Prior to arriving in Nicaragua, I was convinced I was going to research how women organize a pro-feminist women’s agenda to overturn restrictive reproductive rights policies. One such law that I was intent on researching was Nicaragua’s Codigo Penal, Articulo 165 that outlaws all forms of abortion, including therapeutic abortion, which means that women are not allowed to interrupt their pregnancies even if their lives are at risk. The ban and broader issues of abortion rights played a key role in the 2006 election that resulted in the return to power of former revolutionary and FSLN commander, Daniel Ortega. I originally planned on looking at this issue singularly and to assess it from a historical lens, to analyze top-down responses such as las casas maternas, which have sprouted throughout the country in response to the law that “prepare” women for parenting (even if their pregnancies were undesired), I intended to look at the Instituto Nicaraguense de la Mujer to analyze how the state approached reproductive rights, and, of course I was going to research women (feminists) organized response.
An interesting side note for readers, the right to a therapeutic abortion was a part of the 1893 Nicaraguan Codigo Penal, which means that Nicaragua has retrogressed over 100 years with this ban.
However, research, much like life, took on its own identity based on pressing issues. Upon arriving in Nicaragua, I was bombarded with news about the inter-oceanic canal project, pension rights for elders, and a series of national events such as the 34th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. As I began conducting interviews and doing research on the ground, I began to pay more attention to the conversations about violence: whether state-sponsored violence (such as the oppression of elders), cultural misogyny or every day forms of micro-aggressive forms of violence. So I made the connection.
“Como estan conectados los temas de la violencia contra la mujer y los derechos sexuales y reproductivos?
The most succinct response came from Maria Teresa Blandon, who responded asserting that violence against women is a barrier to achieving reproductive rights and bodily sovereignty. She noted that violence is naturalized in Nicaragua to the point that victims are blamed for violence perpetuated against their bodies.
The most grotesque examples came for me as I was waiting to conduct an interview in Masaya, a cultural epi-center in Nicaragua. I sat next to a woman awaiting legal services. Her left eye was swollen shut, her lips were cut open, her nose was almost deformed and it was very apparent that Colectivo de Mujeres Masaya was her last hope. We chatted nonchalantly about the lobby area, my daughter’s age, and who I was. Our conversation revealed a deeper level of connection. We didn’t need to discuss the state of sexual and reproductive rights in Nicaragua. We knew what it was. We didn’t need to problematize patriarchy through an academic lens, we knew its consequences. Nicaragua has a long way to go to center a women’s agenda, and further to see women’s issues as national priorities.
Posted by Kenia Morales-Zamora, CLACS MA Candidate at New York University