Memories of a feminist generation
What battles did feminists have to wage during the eighties?
What did they achieve and in which areas?
What obstacles did they face?
What do they feel remains of their efforts?
The author interviewed eight women who fought for a transformation
that would take their rights into account and for a society
that would break out of the provincial constraints
produced by conservatism, misogyny and machismo.
William Grigsby Vergara
My mother is a lawyer who’s over 50 years old. The years have marked her, but she still faces life with a firm attitude and retains her unalterably combative spirit. She fought against the Somoza dictatorship from her home city of León, and although her participation was anonymous, like that of so many other women, she did her bit to change this country.
She’s another of “Sandino’s daughters,” because like the young women so expertly portrayed in Margaret Randall’s book, my mother participated in the revolution inspired by the ideals of the General of Free Men and Women, refusing to allow herself be subjected to the patriarchal power and machismo that characterized the society into which she was born.
They fought for a “new woman”During that stage of our convulsive national history, a handful of women from across Nicaragua intellectually and actively committed themselves to a struggle that hasn’t ended yet, one that inspired Arlen Siu and so many other young women who died working on a process that promised to give them the space they deserved. They were fighting for the “new woman” while the men were fighting for the “new man.” They put behind them the complexes of yesteryear and left their homes to make history in the streets, some late and others prematurely. Ranging from peasants and workers to intellectuals, internationalists and high school and university graduates, all of them have enthusiastically built a new motherland for Nicaragua.
Under the feminist banner and in the delivery ward of war, all of them helped give birth to that hope-inspiring baby that was the Sandinista Popular Revolution. And like Rosa Luxembourg did against German imperialism in her time, they all pushed for a more just, different and definitively comprehensive society.
How did they wage those battles for gender equality? What were their trenches? What successes did they achieve and what obstacles did they face? What advances and what reverses were there during the eighties? Were they feminist because they were leftist or were they leftist because they were feminist? I interviewed eight women who fought for a society that would take their rights into account and rethink the concept of “woman,” that would respect their diverse sexual options, break the taboos of those times and shuck off the provincial constraints. They all rebelled for a common cause. The following testimonies have been a real lesson to me, a young person who can feel their legacy.
The birth of AMPRONACGloria Carrión (58 years old): “I was born in Managua. In the late seventies I got involved in the Sandinista struggle for the dream of achieving a new country, in which we would shake off the yoke of the Somoza dictatorship. I didn’t explicitly think out my involvement as a feminist struggle. I was fighting for human rights.
I started collaborating with the proletarian tendency of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Its original idea was to create a committee of relatives of political prisoners to denounce the abuses they were suffering and ensure that their human rights would be respected in Somoza’s prisons. Inspired by the experience of Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, this tendency wanted to organize something similar in Nicaragua. We also sought to take provisions to the many women who had been imprisoned by the National Guard. So we visited Ana Julia Guido, Marta Cranshaw, Gloria Campos…
Our movement was born in 1976. We started to organize women who couldn’t be easily repressed by the dictatorship. We recruited many humanists who weren’t associated with “communism,” the bogey word of the time. We found them, grouped them together and organized them. It was a unique, unforgettable experience.
The group of women we organized went on growing. Meeting with sympathizers of the feminist struggle and with women motivated by humanism and Christianity, we called our movement the Association of Women in Response to the National Problematic (AMPRONAC).”
“We were an autonomous social movement”“Like today, women were over half the population in the seventies. As such, we had a political power we weren’t exercising. We realized that we had little political citizenship when in fact our weight could be decisive. We started mobilizing women to denounce the national problematic, and our participation, acceptance and popularity gradually grew through a dynamic of autonomous management that increased spontaneously.
Women called us from the departments and organized themselves. We didn’t have top-down or hierarchical relationships, although we in Managua made plans and proposed activities for the women from the departments who asked for our support. More municipalities gradually joined. They called us from León, Boaco, Jinotega, Matagalpa… They also asked us to form AMPRONAC chapters in the professional associations. Once there were more of us, we started holding some national assemblies to ratify our struggle’s commitments.
Were we feminists? We debated about our rights. Women were also citizens, but were very passive about the reality. Wives didn’t talk politics much. It was assumed that only the husbands could do it and were the informed ones. As we women got involved in discussing the national reality and went out into the streets to express ourselves, another agenda started to emerge, without our having actually proposed it, because it involved the conflicts triggered in our homes by our taking the lead.
