Study reveals that post-revolution youth have moved away from politics to embrace causes linked to personal development and the spiritual world.
By Alvaro Navarro (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES — Apart from the throng of uniformed youth which the government calls together in squares to chant and dance to music, which is inaugurated every year by First Lady Rosario Murillo, today’s youth have moved away from politics.
This paints a very different picture to that of over four decades ago, when the fight against Somoza’s dictatorship involved thousands of Nicaraguan young people. Both men and women risked their lives for a political cause. Their objective they said was to free the country, first from Somoza the tyrant and later from the “US invasion”. That second war lasted for 10 years. In 1990, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) lost the presidential election to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. After she took office, times changed.
This change is visible in university corridors where you can measure the level of youth apathy. At the Central American University’s exit, Social Communications student, 17-year-old Hans Ramirez, openly told us: “For me, this (politics) is an absolute mess. If we had elections today, I wouldn’t vote,” he assured us.
Maria Fernanda Pulido, 18, a Chemical Engineering student at the engineering university UNI doesn’t believe in any political party. “I don’t like liberals, or conservatives, or sandinistas because none of them benefit me in any way,” criticized the university student.
Sharing the same opinion, Javier Nurinda, a 19-year-old UNI student, says that he doesn’t trust any of the candidates. “It’s best that I just immerse myself in church and my university studies. In the end, politicians just want to get richer and richer, filling their pockets with money whilst they leave the poor behind,” criticizes harshly the university student from Masaya.
This apathy forms part of the generational profile outlined by the Communication Research Center (CINCO) in a study they recently developed entitled “Hegemonic Masculinity amongst Postrevolution Youth”, namely, the children of those who themselves were teenagers during the Contra war in the 1980s.
Conducted by journalist and researcher Sofia Montenegro, the study analyzes 1540 surveys given to young women and men aged 15-24 years old. The survey sample included urban neighborhoods in Managua’s 2nd District and in La Dalia, a rural area in Matagalpa.
Further education and employment are their main concerns. Sexuality and gender equality stained by religious prejudice.
Montenegro stated that one of the investigation’s key findings was the shift in mentality between parents who had lived their teenage years during times of war and their children who were the subject of her study. “Whilst their parents were unable to develop personal projects because of the war and because they lived in times of warlike heroism, where heroes and martyrs were idolized, postrevolution youth are more interested in social mobility and the hope to one day have economic stability, autonomy, independence and wellbeing,” she explained.
Furthermore, she goes on to analyze their pragmatism. “One of the reasons they say they don’t take part in or get involved with politics is because votes are bought. This has served as a major deterrent because they believe the political circle is closed. So what you witness is their withdrawal to family life, to their private life and religious activities,” explains CINCO’s director.
Observations made by the sociologist Elvira Cuadra are also featured in the study. In her Masters dissertation she analayzed the phenomenon of depoliticization of Nicaragua’s youth.
Cuadra agrees with Montenegro about the underlying causes for young people moving away from politics. “You frequently hear the debate that young people are no longer taking to the streets like they used to in past generations, protesting, but it just so happens that young people today have grown up at a time where contemporary debate dissuades this social mobilization. For example, one of these arguments is: “Why was so much blood shed and people killed if now we’re just in the same situation?” Young people automatically think: “Then why am I going to protest and take to the street if, in reality, things never change,” explains Cuadra.
The use of Internet and social media
Post-revolution youth were born between 1992 and 2000, that is to say, after the Sandinista Front lost the elections. The study investigated the level of access young people have today to new information and media technologies and out of the total surveyed, 66% of women and 74% of men said they had a Facebook account.
Furthermore, CINCO’s research wanted to know where young people were connecting to the internet from: 56% said they connected on their mobile phone, 37% at home, 24.5% at an internet cafe, 4.5% in a park and 4% at work.
And when asked why they use the internet, 68% said to talk to friends and family, 36% to watch music videos and 34% to upload photos. The survey revealed that 17% use the internet to watch the news, 15% to watch sports and 33% to look for information, do their homework or study online.
Self-realization is their only goal
Post-revolution youth are more focused on their personal realization. “The majority think that what they want is to have a job, a house, a car and a family one day. We could say that they’re more inclined to their personal self-realization within their own family unit,” says Montenegro.
The study’s analysis of this generation of young people is consistent with the views expressed by university students when asked about their goals in life. “I want to save up, study, get good grades and then settle down one day and buy a house and a car,” affirms Gerson Bolanos, an 18-year-old Biology student at UNAN-Managua.
Isabel Mendoza, a 16-year-old math student at UNAN, is also putting high stakes on her education. “I want to graduate, then look for a master’s degree and afterwards do a doctorate,” she said confidently.
