Sofía Montenegro: Journalist and feminist activist, Nicaragua

September 25, 2007

How has the women's movement developed in Nicaragua? he women's movement in Nicaragua is today one of the strongest and most purposeful social movements in the country. It is also the strongest women's movement in Central America. Women's groups have succeeded in establishing ongoing spaces of dialogue with the state about national as well as bread-and-butter issues. We have been generating new forms of participation for women, forms of organiza- tion that respond more to the needs, styles and work possibilities of women themselves. Do you think there is a significant difference between women's participation now and their participation five or ten years ago? Surely. Not only has participation increased in num- bers, but in quality as well. In the era of the revolution, Nicaragua had just one huge women's organization. Now that organization is one of many. Women on the left did not call themselves feminists five years ago, and now they do. The Sandinista front has itself acknowl- edged its obligation to feminists. There is a high level of feminist analysis in Nicaragua, which I think comes from all of the political training and the experience lived in that school of everyday life that the revolution created for everyone in the country. If there is something that we women owe to the revolution, it is the organizational capacity that we now have. We reached a consensus that women in Nicaragua need political power more than ever. We need to encourage women to assume positions of pub- lic office in order to improve the situation of women 44 and to change the value system within the enormous economic and political crisis this country is going through. We have succeeded in producing a minimal agenda that has been adopted by women of all political stripes, including women from social movements and from political parties, and women from the right to left of the political spectrum-from orthodox Sandinistas to Sandinista reformers, from radical feminists to Christians to lesbians, and even women who have his- torically kept their distance from party politics. After a year of struggling together, this coali- tion has demonstrated its viability in Nicaragua. We decided to keep it alive beyond the elections with the Nicar idea of analyzing the experience of these elections, and preparing our- femin selves to face future elections in a more organized fashion. born It can be said that the feminist move- ment was a child of Sandinismo. Is there still a Sandinista feminism? I think it is obvious that Nicaraguan feminism has its origins in the revolu- tion. It was born in the revolution, it grew during the revolution in the sec- ond half of the 1980s, and it has grown at an accelerated pace since the end of the Contra war. Those of us who were once stigmatized within the "a is i revo Iu it grew revolt and has at an acc the differences and political antagonisms that still pre- vail in Nicaragua. It is clear, for example, that we can agree with them that it is not permissible for women to continue being beaten or raped. We can also agree on women's rights to land. Is the feminist movement part of the progressive move- ment in Nicaragua? We are one movement among many. Currently, we are participating in a proposal called the "Initiative for Nicaragua," which is an attempt from within Nicaraguan civil society to formulate a national project. This has become necessary because, after the collapse guan of the grand ideological paradigms and the dismantling of the state, the ;m was role that political parties used to play has largely disappeared. The progres- n the sive movement now consists of all of the organizations, individuals and ition, institutions that fight for the democ- in the ratization of life in general, as well as democratization of the political sys- ition, tem. The democratization of life requires the transformation of the grown conditions of poverty and oppression elerated pace since the end of the party for being feminists are now on the outside. Despite everything, we Cont can dialogue with those who continue to be activists and Sandinista repre- sentatives in the Assembly. Although we have political differences as far as the party is con- cerned, we do not have large differences when it comes to the problem of the subordination and the rights of women. Feminists have also been fundamental to the devel- opment of the broader women's movement. For exam- ple, in 1979 when the revolution triumphed, there were only 12 of us who declared ourselves feminists and who began to organize from within the FSLN. Years later, it is clear that feminism has gained legitimacy in Nicaragua. Ninety-five percent of the women's organi- zations, including ones in which men participate, declare themselves feminist. Recently, those of us who come from the left have succeeded in dialoguing with women from the right or who lived in exile during the war. These women had many prejudices against the left, but they have been as willing as we have to get closer to other women, despite VOL XXXI, No 1 JULY/AUG 1997 ra war. that exist in the country, whether these conditions are based on ethnic- ity, gender or class. Can you tell us a little more about how the Nicaraguan women's move- ment is linked with other political movements, both in Nicaragua and in the rest of Central America? There is an