(The Absence of) Women’s Rights in Nicaragua – The Organization for World Peace
For a democracy to thrive, it must ensure the protection of all its citizens. However, Latin American governments do not recognize what it means to protect all peoples. Women‘s voices are constantly silenced and as a result the rights of half the population are snatched away. In a region where issues such as gender-based violence and reproductive health care are highly contested, anti-women ideologies rooted in abuse of power and gender norms challenge democracy both now and in the future. ‘coming.
Latin America has the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. Violence against women is incredibly normalized in society, leading to its perpetuation and sending many women to the US-Mexico border. Anti-women ideologies pose a threat to democracy in Nicaragua in particular, where forces such as the police, the judiciary and organized religion allow politicians such as Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Aléman to spew harmful rhetoric and create discriminatory laws from the office of the president.
When certain individuals or groups enjoy protection from the law, they are no longer held accountable for their actions. As a result, what they do or say is seen as acceptable by society as a whole, perpetuating a norm. In Nicaragua, men are often left behind for physically assaulting their partner. Police, a predominantly male demographic, either engage in domestic violence themselves (and therefore do not treat reports of other offenders with the appropriate seriousness) or relegate the matter to the private sphere, stating that such an event is a matter between the pair only and they must resolve the matter themselves. This creates a hierarchy within the household, where women are consequently subjected to abuse throughout their lives. Threats of further violence make it difficult for women to escape from these households.
In order to overcome these biases in the police system, an overhaul of current training is needed. It might look like a program (supervised by an apolitical organization) educating police forces about violence against women and the impacts of not responding. In addition, a consequence-based system should be in place, which means that if one does not act in accordance with the training after a certain number of times, he will be put on leave, for example. Such reforms could allow the police to actually help women, rather than their attackers.
However, efforts have already been made to implement best practices in the Nicaraguan police. In 1993, commissaries were created: “a special type of Nicaraguan police station exclusively run by women, designed to provide women victims of violence with more specialized attention”. However, although commissaries were integrated into the police budget, they did not have the same resources as “normal” police stations. Bathrooms didn’t work, old computers didn’t have sufficient internet access, and ten women shared a police vehicle, making the whole process incredibly inefficient. It is not surprising that at the beginning of 2016, President Ortega closed the 162 commissaries across Nicaragua, erasing what little hope women had for justice.
The government will not change the behavior of the police because the regime expects them to behave that way. The purpose of the police is to enforce the laws of the government. By neglecting to bring cases of domestic violence to justice, the police are fulfilling their duty.
From the start of their election campaign, politicians are encouraged to toe a sexist party line. Religion is a vital factor for many Nicaraguans when it comes to choosing who to vote for, which means the Catholic Church wields great influence over the positions of politicians before they are elected. In 2006, presidential candidate Daniel Ortega used a strategy similar to that of former President Arnoldo Aléman, deliberately creating a strategic alliance with powerful conservative religious leaders to gain the support needed to get elected. In order to secure these votes, Ortega married Rosario Murillo into the Catholic Church, and during his campaign Ortega vowed to uphold the country’s abortion ban. When he ran for re-election in 2011, Ortega’s campaign slogan was “Christiana, Socialista, Solidaria,” which stands for Christian, Socialist, Solidarity.
The Church continues to be inextricably linked to the State after the elections. Ortega and Murillo (who is her husband’s vice president) are strong believers in using Christian and supportive practices to strengthen family unity. This focus on the family, conveyed by Christianity, pushes women aside by “embracing[ing] the idea that women should sacrifice their own well-being for the supposedly higher goal of unity. Like a message, found on the wall of a comisaria, said, “A family united in the love of Christ lasts forever. Give God control over your family today and always.
This confusion – professing a desire to protect women, while suggesting that help can come from misogynistic organizations like the Church – is incredibly shocking, but pervasive in Nicaragua. The more legal and political institutions explicitly promote strong religious beliefs about the family and women’s role within it, the more justified their continued weakening of laws and institutions protecting women’s rights.
Church and state must be separated urgently to ensure women’s crucial rights are guaranteed. This separation can begin within the education system. Although Nicaragua has specific laws requiring public schools to remain secular, in 2013 it passed the “Live Beautiful Plan”, which requires compulsory education based on socialist – and specifically Christian – values. The government has trained 45,000 public school teachers on the aims and techniques of the new law.
Additionally, according to the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom in Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan government “has shown partisan favoritism toward religious groups supporting its sociopolitical agenda, and religious groups critical of government policies have reported government harassment. “.
Religion provides easy justification for the anti-women ideologies of many Nicaraguan lawmakers and politicians, but it is not the only excuse. The Nicaraguan justice system maintained harmful gender norms without the need to appeal to the Church. In 2012, for example, feminists welcomed the passing of “Ley 779,” a law that stated that gender-based violence stemmed from “unequal power relations” between men and women. Ley 779 defined femicide as a specific crime and expanded the legal definition of gender-based violence to include economic and psychological violence against women, among other provisions for stronger protective measures. However, just two years later, the Court reversed the majority of Ley 779’s major advances.
It was not unexpected; many had already called 779 a “dead law” because it lacked most of the funds needed for its mandates before it took effect. There were opportunities to channel resources rather than completely shut down the law, but due to the law’s attempts to define and break down hierarchy, it was not prioritized over other areas. Ley 779 was therefore invalidated solely on the basis that it helped women.
Education goes beyond the classroom. Nicaragua can seek to educate its adult citizens about women’s rights through public workshops or online information sessions. As Nicaraguans become better informed about women’s issues, we hope that their votes will lead to the spread of more democratic ideologies by elected parties and, consequently, in the Supreme Court. Another solution could be for Supreme Court appointments to come from an independent third party instead, to remove any political bias from sitting on what should be an impartial body of judges.
Equality is at the heart of democracy. When the government chooses certain people to neglect, cracks begin to appear. This democracy is weakened and ultimately destroyed. “Gender equality“, says the Council of Europe, “implies equal rights for people of all genders, as well as equal visibility and equal opportunities for empowerment, responsibility and participation in all spheres of public and private life”. While Nicaragua’s political bodies disrespect their female voters, female electoral candidates struggle to gain the same consideration as their male counterparts; as women are not represented in politics, men continue to dominate society. In other Latin American countries, however, like Honduras, for example, women have begun to claim powerful political roles. It will be exciting to see if Nicaragua, too, begins to make progress towards women’s rights.