AMPRONAC was a genuinely democratic and pluralist movement in the fight against the Somoza dictatorship, a true social movement. We weren’t paramilitary, nor were we para-FSLN like other movements such as the Broad Opposition Front, whose activities were guided by FSLN leaders and almost always ended in some kind of armed confrontation with the National Guard. Although originally the initiative of one of the FSLN’s tendencies, we succeeded in functing as a social movement with its own thinking and its own decision-making capacity. That made AMPRONAC something unique.”
How that experience came to an end“With the revolutionary victory in 1979, the FSLN took military control of the entire country. León’s chiefs of staff took León, Matagalpa’s took Matagalpa, Masaya’s took Masaya... The military chiefs who took charge of Jinotega, for example, became the only leaders in the whole of that region, and had the capacity to give orders and decide about everything in their hands. They also made decisions about pre-existing movements.
Some thought the women’s ideas were divisive and were breaking up the class struggle of workers and peasants. Organizations like AMPRONAC weren’t seen in a very good light. The leaders viewed us as a petit bourgeois group and regarded us with distrust.
As early as 1979, the FSLN was already making decisions about all the existing organizations through the Secretariat of the Masses. They decided to appoint Lea Guido, who was working with us, as social welfare minister. Another of our founders, Salvador Mayorga, was designated to head up the agrarian reform. I remained as AMPRONAC’s secretary general, but after only two months I was visited by FSLN National Directorate member Carlos Núñez who informed me that AMPRONAC would be called AMNLAE—the “Luisa Amanda Espinoza” Nicaraguan Women’s Association. And so our movement came to an end and we moved into another chapter of our history.
The FSLN leaders began lopping off existing leaders and naming new ones by line and mandate, rather than by volition. Some of the women designated had no love, interest, experience, relations or even understanding of why they were going to lead the women’s organization. Some of them thought just like many male leaders: they saw a women’s organization as divisive and thus didn’t take us very seriously.
I didn’t last long in AMNLAE. In 1981, after three years as AMNLAE’s secretary general, the FSLN decided to kick me out because I wasn’t following the lines handed down by the National Directorate. It was a watershed in my life, a before and after that marked me forever. After that, I went off to work in the countryside and distanced myself from the party, which was consolidating itself in power.”
“We were ordered toLuz Marina Torres (56 years old) – “I was born in the community of El Portón, municipality of Esquipulas, Matagalpa. I think there were a lot of feminists in the eighties, but few of them were clear about what it meant. So many things happened during those years that even we didn’t notice at the time. I think our feminism was born amid the Revolution’s immaturity and to its surprise.
give birth for the homeland”
AMPRONAC fought for many demands of women with a very worthy program, but it was rather disoriented because the revolution was so new, such a big success in such a short space of time… Everything that came out of the revolution was more the result of passion than of thought-out strategic planning.
In that work of the eighties we developed as feminists and entered, very ingenuously, into an emancipation process in which equal rights took precedence and we wanted to see them reflected in the new Constitution. Did we succeed? We all remember Daniel Ortega saying in a speech to a major women’s congress that our duty was to replace the young people killed in the war. He ordered us to give birth for the homeland. And we in AMNLAE didn’t say anything to him, which I think was a big mistake. Those militants with power overrode the feminists’ criteria.
There was also a lot of mistreatment and abuse of power against our female comrades. There were cases in which our rights were violated and there was violence. I don’t remember all that being aired in public by feminists. Today we question whether we complied with the task of vindicating women.
Despite the things we kept quiet about, there were other things we did say and that did produce changes in our society. In the eighties, feminism contributed to the transformation of the Women’s Offices in the ATC (Association of Rural Workers) and CST (Sandinista Workers’ Federation). And enormous contributions were made. Many feminists, María Teresa Blandón for one, were running those offices and they all had serious conflicts with the men in power.
In my view, there were two stages for Nicaraguan women during the revolutionary decade: the first from 1980 to 1987, and the second from 1987 to 1990. We women were much more active and belligerent in the second stage and entered into a dialogue with an ideology that wanted change. Before that, the most important thing we did was question how women’s demands were conceived.”
“Some cut their umbilical cord with the FSLN”“For years they had us participating in the campaigns to clean up rubbish dumped in the neighborhood’s rain ditches and many other task that were undoubtedly of social benefit, but which also had a connotation of service and political benefit for the party. While the women were the ones working in the barrios, the male militants were the ones sending the reports to the party, which didn’t seem fair to us. But despite everything, participating en masse awakened a more profound and critical feminism in us.
