IOrganizar! - Women in Nicaragua

September 25, 2007

This personal account is based on a recent visit to Nicaragua by Vic- toria Schultz, a free lance journalist and film maker who covered the Nicaraguan insurrection last year for Pacifica Radio. She has also produced and directed "Women in Arms," a film on Nicaraguan women. Last November I returned to finally started to cook and clean Nicaragua for a few weeks to and look after the children while find out how women were faring she went vending in the Ma- in the process of the Sandinista nagua market. I hadn't heard the revolution they had fought for subject of housework discussed with singular valor and in very im- on a grass-roots level before, so I pressive numbers. asked how it had become an iOrganizar! It seemed to be issue. the battlecry in the new Nicara- The women assured me that gua for everyone-women, men, indeed men sharing in house- peasants, urban dwellers, young work was being talked about all people. I was especially eager to over Ciudad Sandino. There was see how women were respond- a necessity. With the price of ing to this call to reconstruct a food staples very high and work war-torn country and no longer, scarce, times were hard. But as before, to fight a common women could still earn a few cor- enemy. dobas working in the market. One answer came on a week- But it wasn't just an economic day afternoon in one of imperative. The women were Managua's sprawling slums, also talking from a conscious- renamed Ciudad Sandino in the ness that had been raised during prevailing revolutionary fashion, the years of breaking with the The local chapter of the San- past and participating in the din'ista-backed Women's Asso- Sandinista-led struggle. In the ciation was holding its meeting in last years they had also been in- this poor barrio where 50,000 peo- fluenced by AMPRONAC, precur- pie lived without plumbing or sor to the Women's Association. paved roads. Women had grown slowly to see While waiting for the meeting themselves and their rights in a to begin, several women became new way. involved in an animated conver- Fifty or so of these women sation. One told the others were now crowded into the small cheerfully that her husband had wooden building alongside a dus- 36 ty road. Most were over thirty, part of the generation that had resisted mostly on the homefront in such tasks as smuggling arms. Together with a very young representative from the Women's Association head- quarters, one of the many young women who had fought on the battlefront, the women talked about their problems and how to resolve them. The burning issue of the day was unemployment, and the women enthusiastically discussed plans to start a small plant in their neighborhood to make clothes. Such community based enter- prises are being encouraged by the Women's Association to solve the phenomenal unemploy- ment rate in Nicaragua and in- crease the participation of the people themselves in solving their problems. The women in Ciudad Sandino were excited about the pro- spects. They took count of how many had previous experience sewing professionally and could teach others; many hands were raised. Quite a few of the women had worked in Somoza's shrimp processing factory, where they had contracted chronic skin diseases from standing all day in knee-deep water. They wel- comed the idea of being in charge of their own production unit. When I commented on the ac- tive attendance at the meeting, the women told me to come back on a Saturday afternoon when women weren't out working or looking for work. "That's when hundreds of women usually par- ticipate," they assured me. "That's fairly typical," com- NACLA Reportupdate * update update, update ~1) Co 0. The first national assembly of women from all over the country-Managua, January 1980. mented Silvia Perez later. Silvia is the information officer at the Women's Association head- quarters (located in a large but sparsely furnished mansion that used to belong to dictator Anastasio Somoza's mother.) "In Managua some neighborhoods have up to 600 organized women, but there's one area with 45,000 inhabitants and only 15 have joined the Association." Stress- ing the need to keep women in- volved, she added, "Now that the revolution has triumphed, we must often work harder than before to motivate people to join." ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN The national Women's Association, in keeping with the revolution's commitment to honor its heroes and heroines, today carries the name Luisa Amanda Espinosa. She was a seamstress and the first woman combatant to fall in the Mar/Apr 1980 Sandinista-led struggle to over- throw the dictatorship. That was in 1964, three years after the founding of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN). The Women's Association is addressing itself at the present time to immediate needs-work, food, literacy and medical care. A high priority is the literacy campaign. Half the population is illiterate, but for Nicaraguan women the illiteracy rate is about 60 percent. Plans are also being laid by the Association and the Ministry of Social Welfare (headed by former AMPRONAC leader Lea Guido) to improve services for women such as day care centers and public laundries. The San- dinista newspaper Barricada reported that a plant for produc- ing blue jeans had already started work in one barrio. The Ministry had provided the sewing machines and the fabric, and the organized women in the area were running it. PARTICIPATION IN THE STRUGGLE AMPRONAC (Association of Women Confronting the National Problems), formed in 1977 with the support of the FSLN, played an important role in the battle to oust Somoza. As a broad-based women's organization it offered a public forum, with street demonstrations and petitions, for women to defend the human rights of the thousands of their family members who were