Women's Movements

The Women's Movement in Nicaragua


The women’s movement in Nicaragua emerged in the 1980s amid the revolutionary remodelings of the FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Metoyer 200:101). Women made up an estimated 30% of the insurrectionary forces against the oppressive Somoza dictatorship, which was overthrown by the Sandinistas on July 17, 1979; the level of combat participation by women during the Sandinista Revolution was unprecedented not only in Nicaragua, but also in the history of the Western Hemisphere (Metoyer 2000:3).

The guerrilla struggle in the 1960s and 1970s gave thousands of Nicaraguan women the opportunity to break away from their traditional roles and instigated a rise in consciousness in regard to gender inequality for many future feminist activists (Kampwirth 2004:20). Following the Sandinista overthrown, the women’s movement emerged in earnest in the 1980s, spearheaded by the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women, (Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenes Luisa Amanda Espinoza, AMNLAE). Established as part of the Sandinista (FSLN) network, the AMNLAE was a major women’s organization that opened up the revolutionary process to women and helped fight for women’s emancipation throughout the revolution (Metoyer 2000:101). Although women’s conditions, legal status, and opportunities to organize were significantly improved during the Sandinista Revolution, many women felt the partisan links between AMNLAE and the highly patriarchal FSLN led to the marginalization of their interests to the revolutionary goals (Metoyer 2000:101).

In their first undisputedly free elections in 1990, the FSLN suffered an electoral defeat and peacefully transferred power to Violeta Chamorro, a member of the anti-Sandinista National Opposition Union (Metoyer 2000:4). Though little was done to improve the status of women during Chamorro’s two terms in office, the FSLN’s electoral defeat enabled the women’s movement by allowing it to become politically autonomous (Metoyer 2000:100). Though it provided no direct support or endorsement, Chamorro’s presidency turned out to be a catalyst for the enlargement and diversification of the women’s movement as it allowed the political opportunity for women to pursue their own interests (Metoyer 2000:110) and eventually to construct the network of women’s collectives, centers, and institutions that make up the women’s movement today (Metoyer 2000:102).

Shifting away from the Sandinista’s redistributive model in favor of an export-model based on neoliberal principles (Metoyer 2000:5), Chamorro’s presidency ushered in an era of expanded free trade zones and structural adjustment policies (Metoyer 2000:67). These new policies were tailored to global, not local, interests (Metoyer 2000:103), and resulted in increased prices, lowered wages, and cutbacks on spending by the state (Metoyer 2000:5) that effectively increased women’s labor burden as they struggled to support their families (Mendez 2005:3). As the nature of the Nicaraguan woman’s workforce changed, so too did many women’s groups emerge and adapt to this new economic as well as social terrain which still exists largely today.

The New Women’s Movement

Beginning as a condensed monolithic organization led by the AMNLAE under the FSLN, and later splintering into around 200 autonomous groups around the election in 1990, the new women’s movement in Nicaragua today has regrouped into flexible networks that are no longer unified by ideology, but rather have become more issue based (Metoyer 2000:101); the movement in Nicaragua has evolved into a national women’s network in which various women’s groups band together regardless of ideologies, ethnicities, political loyalties, or economic experiences, under the goal of improving women’s conditions (Metoyer 2000:110).

The Working and Unemployed Women’s Movement (Movimiento de Mujeres Trabajadoras y Desempleadas “Maria Elena Cuadra”, MEC) is an independent organization founded in 1994 in direct response to the country’s newfangled economic conditions, ushered in by neoliberal policies (Mendez 2005:1), wherein Nicaraguan women are targeted by transnational corporations looking for a young, docile work force, and are employed as maquila workers in free trade zones (Mendez 2005:3). MEC is unique in that it is the only organization in the country that applies a gender perspective in its efforts to address the needs of maquila workers (Mendez 2005:6). MEC’s strategy is to apply a feminist perspective to its efforts to enable women to assert their rights; among other things, the MEC sponsors programs to help women change their living conditions as well as to defend their own legal rights by educating them on state policies and international law (Metoyer 2000:106). The MEC also provides job training and other opportunities to unemployed women, raising awareness of domestic violence and reproductive health (Mendez 2005:1).

MEC’s autonomy as a non-union working women’s organization has often meet with resistance from NGOs, solidarity groups, and other donor organizations in Europe and North America on which MEC relies heavily for funding and which are eager to impart their traditional views on union organizing (Mendez 2005:5-8). MEC defines itself as primarily a women’s movement, rather than a worker’s movement, in resisting evolving into and acting like a union; where standard unions would have compromised women’s interests due to pressure from the global market (Metoyer 2000:104), MEC puts women’s issues and interests first, defining its priority as an organization devoted first and foremost to women.

The strategies of MEC are reflective of a larger trend within the network of women’s movements in Nicaragua, continuing in natural evolution from its beginnings under the AMNLAE as the “submissive wife” of the FSLN (Kampwirth 2004:29) to defining its own form of resistance based on a gender perspective. Having sprung from but now leaving behind the old goal of state takeover, the women’s movement in Nicaragua today makes demands based on rights and citizenship, not only to the state, but to transnational institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Mendez 2005:6).

Although the various elements of the women’s movement in Nicaragua can be categorized in many ways, including grassroots and anti-hegemonic, the unifying factor, the very life-blood of the movement, is its use of a feminist perspective. The achievement that makes the women’s movement ‘new’ and that defines it staunchly in terms of gender, is their development of and reliance on a feminist consciousness through which they frame their demands. The MEC is thus exemplary of the larger women’s movement, and of what is new about it, in that it “conceptualize[s] social transformation not as a one-time event but as a process, and view[s] the means and ends of struggle as inextricably connected” (Mendez 2005:224).

Works Cited

Kampwirth, Karen. 2004. Feminism and the Legacy of Revolution: Nicaragua, El
Salvador, Chiapas. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Mendez, Jennifer B. 2005. From the Revolution to the Maquiladoras: Gender, Labor
and Globalization in Nicaragua. London: Duke University Press.

Metoyer, Cynthia C. 2000. Women and the State in Post-Sandinista Nicaragua.
Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers. : full source reference

Related Sites/ External Links

"Movimient de Mujeres Trabajadoras y Desempleadas “Maria Elena Cuadra” "

Puntos de Encuentro

Revolución Sandinista Julio de 1979 (triunfo del FSLN)

CIA Country Profile—Nicaragua

"Breaking World Nicaragua News — The New York Times

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