HAVANA TIMES – On March 8, women from all over the world celebrate our struggles and the advances achieved in the recognition of our rights. Nicaraguan women, like women elsewhere, have had to work very hard to have society and the State recognize the injustices committed against us throughout our history.
The right to vote; access to contraception and to a free public education; the right to own land and run for public office: all of these things are victories – although unequal and instable –that women have wrested from the patriarchal powers.
The history of Josefa Toledo, the first Nicaraguan feminist, tells of the price that women have paid in the past. Today we continue to challenge the oppressive laws that oppose our legitimate aspirations.
For over 40 years, the women’s movement in Nicaragua has preserved from anonymity the women’s rebellions of the past, has contributed to forging a new consciousness of rights, has denounced the violations of our rights and has demanded changes that favor a true equality between women and men.
Context of the celebration
Nicaraguan feminists are celebrating this International Women’s Day in a country facing multiple challenges, chief among them impoverishment and the loss of the few democratic advances achieved in the last decades.
The National Assembly, controlled by the Sandinista faction, has just approved a family code full of sexist bias, and which reduces to a minimum the State’s responsibility to satisfy the basic needs of the thousands of families living in poverty.
In a country where 46% of the families live as extended families, and 36% are single parent families, this code attempts to impose a family model very distant from our reality. Equally grave is the violation of the rights of girls and adolescents, obligated by this Code to become mothers against their will by considering those pregnancies generated by sexual abuse as legitimate pregnancies.
The Code also violates the civil rights of homosexuals, lesbians and transsexuals in denying their right to constitute families that enjoy the protections of the State.
The Code includes the creation of the Cabinets of Family, Health and Life, charged with promoting the values of “socialism, Christianity and solidarity” in open violation of the Political Constitution of the Republic which recognizes freedom of conscience and organization. It also violates the law of citizen participation by imposing one unique form of participation controlled by the governmental party.
We should recall that ever since the liberal revolution of 1893, the Nicaraguan State does not have an official religion. In 1980 the FSLN itself declared publicly its respect for the lay character of the State, arguing that: The Nicaraguan State, like every modern State, is a lay State and cannot adopt any religion since it is the representative of all the people, as much the believers as the non-believers.”
Those deputies who express their personal religious beliefs by criminalizing abortion – a practice which has led to the death of dozens of women in poverty – are directly responsible for violating the lay character of the State that the Constitution establishes.
Other systematic violations of the principle of the lay State include the movement of public money into private projects implemented by the Catholic and Evangelical Protestant churches, and the realization of religious celebrations by different State entities.
We women want and have the right to participate in the public arena. That was one of the principal demands which impelled us to join in the struggle for the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship during the seventies.
We don’t want the government to control the forms of that participation, nor to impose the topics that women decide to put up for public debate. That’s the same thing that we demanded in the eighties.
True citizen participation should respect the autonomy of social movements, recognizing their right to exert an influence in the formulation of public policy. True participation requires a State that is respectful towards freedom of expression and organization.
The women’s movement is an autonomous social movement independent of the government, the political parties, and the churches. Our only commitment is to the defense of women’s rights.
Because of this, we reject the imposition of the Cabinets of Family, Health and Life which the government is establishing as law, as a clear violation of the rights established in our Constitution.
The talk is of socialism and solidarity, but the policies are neoliberal
Women, especially those living in poverty, have historically had to bear not only the weight of unpaid or poorly paid domestic labor but also the consequences of public policies that deny them their social, economic and political rights.
The extreme poverty faced by thousands of women, particularly those of the Atlantic Coast, contradicts the government rhetoric on socialism and solidarity.
The minimum wage scale that the government negotiates with private enterprise, with the approval of the pro-government unions, are far from sufficient to meet the basic needs of thousands of families who live in poverty.
The new Tax Code, negotiated between the government and the High Council of Private Enterprise and approved as law by the National Assembly, will have a severe impact on thousands of women who barely manage to generate limited incomes to assure their own survival and that of the people who depend on them.
The reforms to social security that the government is negotiating with the private sector call for a large increase in the number of quotas required for coverage and the number of years until retirement. This constitutes a serious violation to the rights of people of working age and of women in particular, upon whom the weight of care-giving falls.
The production voucher, one of the government’s emblematic programs, represents a necessary support to rural families living in poverty, but this is in no way a sufficient and sustainable solution to the high levels of impoverishment among the peasant population.
The government promised to distribute 175,000 of these vouchers, but in six years has barely come close to meeting 50% of this goal. In addition to the deficient quality of the voucher and the lack of transparency in the management of public resources, many peasant women complain that the voucher has been used to further electoral aims.
Male violence towards women continues to be one of the country’s most serious problems, dramatically affecting thousands of women, children adolescents and youth. Women continue to be exposed to every type of aggression at the hands of men both known and unknown to us, including some public functionaries.
The State has the principal responsibility to prevent and sanction all forms of violence that are perpetrated against women, as is established in the Law 779 approved by the National Assembly in 2012, in response to the demands and proposals presented by the women’s movement and feminist organizations.
In the first semester of 2012, over 80% of the denunciations made by women to the National Police Women’s Commissions received no follow up. In the majority of the 85 murders of women committed in 2012 the perpetrator has gone free as a result of the corruption and influence trafficking that predominates in the courts.
Commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking and sexual tourism dramatically affect thousands of children and adolescents in different regions of the country. Beyond specifying these as crimes in the new Penal Code, in response to the demands of organizations that work with children, there is no national strategy that could allow for an integral treatment of this problem.
The public health system hasn’t responded to the most urgent necessities faced by the Nicaragua population. There is a high incidence of cervical and uterine cancer and of breast cancer, of AIDS and other infections such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) in women of reproductive age.
Limited preventive care, lack of medical teams and even poor medical practices form part of the problem, which has cost dozens of lives of women living in poverty.
The legitimization of pregnancy and fored maternity as a consequence of rape or sex abuse is one of the government’s most serious violations of the rights of girls, adolescents and young women in general.
This March 8, as we do every year, organizations of women and feminists gather once more to celebrate our lives and our struggles, to reaffirm the value of solidarity among women, to recover the right to speak and denounce all of the abuses of power, and to reaffirm our commitment to the construction of a truly democratic society.