Exercising Male Power over Women’s Bodies is the Norm in Nicaragua

Says feminist activist Maria Teresa Blandon

Maria Teresa Blandon, Nicaraguan feminist y sociologist. Photo: Oscar Navarrete/ laprensa.com.ni.

By Amalia del Cid  (La Prensa)

HAVANA TIMES – At least six women were killed in Nicaragua in the first month of 2020. Maria Teresa Blandon sees these numbers as linked to the growing citizen insecurity, but also to the mentality of Nicaraguans.

In this interview, Blandon, a recognized expert on gender issues and a feminist activist, speaks in depth about the sensitive topic of femicide and responds to questions like”: Is every man a potential killer? Is every woman murdered by a man a victim of femicide? Can men too be considered victims of machismo?

In addition, she speaks of the weaknesses in the statistics regarding femicide and how the State itself foments a model in which violence is the principal language.

To what extent are femicides a gender problem, and where does the general citizen insecurity fit in?

Maria Teresa Blandón: It’s a pattern of continuation. The groups that were already discriminated against, looked down upon, or stigmatized are going to be the first victims in a crisis situation like the one Nicaragua is experiencing. This situation is aggravated still more because there’re no attempts at prevention on the part of the State, and because the criminal forces have more room to act.

For example, Mexico has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world.  What’s happening there? It’s that in Mexico there are entire zones controlled by drugtraffickers, who are disdainful of life in general, but particularly scornful of women’s lives.

In other words, when there’s a climate of insecurity, the women get the worst of it?

Yes, but not all women. The poorest women, the women with the least power, the least informed women, the women who lack access to the State’s protective mechanisms because the State rejects them, doesn’t receive them, doesn’t recognize them; the women who are under the thumb of certain cultural mandates.

For example, a woman like Vilma Trujillo was a complete sacrificial victim. She lived in a remote area, she was poor, she was quite committed to a religious group, and a pastor made her believe that she was possessed by a demon. She believed that she should obey the pastor and the other “sheep” who participated in her murder. She was a woman without a lot of information, poor, discriminated against. That’s the profile of a woman who could easily become the victim of violence, both when there’s a crisis and when there isn’t.

But currently there’s a perception that absolutely any woman who goes out on the street could have something happen to them – like ending up sexually abused by the shore of Lake Xolotlan, for example.

And it’s the truth. We only see the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know in this country how many women are raped every day, every month, every year. We just don’t know. What I said above, referred to the problem of femicides. The great majority of the murdered women are poor women, and in most cases the men who kill them are also poor. I’m not saying that only poor men can murder, or that only poor women can be killed; I’m saying that those who are at the tail of the tail of discrimination have nothing to lose. In general, the life of those who murder women is already one of marginalization, of ignorance, of brutality. There’s a long-term process of de-hu-man-i-za-tion.

Why does citizen insecurity increase when there’s a crisis like the one in Nicaragua?

Because the dikes have broken. The laws are left in limbo, because the State doesn’t act. So men are going to unload all their frustrations on those they consider inferior. A man can be discriminated against by the State, fired from a job and left unemployed and looked down on by others, but he’s then going to want to restore his own self-esteem by exercising power over other bodies: women, girls, boys, those who this man scorns or negates.

However, in addition, the State is telling him that violence is a means to sustain his own power. What is the State saying when it comes and kills a bunch of kids and tortures and imprisons others? It’s saying to the men above all: if you want to maintain your status quo, if you don’t want there to be a rebellion in the barnyard, violence is the way. Violence is the language of power. The one who kills you, tortures you, rapes you, is telling you, “I hold power over you, and I can do whatever I want with you.” The man who commits femicide exerts total power and violates your own power over your body.

Beyond each country’s individual laws and regulations, there’s a kind of universal definition of femicide: “When they kill you for being a woman”.  How accurate is that?

It’s the common way that people explain it. However, that definition explains who the victim is, but not who’s the aggressor, which is the more complicated part. The aggressor is a man or a group of men who were brought up to look down on women, to give no value to a woman’s life. It’s not like a man fighting with another, and as the result of that conflict someone dies. No. It’s a man with all of the physical, social and cultural advantages that are linked to their gender.

