How Women Face Crises in Nicaragua: Four Stories

Being a woman in Nicaragua is living under siege, gender violence, impunity and without the right to work. Four women tell how they face these struggles.

By Nayira Valenzuela / Alejandra Padilla (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – On International Women’s Day, once again Nicaraguan women had no chance to demonstrate in the streets without being repressed, due to the de facto police state imposed in the country.

Political persecution, the police siege, the economic crisis, the increase in gender violence and the impact of the pandemic are issues that concern Nicaraguan women.

Confidencial spoke with four women who narrate in the first person what it means to be a woman in a country like Nicaragua. They are: an opposition leader, a survivor of an attempted femicide, a business woman and a public health worker in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Nothing compares to this period, everything is exacerbated: the persecution, the siege and that feeling of being watched”

Ivania Alvarez (center) at a protest demanding the release of the political prisoners. Photo: Archive / Confidencial

Thus far in 2021, at least 30 opposition women have been victims of siege, persecution and house arrest in the de facto police state. Ivania Alvarez has been an opposition activist for more than 12 years. For becoming involved in the April 2018 protests, she has been persecuted, besieged and imprisoned.

At the end of 2019, she spent 47 days in prison, as a political prisoner of the Ortega-Murillo regime. Her crime was bringing water to the mothers of political prisoners who were on a hunger strike in Masaya. Ivania recalls how her activist career began and how she confronts the de facto police state in Nicaragua.

“The first protests I went to were to put pig heads in the National Assembly. We held marches and even threw eggs at the Supreme Electoral Council, because we were against the regime and its institutions.

“I joined the protests in April 2018, in my territory, Tipitapa. I went to a march like so many citizens. Seeing young peoples’ fighting spirit was what excited me the most. From April to date I have been fully involved in the protests. We created the April 19 Movement in Tipitapa. We supported the mothers of political prisoners who were stationed at the gates of the “El Chipote” prison, and today I am part of the Blue and White National Unity (UNAB).

“Because I am a woman opposed to the regime, the police persecute me, besiege me and even jailed me in November 2019, for trying to deliver water to the mothers of political prisoners who were on a hunger strike. I was imprisoned for 47 days, but the worst thing was that, being locked up, they attacked my house with stones, forced the gate, with crowbars and tubes they destroyed the doors. My mother suffered all this. I hope there is justice.

“The dictatorship has targeted my family. The harshest part is the besiegement, repression, and prison. And also, in the economic sphere, local authorities have been lashing out at almost everything my relatives do for a living. In these three years of sociopolitical crisis, my lifetyle is nomadic. I am living in different cities and houses, constantly on the move.

“I have a history of many years as an activist and there was always violence. They pushed us back, they would take us to the “El Chipote” interrogation jail and later release us. But nothing compares to this period. The persecution to your family nucleus and yourself does not compare to what we experienced when I was young. What is being experienced today is totally exacerbated; the persecution, the siege and the feeling of being watched.

“For me, being a woman in a country like Nicaragua means to be under constant siege. Not only because I am woman, but also now because I play an opposition role, it makes you a target.”

The protection equipment against the pandemic have been scarce, and they want us to be in selective silence.”

“Marcela,” health worker

From the beginning of the pandemic, some 17 women health professionals have been fired for demanding biosecurity equipment or for opposing the mishandling of the health situation in Nicaragua, according to the Covid-19 Citizen Observatory.

“Marcela” is a health worker in the public sector, who has treated patients with Covid-19. She shares how her experience has been, but asked protection of her identity, for fear of reprisals.

“I have been a public health worker for seven years. Being part of the Ministry of Health is tantamount of hard-working women, sacrificed both at work, as well as in the community and the family.

“We have a great workload. We have to produce and be responsible. As women, at work everything is fine when you produce and do the job. However, when a pregnancy arrives there is always that negative environment. Especially when the aspect of having children begins and having to take maternity leave. 

“Our salaries are very slow, with that we have to manage all aspects of our lives. When the pandemic arrived in my area, protective gear was scarce, if not null. Most of the implements that I had is because I paid for them. I bought my protection: my suit, gloves, glasses, hair protection and my gel alcohol. Everything was at my expense, at least in my area.

