Extraordinary Women from the Nicaraguan Caribbean

Shira Miguel Downs, from the “Nidia White” Women’s Movement, accompanies victims of domestic abuse and violence in the Northern Caribbean Region of Nicaragua.

By Ileana Lacayo, Kalúa Salazar y Jesús Salgado (Republica 18)

HAVANA TIMES – Shira Neoime Miguel Downs was born in Bilwi, Puerto Cabezas, and is 40 years old. She has spent half of her life as a member of the “Nidia White” Women’s Movement, which she currently heads. She has been a member of human rights and feminist groups ever since she was 13 years old.

Shira, along with the “Nidia White” collective, founded the “Integrated Response Center”, a shelter that receives indigenous women and girls, victims of domestic abuse. 

She has two daughters, whom she adores and educates so they are empowered and know their rights and freedoms.

She has a Law degree, and postgraduate studies in Oral Litigation, Forensic Psychology, Gender-based Violence and Human Trafficking. She has a Masters in Gender and Intercultural Citizenship.

“We can’t only talk about gender inequality, but also about the other inequalities we face, especially indigenous and Afro-descendant women in the Caribbean region of Nicaragua. We face violence every day because of our ethnic identity, because we are poor, because of geographical distance and because we are women…”

Hurricanes Eta and Iota exposed the vulnerable situation of girls and women living in the Northern Caribbean, who are often victims of abuse.

Shira Neoime Miguel Downs, coordinator of the “Nidia White” Women’s Movement.

“I haven’t been able to stop after the hurricanes, because I have felt a greater need to help, to protect women and girls. If they had basic living conditions before in a home, if they suffered abuse in those four walls that were supposed to protect them, can you imagine just how vulnerable these people are now that they don’t have a house, now that they have nothing? 

Shira explains that violence and the physical and sexual assualt of children and women has quadrupled during the state of emergency that has been declared in the municipalities of Puerto Cabezas, Prinzapolka and Waspam.

Entire families were evacuated to urban hubs such as Bilwi or Waspam, and now they wander the streets, asking to stay in a house one day, in a hallway another day. Many of them haven’t been able to go back to their communities because they lost their homes, their crops, their animals.

“For example, in Bilwi, we see children and women sleeping in hallways or public areas. There are even children who suffer harassment or abuse just because they have asked to use a bathroom in somebody’s house, or have asked for food or begged, so they can live another day…”

Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean region not only has the highest levels of extreme poverty, it is also at the top of the national rankings in terms of violence against girls and women. Shira explains: “these situations already existed in our region, however, other dangers have emerged with the pandemic, and others have become worse…”

Reports of violence and the number of human trafficking cases have also increased in recent months. “The organization has not only found itself busy dealing with greater cases of violence, abuse and human trafficking, but we have also had to find allies and coordinate humanitarian aid for women in these communities,” Shira says.

Shira Miguel hasn’t stopped accompanying women and girls who are victims of abuse and violence, working alongside a multi-disciplinary team from the organization. They are convinced that beyond training workshops or an educational training program, they need to inspire trust in these women and create opportunities so they can turn their lives around.

“Nodding your head in a workshop isn’t enough, we need to listen to them, to tell share about our lives too, to inspire trust. It’s a process that heals us all, because we have all had similar experiences and together we can recover the peace of mind we deserve.” 

This is because violence is also linked to the issue of poverty, to our access of opportunities. “Your ethnicity and being a woman increase your vulnerability. Women and children here get the worst end of the stick, because they are poor and live in very isolated areas, like most communities are in the Caribbean part of Nicaragua…”

Shira Miguel hasn’t stopped accompanying women and girls who are victims of abuse and violence, working alongside a multi-disciplinary team from the organization.

Raising awareness about fighting violence and reporting it is not the only thing they are doing. They are also taking food, clothes, shoes and medicines to communities. “Their needs multiply and we can’t only work with preventing and assisting in domestic violence cases. We also have to fight against people’s hunger, their lack of protection, health, as well as other needs.”

Read more news and features from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.