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women's movement in Nicaragua: Constructing new alternatives, The

Off Our Backs, Dec 1995 by Klein, Hilary

The Women's Movement in Nicaragua: Constructing New Alternatives

For over a year now there has been hanging on my wall a poster of a Nicaraguan woman with a rifle over one shoulder and breastfeeding a baby over the other. The caption reads, "jamas hubo tanta patria en un corazon," (never has there been so much love for a homeland in a heart). Now a new poster hangs next to it, a poster from a women's collective in Matagalpa, a small city in Nicaragua. The women's collective is an autonomous women's group that combines integrated health, legal, and anti-violence services with a radical political analysis. Their feminist analysis is put into practice on a very grassroots level. I think this poster is an important addition because it modifies what, to me, is a beautiful and very compelling image, that of the revolutionary woman, but one that is very strictly tied to the Sandinista conception of the proper role of women in the Nicaraguan revolution. This is a conception that includes women as fighters specifically for the revolutionary cause, not fighters for their own personal liberation as women. It also never completely escapes the traditional images of women as primarily mothers. None of this is to say that the Sandinista Revolution did not dramatically improve the conditions for women in Nicaragua, open many doors of opportunity, and have a real commitment to women's equality. All of these things are true of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN). In fact, the women's movement in Nicaragua would not have been possible without the Sandinista Revolution. Nevertheless, the FSLN ultimately could not be the women's movement, and the flourishing of the autonomous women's movement in Nicaragua in the last few years is proof of this fact.


To look at this new, autonomous women's movement, we must first understand that under Somoza, the dictator overthrown by the Sandinista Revolution, women not only faced political, economic, and physical repression, but also saw no possibility for the development of a strong women's movement. Women fought and participated in the revolution and after its triumph in 1979, were politically organized in the Association de Mujeres Nicaraguenses Luisa Amanda Espinosa (Luisa Amanda Espinosa Nicaraguan Women's Association, or AMNLAE), one of the FSLN's many mass-based organizations. During the decade of Sandinista rule, women benefited from economic programs and new social services; many doors were opened, including for political involvement.

The United States, however, was unhappy with such a radical neighbor in its "backyard." For a decade the revolutionary government of the FSLN waged the Contra war with U.S.-backed counter-revolutionaries and faced an economic embargo from the U.S. as well. In 1990, denied a fair chance to succeed, it lost elections to a coalition called the National Opposition Union, or UNO.

With the defeat of the FSLN at the polls, a much more conservative government came to power; many of the social service programs initiated by the Sandinistas were cut, public education and health care became scarce, and indices like illiteracy and infant mortality began to rise again after substantial improvements during the Sandinista years. This administration certainly has less commitment to women's rights than did the Sandinistas, but, simultaneously, there was more room for the growth of non-governmental organizations; the opening of civil society created the space for the emergence of an autonomous women's movement. There was an explosion of all kinds of women's groups in the early 1990's and many different branches exist in today's women's movement. Epitomized by the slogan "Unidas en Diversidad" (United in Diversity) these branches include an AMNLAE that is somewhat more autonomous than it was in the past, women organizing to improve conditions in the rural areas, lesbian groups defending freedom of sexual preference and promoting HIV education and prevention, women's secretariats within the mass organizations and unions fighting for women's rights as workers, feminist think tanks and magazines, health clinics, women's collectives, and networks between all these organizations.

Although the women's movement during the Sandinista years was intricately tied to the FSLN, and not autonomous from the state, elements of the newer women's movement were born then, and it did come out of the revolutionary tradition in many ways. First, many of the women active in the women's movement were or still are loyal Sandinistas who fought in the revolution and whose political consciousness and experience were developed in the FSLN. Second, the women's movement continues to pursue many stated revolutionary goals of liberation and empowerment. Finally, the women's movement carries forward the revolutionary legacy of the ability to build something new in society, to really create, construct a new alternative.



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