“In recent weeks I was in the Covid area, when there were fewer patients. There were four, but in the previous weeks there were 45 patients, 15 critical ill and 30 in-between. Most of my colleagues were infected because at first we went house to house without protection.

“If a health worker wants to keep their job, they must maintain an overload of work, in order to be a discrete person who only does their job. It is preferable that they just see you working and working. Your opinions are unwelcome, they want us to be in selective silence.

“He told me that the only way I was going to leave the house was in a body bag… He threatened me and then apologized to me”

Lucy Palmer, survivor of attempted femicide

In 2018, 46 women were killed in Nicaragua, and another 50 survived attempted femicide. Lucy Palmer is one of these survivors. Lucy is originally from Bluefields, in the South Caribbean, one of the areas with the highest rates of violence against women in Nicaragua. She escaped being murdered by her partner with whom she had lived with for four years.

The data for 2021 is even more alarming. January and February saw 11 women murdered and 24 survived attempted femicides.

“I am a survival of an attempted femicide. My ex-partner wanted to suffocate me. We were together for four years, but ones of constant violence. Once he wounded my arm with a “chuzo” (a piece of iron with a point that tapers), of which I still have a scar.

“He always told me that the relationship was going to end when he wanted it to. That the only way I was going to leave was in a body bag and become compost for the cemetery. He threatened me and then apologized with the excuse that I was impulsive and temperamental.

“The trigger that ended the relationship was once when I was at my house. I played a joke on him and out of nowhere he pounced on me and was strangling me. My mother was there at that moment and she was the one who took him off me. That day I told him that it was over and to leave me alone.

“I was afraid, but one of my friends prompted me to go and report him. I didn’t want to, because when a woman is attacked and goes to file a complaint, they ignore her. Then I said that the same was going to happen with me and that is how it was. This happened in 2018 and my attacker is not yet in prison and he does not have a restraining order. At any time, he could do something to me. Three times I have run into him in the street.

“The Police only took my complaint. They re-victimized me. They ask and they ask. Then they send you to the coroner and he asks the same thing. And then to the psychologist, and she asks the same questions. It is a very tiring process. If you do not arrive with a big scar o with a blue eye or better said dead, they do nothing. They wait until the woman is dead to start acting.”

“Women find their way, with more force, with less fear… not letting anything stop you from shining”

Elsa Basil (left) started “Shawarma,” a Food Truck of Arab food.

Thirty percent of Nicaraguan companies are led by women and more than 50% participate in the country’s economic activities. However, obstacles to enter the labor market persist, and many are looking for ways to open up new spaces.

In August 2020, the Nicaraguan musician and painter Elsa Basil, with a group of partners inaugurated “Shawarma,” a Food Truck of Arab food. This has been her experience with entrepreneurship and one of her passions.

“My life is music and painting. For me, these two things give me substance, define who I am. I couldn’t cook if I didn’t make music or without painting. It is my whole existence. When I feel exhausted there is music, when I feel disturbed there is painting.

“I studied music, and I thought that music could give me a more stable financial solvency. However, but due to our situation here, it did not happen that way. Little by little I tried to come up a way to get ahead. In August 2020, together with some Arab friends, we inaugurated “Shawarma,” a Food Truck of Arab food.

At first it was a bit complicated for me, but I adapted to the circumstances. I was a little scared. “All this thing about the pandemic have raised the fear of bringing this disease to my house and infecting my mother or myself.

“I have had several projects, actually. I had one called “Basil Lunch” which was also an Arab food restaurant.  I also did a small project called “Matraca,” of traditional Nicaraguan sweets, and due to the situations that occurred in 2018 I had to suspend operations.

“In the area of gastronomy, I didn’t suffer much discrimination. However, I think that at the beginning of my career as a musician, I did feel it a bit for being a woman. But one continues forging on, and you don’t allow all those things to stop you from shinning.

“I feel that at this moment women have carved out their path. Perhaps unlike my generation, with more force, with less fear of opening up, of showing themselves and dedicating themselves to what they do.

“I believe women have many barriers in different aspects, not only in entrepreneurship. But it is not something impossible to overcome.

“I think that part of the women’s struggle is just that. To give ourselves that space, to find that space for ourselves. There are many examples of women at the national level who have gotten ahead.”

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.