,  15,907 from Cuba, 8,270 are Nicaraguan, 6,931 from El Salvador, and 40,352 from other countries. Of the latter, 6,188 are people of non-continental origin: 2,754 from Asia, 2,140 from Europe, 1,282 from Africa and 12 from Oceania. The five states in the country with the highest number of foreign migrants are Chiapas, with 25,768; Mexico City, 13,213; Baja California, 11,507; Tabasco, 10,099; and Veracruz, 7,794. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 April 2022)

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