I think the most important accomplishments in the second stage were the public denunciations against Sandinista militants who abused women. And I’m saying that because I can personally vouch for it. We also achieved autonomy for certain women’s groups organized within AMNLAE. Many of us in AMNLAE fought to stop the FSLN from ‘sending down its official line’ to women.
AMNLAE didn’t understand our struggle. Unfortu¬nately it believed that we feminists were being disloyal to the FSLN. It split AMNLAE and that affected our struggles. But our decision to question the FSLN led to some women cutting the umbilical cord with the FSLN. The beginnings of autonomy for some women, me included, were born of that crisis.
The big obstacle we ran up against in those years was the party itself. There was no possibility to debate either patriarchy or machismo. I don’t remember any political discussion of machismo in any grassroots committee during the whole revolutionary decade.
I think you’re feminist because you’re leftwing, not the other way around. You’re feminist because you have an ideal of social equality, with better conditions for society, and that includes women. Being leftwing means aspiring to opportunities for all, to a democracy with dialogue. I believe you can’t be rightwing and feminist.”
“We Christian women felt included”Martha Juárez (50 years old) – “Although I was born in Granada, my identity is in the island of Ometepe.
The way women’s participation opened up during the revolution was very important for me, although that opening up was also stained with the blood of war.
During those years we were looking for equal treatment, equal wages and equal work. And we wanted a responsible maternity in which the men participated. We raised critical issues, such as unsafe abortion, which causes so many women’s deaths. For all these reasons and more, I felt the revolution was also for me.
I got involved in the revolutionary process out of my Christian convictions. I came from Christian youth communities where we had talked a lot about the commitment to build a more just society, where men and women would build the Kingdom of God, which wasn’t for after death. And as the revolution talked about making justice and equitable distribution of wealth, that was totally compatible with Christianity and our idea of God.
As Christian women we felt included in the revolutionary project. The revolution awakened our consciousness as women, coming as we did from a dictatorship with a prevalence of reactionary ideas that are still very much with us. The revolution allowed us to dream and turn dreams into palpable realities. It allowed us the right to feel, to think and to demand our own banners.
The FSLN’s proclamation on women wasn’t an act of lucidity from the party leaders, but rather the result of women’s participation in overthrowing the dictatorship. It forced them to assume a more serious position, more committed to us. However, it wasn’t possible to eradicate machismo.
For many women, that proclamation wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, but not for others. The anti-imperialist fight was just as important as creating conditions for women to play a leading role in history. The day-care centers that allowed children to be well looked after and not just locked up while women went to work were a great advance, as was the child support that gave women separated from their partners income to take care of their children.
But we came across conservative ideas not only in religious circles and rightwing parties, but also in the FSLN ranks. Discriminatory thinking prevailed in the social organizations. We women went on maturing until we realized our own diversity and learned to cultivate tolerance among ourselves.
The war, which was so terrible, helped us mature. The mass mobilization of men to the battle field helped many women become independent. But the militarizing of men produced an even more authoritarian, hierarchical society. We’re still fighting that. It was our lot to be in the middle of that whole male world, but we needed a country at peace to develop our own way of thinking so we could act as a counterweight. The war also played that dirty trick on us.
Is it possible to be leftwing without being feminist? It’s confusing. I prefer another classification. Being feminist is being in favor of life and promoting fundamental human rights. It means respecting and being respected for what we are. If you have a political ideology of equality for all men and women, then you’re both leftist and feminist.”
“You’re either peasants or barrio residents”Sofía Montenegro (57 years old) – “I was born in Ciudad Darío, Matagalpa. In the mid-eighties, we feminists—or those of us who called ourselves feminists—were an authentic minority. It was that small but compact group that pushed forward the development of the women’s movement.
The revolution was represented by a single party and our first battle was against that homogeneity. We wanted to create something like the FMC (Federation of Cuban Women). Slowly, through constant debate, we managed to provide a counterweight to the FSLN’s official position.
The official position of that time proclaimed that feminism was a bourgeois ideology. It was schematically considered that women’s emancipation would only come as an afterthought or by ‘trickle-down,’ without the common effort of all Nicaraguan women and men.
It cost a lot to gain recognition of women’s right to propose their own gender agenda. Sandinista socialism has a rather 19th-century focus. It only related to problems of social class, underestimating the other dimensions of society. We waged a very strong ideological struggle against the consideration of women in only two categories: either peasants or barrio residents with neighborhood issues. If you weren’t in one of those categories, you virtually had no right to demand anything.
We had to educate people. Our little women’s movement had to stay in the political-social debate to address issues that were very sensitive at the time, such as violence against women. We also had to address sexuality, reproduction and all the other issues that are now taken for granted and on the gender agenda in Nicaragua.”
