Binders Full of Nicaraguan Women

Thanks to tumblir for the picture

Mitt Romney’s faux pas during the second Presidential debate would NEVER be understood in Nicaragua. When he claimed to have been presented with “binders full of women”, my only thought was of the plight of Nicaraguan women. There are many dusty binders of Nicaraguan women stacked on police officers’ shelves, only they are full of  reports of domestic violence, abuse, exploitation, and sex trafficking…certainly not women’s resumes.

How do I explain equal rights to my impoverished neighbor with three children under the age of three, who washes dirty diapers by hand in the lake, cooks every meal over a fire, while sweeping the trash from her dirt floor into the street, and tending to the needs of her invalid father-in-law? Adioska doesn’t have a clue about resumes or equal pay in a country where the average take-home pay for men is $100 a month. She lives in survival mode daily… from one crisis to another.

What can I tell her? It’s your duty to fight for women’s rights? Last October, a 12-year-old girl, who was raped and impregnated by her step-father, gave birth to a five-pound baby boy.  “According to the Strategic Group of the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, 1,453 of the young girls (ages 10-14) who were raped in Nicaragua last year were forced to give birth due to Nicaragua’s total ban on therapeutic abortion.” See article here. Under Nicaraguan law, the 12-year-old mother was denied access to a therapeutic abortion, becoming a poster child for the Sandinista government’s ban on abortion in all circumstances.

Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Nicaragua. Poverty, close family ties, and a lack of basic education contribute to thousands of victims’ inability to escape abuse and exploitation. Although the majority of Nicaraguans oppose gender-based violence              (including men), the challenge is what to do once the abuse has occurred. But, not all remains dire in the binders of Nicaraguan women.

On January 26, 2012, the Nicaraguan Parliament unanimously approved a Comprehensive Violence Against Women’s Act.  This law recognizes femicide ( killing of women) and other violence against women as criminal acts and punishable under Nicaraguan law. The government established a commission, strengthening government agencies that provide services for women and children, as well as providing training and information for all government officials and the general public. Female police officers specializing in domestic violence are available in every department of Nicaragua. We even have a trained specialist in our little port town of Moyogalpa! Of course, funding for human service programs is a universal problem.

Domestic violence safe houses are popping up in local communities. The Solidarity House, a shelter for women and girls, is located in San Juan Del Sur. It is one of five shelters in Nicaragua that provides assistance to women and young girls. The other shelters are in Managua, Waslala, Ocotal, and Puerto Cabezas.

It is a fledgling beginning. Meanwhile, the little 12 year-old who gave birth to her stepfather’s child, is living at home. Her mother lives with the rapist of her daughter, as if nothing happened. She has been robbed of her childhood…her self-esteem…her life. Adioska continues to nurture and care for her family. She’s too busy to attend the rallies advocating for women’s rights, but she is aware and encouraged by the attention and focus given to women in Nicaragua.

There is still a long way to go before women’s rights are fully recognized in Nicaragua. Yet, the binders are slowly filling up with new laws protecting women and children. Maybe someday, we can hope for binders full of women’s resumes, instead of reports of violence. That’s my wish for Nicaraguan women and children. Poco y poco.


17 thoughts on “Binders Full of Nicaraguan Women

  1. I know I am pretty late on a reply, however; this REALLY interests me. I am a student from Nebraska studying for my masters in social work. I have been here two weeks and will stay 3 months. I leave in August. I work in el campo en un pueblo Chacraseca that is near Leon. Domestic violence is rampant there. My boss is an amazing woman who started a great educational program there, but has realized the problems extend way passed education. She is looking to obtain a grant to build another domestic violence shelter around Leon. I know you said there is a shelter in San Juan del Sur. Is there a way to get their information? I am going there this weekend and I would love to maybe set up a time to go visit the shelter if at all possible. Your help is greatly appreciated!

    • Kimberly, I don’t remember the name, but if you ask around, I’m sure you will find it. A good resource is Jane who runs the children’s library in SJDS. She has been in SJDS for a long time and knows everything. Maybe it will help to ask at the library for Jane. I am so glad you are interested in this. We have two interns on Ometepe Island, now and one of them is working on developing a shelter on the island. Good luck and thanks for writing. Let me know what you find out.

  2. So glad you posted this, so eye opening. I was very involved in the women’s movement here and helped to open a shelter for abused women in Santa Barbara as well as start a hotline for abused women to call for support and help. It’s a subject close to my heart and one that I’m very passionate about.

      • Well, where ever I live I have a hard time not getting involved. My mind is working already on what I can do. I’ve been reading about the things you done there, just in day to day living and it really inspires me. You really touch peoples lives in such a good way.
        We’ve pretty much decided that is where we’re moving. We’re planning on coming there in the spring to do an exploratory trip to finalize our decision with the exact location. Ometepe Island is top on our list. Then we’ll either move this spring or fall. We have pets we have to transport so need to do it when the weather is relatively mild so it probably has to be in spring or fall. We’re in the process of preparing for the move by getting rid of all our stuff we’re not going to take which is just about all of it, dealing with our house, etc. Quite the process, overwhelming at times. Looking into starting the residency process now as well. Another overwhelming process, your blog is very helpful. Thanks for all the information.

  3. I don’t think exaggeration and more stereotypes help. There are Nicaraguan men who also care and are trying to help solve what is, as Debbie well describes, a very deep-seeded (no pun intended) problem. Gender inequalities are obviously holding back women, and ultimately men, in both Nicaragua and the U.S. Thanks for keeping this thoughtful discussion, and some measure of hope for progress, alive.

    • Jim, when I was writing my blog this morning, one of my former English students stopped in to visit. I read my blog to him and asked for his thoughts. First, he said that I should mention that abuse occurs with young boys and men, too. Then, he told me a story about his wife’s sister, who was forced into the sex trade by her own mother. Abuse and exploitation transcends gender. I have a different perspective of men in Nicaragua, mainly because they have been working on our property on and off for over 2 years, now. The men I encounter are hard working,
      church going, loving fathers, brothers, and husbands. Sure, I have encountered the abusive, lazy, drunks, too. But, in my humble opinion, they are in the minority. It just takes one rotten mango to spoil the whole batch, so with awareness programs, greater penalties for the abusers, and protection for the victims..maybe Nicaragua can start heading in a new direction..a safer, gentler Nicaragua as far as human rights are concerned.

  4. Reblogged this on i am and commented:
    As an Nicaraguan-American, I am very well aware of these issues though I cant relate. I’ve only visited my country once since I left when I was only three, but my parents keep us abreast of our homeland issues. Plus, the internet is vast with information. Unfortunately, this plight the blogger speaks of isn’t only true for Nicaraguan women, but for millions of women in impoverished, government-corrupted countries all around the world. It’s a sad reality no one should have to live. Thanks again to Debbie for shedding light on such an important topic.

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