ecumenical women's group in Nicaragua, where Protestant and Catholic women meet around issues of gender and their faith in order to analyze reality and in some way contribute to the transformation of old ways of thinking and old val- ues. There is a serious problem with the Catholic Church because the Cardinal and the hierarchy are very reactionary. We prefer to associate with women from the base ecclesiastic communities or with the progres- sive sectors of the Church. We have begun a dialogue with women from the Protestant churches, and at an international level, we try to establish and maintain links through regional and global initiatives. In the case of Central America, we have been build- ing a program called "Rebuild the Current." The work of this group has allowed us to coordinate the actions of the Central American feminist groups and to facilitate communication among women in the region. We are building different kinds of networks in Central 45VOICES ON THE LEFT America, such as networks of trade unions, of black and indigenous women, and a network of organizations interested in health issues. We have organized feminist conferences with leaders from each country, who we invite to assess current processes and to discuss the advances and potential pitfalls that the movement might confront in each country. How would you evaluate the recent process of democra- tization that has taken place across the region? I refer to this process of democ- ratization as "formal" democrati- zation. There are no longer dicta- torships in the region, and we are now governed by elected civilian regimes. It is obvious, however, that the gigantic economic crisis of the continent is working against these democratic processes, because it is not possible to think of democratic advances without economic democratization. These dreadful plans for eco- nomic adjustment that are being applied throughout the continent pose a danger because poverty is a breeding ground for revolts and demagogic populism from both the right and the left. I think that the dismantling of the state is undermining traditional actors like trade unions and social move- ments. Also, the crisis means that people have to dedicate more time to making a living just so they can subsist. Every day more people enter the informal sector of the this will not have an impact at the level of society as a whole. This is the conflict that has emerged at feminist meetings recently. Some feminists-including myself-believe that we must continue developing strategies for social change for women and for society as a whole. Nation states are being decimated by the process of globalization. We need to discuss these larger problems, not just specific issues. We must think The fight for women's rights should be from within the system. Otherwise, other people will always be making decisions without consulting us. Someone has to dirty her dress to open the way. economy, leaving behind any security and benefits they may once have had. I believe this puts the processes of democratization in Latin America at risk. How do you see the feminist movement in the Latin American context? The Latin American feminist movement has grown not only in Nicaragua, but throughout the region. This is not accidental since it is women who are most affected by the economic crisis, and women who shoul- der the burden of making ends meet. That is why I say that we have to stop thinking small and start thinking big. We have to rethink everthing in terms of macro- economics and macropolitics, because if we do not, we will continue making changes at the micro level, but of the larger issues in terms of gender and politics. This is our task. Throughout the twentieth cen- tury, feminists have fought for rights that are specifically women's rights, like the right to vote. Now we are talking about macroeco- nomics and women's economic and property rights. The agenda has become more complicated for us because the world has become more complex. What reality is demanding of the feminists at the end of the century is not the same as what was required when the first feminists were active. We cannot stop to think or wait for a miracle to change the situa- tion. Necessity forces us to act, to think in a much more complex manner, to be more informed, and to prepare ourselves in areas we had previously neglected or con- sidered were not important. We want total participation. We want more women to be in the places where the decisions that affect us are made. I would like one day to have a woman as minister of finance or economic planning in Nicaragua, a woman who is sensitive and committed to our demands. The fight should be from within the system. Women should increasingly assume positions of government authority. Otherwise, other people will always be making deci- sions about our lives without consulting us, and we will remain stuck as an opposition that knows only how to protest, but not how to propose new alterna- tives. Someone has to dirty her dress in order to open the way, even though she will be criticized for it. I think that protest without commitment, without taking the risk of making a mistake, does not take us any- where. If the women of Nicaragua had never moved beyond mere protest, the revolution would have never happened.

Tags: Sofia Montenegro, Nicaragua, interview, Sandinistas, feminism

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.