being tortured and killed by the dic- tatorship. In clandestinity it en- couraged women to actively join the struggle, countering the threat of harsh repression from the National Guard and frequent disapproval from husbands, fathers and even mothers who still saw women's place as in the home. As the fight against Somoza in- tensified, large numbers of women emerged from social and 37update * update . update * update political obscurity and passivity to carry out all kinds of tasks, big and small, within the resistance. They delivered messages, ar- ranged transportation, found safe houses for meetings, stored food and medicine, and hid arms and Sandinista literature. At one point women started leaving their homes in order to fight for the liberation of their country. Silvia Perez told me about her own experience. "My companero considered me a bad mother when I decided to leave my children and go with the revolution. But I could never have been a good mother under the system, the economic situa- tion wouldn't have permitted it. It took a long time before my mother was convinced I was right. Then she helped me." Women's participation in the Nicaraguan liberation struggle is comparable in scope perhaps only to that of the Vietnamese women who, as many Nicara- guan women pointed out, were a real source of inspiration for them. It doesn't take much effort to find Nicaraguan women who fought in the mountains or cities, or both. The final insurrection in Le6n, the second largest city, was led largely by women. After victory four of the seven San- dinista military chiefs of staff there were women. Among them was Dora Maria Tellez, the famous "Comandante Dos" of the Sandinista's daring takeover of the Palacio Nacional in August 1978. One of the innumerable other women, lesser known, who took part in the fighting, is Consuela, a small smiling young woman. Consuela shared with me memories of her experiences 38 Left to right: Joaquin Cuadra, head of army; Dora Maria Tellez; Luis Carrion, military chief of staff. during the insurrection last sum- mer. She had headed a squadron of men and women in the western section of Managua, not an uncommon task for women. One day during the fighting the National Guardsmen advanced into a Sandinista-held street. Armed with only a 22-caliber pistol, Consuela led six com- batants straight into the line of fire so they could throw their homemade Molotov cocktails at the Guardsmen and drive them out. Consuela also remembered the time a rocket exploded on the roof of a one-story building where she was hiding with her squadron. She was sure that would be the moment of their deaths. "Going through that kind of experience develops you, changes you," she said simply. The hard experiences have left a slight nervous quiver on her face. Now she wants to continue with the class struggle, she volunteered, which is why she joined tne Sandinista fight in the first place. In answer to my ques- tion she said yes, women also have to be liberated in the process. A WOMEN'S REVOLUTION TOO Women like Consuela joined the FSLN, as did the men, pri- marily to free the country from Somoza's tyrannical rule. But in the process their own lives were profoundly transformed. Such is the case of a woman everyone calls Mami. Now in her late thir- ties, she had divorced her hus- band, a wealthy Somoza sup- porter, because of irreconcilable political differences. Joining the FSLN in its early years, she NACLA Reportupdate * update * update . update raised her children "in a pro- letarian way," as one of her daughters told me. "In Somoza's Nicaragua all doors were closed to women," Mami explained. "The Frente gave us a chance to be free. You see women now with responsi- bilities we couldn't have dream- ed of earlier. The Sandinista women are respected and equal with the men." Mami now is a local political representative for the FSLN, tirelessly teaching and talking about the revolution. She does this with an inspiring elo- quence and enthusiasm. Consuela too is involved in political education, a field that has almost come to be women's work in the new Nicaragua. (Nicaraguan women of all classes seem to have a very acute sense of politics and a special skill at expressing themselves in a forceful, direct way.) The Women's Association is setting out to mobilize and politicize women on a massive scale-not just to defend the revolution but also to defend their own rights. As Silvia pointed out, "Men have good intentions but we have to push ahead with our rights. Men certainly won't do that. The women played a significant role in winning the war, not only fighting but also dy- ing. Now we have to organize ourselves." Women have already made some legal gains. The bill of rights of the new government stresses equality between men and women. The new media law even specifically forbids the depicting of women as sex ob- jects. IarlApr 1980 Changes, however, are slow in coming, I thought when I saw a movie ad with a very scantily dressed woman in chains published in the bourgeois daily newspaper, La Prensa. When I pointed it out to Dora Maria Tellez, she laughed and then sighed at the thought of the tremendous amount of work to be done in building a new Nicaragua. Assessing the situa- tion in the country today she said, "All revolutions imply a lot of disorder. The revolution transforms everything, makes everything tremble. All the struc- tures are disordered, so that later they can be put back in order, but a different, a revolu- tionary order." Dora Maria Tellez is now in charge of the Frente's political work in Managua. She is one of the many Nicaraguan women who, though not directly in- volved in projects linked with women, are making sure the Sandinista revolution will also be a women's revolution.

Tags: Nicaragua, Women, Sandinismo, community participation, feminism

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