Work and children
The survey also asked how many of these young people worked. 59% of those surveyed in Managua answered that they do in fact work, whilst in La Dalia that figure dropped to 50% of those interviewed.
In Managua, 46% of young women are already mothers, whilst only 38% of young men said they are fathers. In Matagalpa, 58% of young women admitted to having children whilst only 25% of young men answered yes.
The study also wanted to identify some of the opinions young people have in relation to gender roles, domestic abuse against women and adult-teen relationships.
According to their answers, post-revolution youth condemn domestic and sexual abuse against women and the majority disapprove of adult relationships with minors. Seven out of ten interviewees share the opinion that a relationship between an adult and a teenager under the age of 15 is not normal, two out of ten said that it was normal and one out of ten classified it as a crime.
Where young people’s opinions don’t vary so greatly from the mentality of their parents is in regard to domestic roles and the differences between men and women. 92% of women wash their own clothes, whilst only 64% of men say they do the same.
Cleaning the house remains a predominately female task as 88% of women answered yes in contrast to only 63% of men. 84% of women and 54% of men cook; 78% of women wash up the dishes whilst only 41% of men do the same.
The only thing men do more regularly than women is carrying water and wood. 14% of women do this compared to 22% of men.
Alternative circles to politics
Young people’s disillusionment with political parties has opened up the possibility for them to withdraw into family and religious circles. Javier Nurinda is firm in his belief that he doen’t want to get mixed up with any political party but “rather focus on the church and my university studies.”
Seventeen year old Anahis Hernandez enthusiastically describes her relationship with other young Christians “who she goes to Church with a lot. I like to socialize and I get on really well with all the young people there,” the teenager says.
Elvira Cuadra explains the relationship between Nicaragua’s youth and the Church. “These are trusted spaces, they’re safe places. And clearly, one of the direct results of this has been a reinsurgence of conservative values which have to do with religious beliefs and values at home. So there is a strong influence of certain religious dogmas over what these young people think,” Cuadra analyzes.
Abortion and homosexuality
This religious commitment puts into context what young people today think about issues such as sexuality and sex. CINCO’s study reveals that 95% of men and 85% of women consider abortion a sin.
That’s how the young interviewees put it. “According to the Bible, abortion is a sin,” claims Isabel Mendoza. While 19 year old Medical student, Alexa Sousa, says that “abortion is a bad thing because, by not looking after themselves or by not using a condom, girls get pregnant and then they’re sorry.”
This mentality among young people has the country’s feminist movement, who are fighting to have abortion no longer criminalized, concerned. Maria Teresa Blandon, the director of the La Corriente Feminist Group, confesses that these are “antiquated and misinformed” conceptions. They worry her because “fundamentalist religions and the complicit State are winning the fight against us with young people,” she says.
Blandon called this advance of religious ideas in young people relating to abortion “very serious” “because even though young girls are secretly aborting, publicly they still defend the law which penalizes abortion 100%, and this penalization forces these young girls to abort in dangerous conditions, blaming themselves and feeling ashamed. This mentality doesn’t allow us to democraticize our bodies making us human,” the activist explains with obvious worry in her voice.
Young people also uphold religious arguments to question homosexuality. When asked whether they thought having sex with somebody of the same sex was a sin, 82% of men and 87% of women said yes.
“I’m a Christian and God made men and women to be together and the Bible doesn’t say that men and men (can have sex together) or women and women,” argues Sonia Guerrero.
Ana Valencia says: “The Bible is very clear. The Bible states very clearly that men sleeping with other men and women sleeping with other women is a sin.”
However, the same study shows that even though 84% of young people reject homosexuality, when asked how families should act when they have a gay son or lesbian daughter, 76% said parents should respect and support their children.
In Marvin Mayorga’s opinion, from the Sexual Diversity Initiative for Human Rights, “this change in thinking occurs because if you personally know someone in this situation, you can understand that they’re being subject to discrimination, you see them go through this process and it creates empathy for them,” the activist explained.
These conservative opinions have remained unwavering over the last two decades. In 2000, the same researcher, Sofia Montenegro, carried out a study about Nicaragua’s sexual culture where the same questions regarding abortion and homosexuality were asked. Back then, 88.6% of those interviewed believed abortion to be a sin and 84.7% said the same about same-sex relationships.
“This has to do with State policies because culture can change, or significant ammendments can be seen when all of society is involved. For example, national media networks within an independent, strong and professional system of freedom of speech can contribute to changing society’s views and values. However, here, when they are controlled, all they do is repeat religion’s fundamentalist arguments, which is in fact exclusive, because it’s only for those who share a certain political stance, that of those in power,” concluded Montenegro.