Only a man can commit femicide?

Yes. Because the term refers to two things: masculine power over women’s bodies, and the lack of state protection of women.

And if a woman kills another woman?

That could be homicide or a parricide, depending on the relationship. It’s a crime, of course, but it’s different.

What’s the difference?

This woman doesn’t have social power.  The males do. From the time they’re born and brought up to be machos, males inherit a system of privileges. No one’s going to look for a justification for a woman who kills another woman. With the men who commit femicide, they justify it with things like: he was depressed; she left him; she was a loose woman and she’d go out drinking and leave him alone; she cheated on him; the devil got into him; or he drank too much and lost his mind. “It was a fit of madness”. 

Judge Juana Mendez said that, when that guy Farington Reyes raped that girl (Fatima Hernandez), and he got a suspended sentence because they found extenuating circumstances; and the extending circumstances were that he’d drunk some beers. No one’s going to say such a thing when it’s a case of a woman committing a crime. The weight of penal and social justice is going to be leveled against her. With the men, there’s a predisposition to justify their actions.

Maria Teresa Blandon. Photo: Oscar Navarrete/ laprensa.com.ni

The recent crime against Josseling Pineda, the 17-year-old that was killed in Chinandega – Is that a femicide or a murder? The Police claim that the taxi driver killed her “to steal her cell phone”.

It’s a femicide. They state incorrectly says that it was to steal her cell phone, but it wasn’t for that. It was because this girl tried to get away, free herself from the assault. If he had only wanted to steal her phone, he takes it and then lets the girl get away. No, the intention was to rape her. Given the resistance this girl put up – and she must have been enormously terrified in the last moments of her life – this man punished her for not submitting to the rape. You don’t kill a young thing of 17 to steal a cellphone, when, in addition you already have her inside a taxi. If the motive had been the robbery, that wouldn’t have happened.  Also, take a look at the context. He had already been in jail for rape. There’s a pattern, a precedent. He was in jail, they let him out. Such impunity sends a message to the aggressors.

Wouldn’t a boy of 17 run the same risk?

The question you have to ask yourself is what motivates a man to murder a woman, what motivates him to kill her in cold blood, as part of a rape or not. It’s the result of a very long process of socialization to disdain the life of women and to affirm your masculinity by dominating the bodies of women.

The same thing couldn’t happen if it was a boy?

Here in Nicaragua, killing someone in order to steal something from them is less common than in Honduras, for example. But that’s not what makes the difference. The difference is that there were 63 women murdered last year. So that [theft] is a false motive!  Otherwise, the statistics would reflect a bunch of both girls and boys killed to steal a cellphone.

If a woman is assaulted in the street, and in the middle of the assault, she’s killed – Is that femicide?

Not according to the law. There can be circumstantial murders. Obviously, not all the murders of women are femicides. You’re walking along, they want to rob you, you defend yourself, and the thief gets frightened and kills you. That’s not a femicide. It’s willful murder or manslaughter, or whatever. But in the case of this girl, he didn’t only want to steal her cellphone, he had her in the taxi, under his power, and she resisted.

Why is it important that femicides be typified as such and not as murders?

For the reasons and the causes. It’s not the same thing to kill someone in an automobile accident because of recklessness, or to kill them in a fight, or over property or for an inheritance. It’s not the same. In the case of femicide, it’s a crime of power: I, the man, feel that I have the right to your body, free choice, life. I kill you because you belong to me, and because a true macho doesn’t feel compassion for a woman.

Could any man potentially commit femicide?

No, that’s not true. In addition, when you say this, the men respond: “But these women are crazy, it would never in my life occur to me to kill a woman.” And they’re right, because not all men react the same way, just like we women don’t all react the same way in the face of conservative discourses.

There are men who say: “I saw how my Dad abused my mother and even beat her up, but I’m not going to do that.” Who are the ones that kill? Who are the ones that rape? They’re the ones who swallowed all that toxicity from the macho culture. The ones that do this are those who have appropriated themselves with the greatest intensity of that discourse that men have to dominate women, that women must be punished when they don’t fulfill their socially established roles.

