Violence Against Women is Systemic in Nicaragua

Posted on 11/29/13
By Carmen Herrera | Via Latinamerica Press
(Photo by Amnesty International)
(Photo by Amnesty International)

The 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, released Oct. 25 by the World Economic Forum (WEF), ranked Nicaragua 10th in the world in gender equality — a move the women´s movement in the country criticized, stating publicly Nicaraguan women are facing a double standard when it comes to their rights.

Although there is equal representation of women in government institutions at the federal and local levels, feminists say the problem is President Daniel Ortega’s public policy, like the criminalization of therapeutic abortion and the Supreme Court ruling last September that Article 46 of the Law against Violence toward Women (Law 779), which banned mediation between a woman and the aggressor in cases of violence, is unconstitutional.

Those who defended the reform in the latter case based their view on the preservation of family unity and on the discretionary principle, which prevents that cases of minor importance go to trial.

According to the reform, mediation will be used to resolve cases of “minor” violence, “like domestic or family violence, if there are minor injuries,” and will only be considered appropriate and valid if the perpetrator is not a repeat offender and if the victim is of free will to mediate with the perpetrator.

Nevertheless, groups of women assert they can prove the police and court systems are forcing women to mediate with their abusers or attackers.

From January to October, the network Catholics for a Free Choice documented 67 femicides and the state’s Medical Forensic Institute recognized 2,902 cases of sexual violence against children and teens.

“The official rhetoric about the inclusion of women as the subject of rights is a lie,” Patricia Orozco, regional director of the Mesoamerican Feminist Network (PETATERAS), told Latinamerica Press. “We believe this is part of institutional violence, which is when the authorities do not act in line with your rights.”

“We can talk about institutional violence when Law 779 is not being applied, institutional violence when there is a law that dictates there should be funding for a Land Bank for women, but no such funds exists; when Banco Produzcamos (or Let’s Produce Bank) opened to provide loans to small producers and entrepreneurs and it doesn’t reach women; institutional violence when the majority of land is in the hands of men and not women; institutional violence because abortion is still punishable and women’s right to decide over their bodies and their lives isn’t recognized; institutional violence because women don’t have work and their only way out is to work in the maquila (assembly plant), where they endure sexual violence and aren’t allowed to organize themselves,” she added.

No gender awareness
The government’s inclusive policies directed toward women in quantitative terms — the reason for the country’s place in the WEF rankings — are based on allotting half of public positions to women. Compliance with the rule is high. Yet the policy, according to feminists, doesn’t mean that women in positions of power are acting with gender awareness. Instead, they are towing the government party line.

“These women’s decisions are a reflection of the rhetoric that comes down from the president and that doesn’t mean there is gender equality,” Orozco said.

In Nicaragua, the women’s movement brings together more than 105 organizations and is recognized as the only aggressive social movement that autonomously survived the crisis of social organizations in the country, most of which were disrupted by folding into the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) since the party returned to power in the 2007.

Associations of farmers, campesinos, trade unions, and some groups of women partial to Sandinismo, among others, aligned themselves with FSLN government. Government agencies coopted their agendas and took over the actions these social organizations previously pushed.

Currently, the activities of the Association of Rural Workers (ATC), the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG), the Association of Women Luisa Amanda Espinoza (AMLAE) and the Sandinista Workers Union (CST) — all of clear Sandinista tendencies — have been replaced in rural areas in order to develop community activities that supposedly reclaim the rights of the people those organizations targeted through state agencies created by the administration, like the Citizen Empowerment Councils (civic participation organization) created in 2007 (during the Sandinista mandate from 2006-2011), and the Cabinets of Family, Community and Life created in February to promote the common good, solidarity, Christianity and peaceful coexistence between the families of a community, which have legal backing as were included in the Family Code by the current government.

The vacuum in civil society leaves the women’s movement as the autonomous spokespeople of what women are really experiencing under the government’s control, which on the one hand claims to defend women’s rights by passing Law 779 in September 2012, but on their other hand repeats the aggression against women with the issue of mediation — a move which feminists claim has lead to more femicides.

Mediation can condemn women to almost certain death, because although the law deems it voluntary, police and courts are forcing women to participate, Nicaraguan feminists say.

“That there even was a law meant a huge step for women’s organizations, but it didn’t last long. Soon after there was pressure from some groups who were offended and mobilized to push the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional Art. 46 of Law 779. Who was behind that mobilization? We’ll never know, but it’s obvious the government doesn’t want to take any responsibility for the lives and health of this country’s women. Mediation opens the door for women to be killed; we found that 67 women went through mediation [with the aggressor] in their home and went to mediate in the police stations, and even then they were killed,” said Magaly Quintanilla, an activist with Catholics for Free Choice.

Forced to mediate with the perpetrator
 “Mediation seeks to cover up psychological violence. They say shouting, a bad look, a gesture doesn’t trigger violence; they say they’ll [mediate] when it’s the first time it’s happened, when in reality we know that when a woman reports violence, it’s because she’s lived through it before. For a woman, it’s difficult not to mediate with her attacker, because of the weight on her of the idea of family and religion that dictate that she made a pact with her partner ‘until death do us part.’ Many women see as normal that their partner is abusive,” Orozco said.

During a recent women’s forum, Orozco added that a councilwomen from the municipality of Rosita, 300 km (190 miles) northeast of Managua, showed photos of battered women who are being forced into mediation with their abusers by police and courts there.

For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, the Committee of Latin America and the Caribbean for the Defense of Women´s Rights (CLADEM), launched in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries the campaign “For a government that upholds women’s rights. It’s time.”

CLADEM Representative Virginia Meneses said in a press conference it was “regrettable that the State of Nicaragua revised Law 779 regarding mediation. This attitude falls in line with a sexist system. The state of Nicaragua is supposed to guarantee human rights for women, but is failing by not supporting the fight against violence toward women,” she said. “CLADEM joined Amnesty International in reprimanding Nicaragua’s noncompliance with the conventions on the rights of women that the country has ratified.”

Moreover, the women’s movement is proposing to mobilize to denounce the official rhetoric that seeks to put women in the same category as family, recreating in this way a culture in which woman are overlooking themselves to serve the rest.

Government programs like Hambre Cero, or Zero Hunger (which covers food costs), Usura Cero, or Zero Usury (a microcredit program), or land deeds, for example, although they are under women’s names, are promoted as family programs. The woman acts as the guarantor of its implementation, but it doesn’t further her to achieve social and economic autonomy.

“This family-oriented government vision, coupled with the discourse we receive in the family and in the Church, makes women miss out because it says you do not exist as a person and that is profoundly undemocratic and anti-citizenry because it allows you not to be a subject of the law, but as a woman who´s rights are based on those of others,” concluded Orozco. —Latinamerica Press.

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