Where do such men come from, the ones who kill women?

They’re not crazy, and it wasn’t that the devil got into them. They come out of a society that feeds itself on sexism, on machismo, on misogyny, a society that teaches men to be abusive to women.

There are those that question the data from the feminist groups that monitor it. They say that not all those cases should be considered femicides, that there are parricides, murders, homicides. How do you respond to that?

Look, I’m not going to fight a lot about that. In reality, the hard data shows that there are men who go around killing women. They’re not going to seek out other men as their victims, they’re going to look to their wife, their daughter, their mother, their ex-lover, their sister-in-law. That’s the hard fact.

The statistics in this country are perverted. All of them, all of them. There’s no way in this country to speak of trustworthy statistics, and in the case of femicide it’s worse, because Law 779 said one thing, then they approved a regulation that said just the opposite. The Police didn’t know the law and began to utilize the definition that appears in the regulation. What the National Assembly approved was that it’s femicide when a man kills a woman, inside or outside of their home, with the backdrop of prevailing unequal power relationships.  Later, the regulation specified that this would only contemplate the private setting.

Is it possible that there are femicides that aren’t reported in the media and therefore aren’t reflected in the feminists’ monitoring?

Yes, and that’s why the data from groups like Catholics for the Right to Decide, or Women’s Network against Violence is incomplete. First, we can’t rely on the police statistics, and secondly, the information that you gather from the media reports is incomplete. In these times, it’s more difficult to cover up a femicide, but we can’t presume that what comes out in the media is the total number. There are femicides that the families themselves keep silent; last year we learned of three or four cases of women who were found murdered in their homes, and the family said it was suicide.

Can a man also be considered a victim of machismo?

Um, yes!  All of them! What’s more, whether they accept it or not, whether they want to be or not, all men are victims of machismo. And I have to say that they’re the first concern. If you’re not allowed to develop in a well-rounded way, they’re cutting off your limbs.  These men have an amputated psyche, a disconnect. Because it’s one thing what you feel – because they’re human beings like everyone else – and another thing what you’ve been taught. There’s a kind of disconnect between what society says that you must be in order to be a man, and what each individual human being wants to be.

So, they have to hide, repress themselves, pretend they’re something that they’re not, or that they don’t want to be. From that perspective, that fracturing of their humanity, they’re the principal victims. Later, they also victimize women and attack them, but they themselves were already victims in the sense of having been educated in prejudices that damaged them.

But women also grow up with preconceptions.

Hugely. As the saying goes, “behind every rip, there’s an unraveling”. In order for there to be men who feel superior, more clever, stronger, more dominant, and who have a bunch of privileges, there has to be a counterpart that’s defined the other way. Women are set up as the different Other, and in addition, they’re defined negatively, as inferior beings. In the predominant social story, most of the attributes associated with women are negative.

On a scale of 1 to 10, in which 10 is the maximum degree of machismo, what number would you give Nicaragua?

I’d give it a nine. People don’t want to take a hard look at themselves. They prefer to believe that others are more machista or more sexist or more discriminatory than we ourselves are, but the data speaks for itself.  The harassment in the streets and the workplaces, the rapes, the femicides, the enormous level of sexual exploitation, the economic exploitation that the majority of women suffer in this country, the lack of rights for rural women, the abandonment in which the indigenous women find themselves, all speak eloquently of the type of society we have. It’s a macho, discriminatory, violent and racist society. We have so many things that need to be changed in our social and cultural structures, in the ideas that we hold about the others.

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2 thoughts on “Exercising Male Power over Women’s Bodies is the Norm in Nicaragua

  • Note to Maria Teresa Blandon: I’m certainly very sensitive and supportive of your cause (against femicide). But let’s keep the record straight. With 6 women killed in 1 month, as horrible as that is, Nicaragua takes a backseat to other Central American countries, like Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, where 6 women are killed every day. Are you also active there? (Source: https://www.elitedaily.com/news/world/femicide-worst-countries/1077001)

  • Nicaraguan people are facing several issues. violence and crimes are a daily routine in all the different towns and cities. It is unbelievable how far we have gone. I really hope to see a real change in this country’s culture.

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