“We can see the fruits of our success today”“Women’s official agenda in the eighties was restricted to defense and production. You either produced to eat or you shot at people; that was it. The issue of democracy didn’t make it onto the revolution’s agenda, despite the insistence of both us women and the contras. It was something that was never discussed. This was a problem for women, because the democratization of society is a basic requirement for us to be able to participate and incorporate ourselves.
As the war went on, so many men left the city to go fight that women had to take responsibility for the rearguard. I believe that in this process women discovered a capacity for autonomy, as military service meant their husbands were absent for two or more years. They had the possibility of self-affirmation and greater liberty because they no longer had a ‘policeman’ at home keeping an eye on them.
The female pushing and pressure led to our achieving small successes, and in the end the male leaders and the FSLN itself reluctantly ended up yielding spaces. The great influence of that minority of women was more palpable when the revolution ended. And in the nineties, a sector of the movement emerged that openly defined itself as feminist. Its success lies in the fact that our agenda has now been assimilated and legitimated by men and by society.
Can you be leftwing without being feminist? I think it’s perfectly possible. The history of the Left is plagued by the rejection of feminism and of women’s rights, from Lenin to Stalin, from Fidel to Chávez and Ortega. All who declare themselves leftwing but are profoundly authoritarian are the greatest enemies of feminism.”
“Gender roles were Ana Criquillon (57 years old) – “I was born in France, but have Nicaraguan nationality. I came to Nicaragua 1973, when I was 19. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the feminist struggle in the eighties are the multiple efforts and experiments we organized that didn’t always survive because feminism wasn’t viewed well socially. I also remember linking the development of feminism to professional associations and unions, uniting identities that hadn’t previously been connected. For example, female agricultural workers who were fighting for their rights and were members of AMNLAE, the ATC, the CST or CONAPRO (Federation of Professional Associations).
questioned for the first time”
I think that for the first time in Nicaragua’s history, we managed to develop among women what it meant to have a multiple identity, which sometimes generated contradictions in ourselves. We also questioned what it meant to be young and a woman at the same time, something we never wondered about before. We were women in the seventies, but we had never analyzed what that meant.
One of the most important successes in the revolutionary decade was establishing very publicly that we’re born female but become women in a certain way because that’s how they educate us, just as men are taught to be men. We said that the definition of ‘woman’ reaches beyond the traditional education we’re given. Questioning gender roles started to change the division of labor both inside and outside of the home.
The roles women traditionally assumed began to be questioned. For the first time in Nicaragua women could be seen working successfully in the armed forces or in production, driving tractors, being leaders in their particular functions and specific tasks, some more effectively than some men. All of this amounted to a revolution in itself.
We started to participate in political life as grassroots leaders, something that had never existed in the past. The collective mind began to accept that being a woman didn’t just amount to being a mother or a wife, and that a woman’s place wasn’t just in the home. Although this wasn’t a novelty in the rest of the world, it was here.
But these changes didn’t translate into public policies to strengthen them and make them more stable over time. So when the war wound down the roles reversed again and the tendency to send women back to the home prevailed. There was no profound reflection about what the changes had meant. There was no questioning of why women had new abilities added on, yet were still responsible for caring for children, the sick and the elderly and doing domestic chores alone.”
“Discussing sexual abuse Issues related to sexuality weren’t touched upon during the revolution. There was no debate about women’s right to pleasure, to own their own bodies, about lesbianism, transexuality… Nor were the issues of family planning or women’s capacity to decide about their maternity ever seriously discussed; they were only partially addressed. It was a great obstacle to making any real progress because if women don’t even control their own body or reproductive capacity, how can transcendental changes be achieved in society?
in the family was taboo”
Then there was the controversial issue of violence against women, which was questioned and a Women’s Legal Office was created, but it was never conceived of as a problem of power relations between men and women. It was viewed as the existence of wicked, sick men who hit women, but the root of the problem was not identified so as to eradicate it. As a result, we’re still living with that problem.
The issue of sexual abuse within the family was totally taboo in the eighties. It wasn’t mentioned and didn’t exist in the media. Thanks to the feminist struggle of those years, we at least see denunciations now.
Can you be a leftist without be feminist? It depends on what we understand by leftist. I don’t think you can be humanist without being feminist. If the Left is nothing more than the struggle for the rights of workers and peasants without distinguishing between men and women, then, yes, you can be leftist without being feminist. But if the Left struggles for a profound social change that brings justice for all human beings, then you can’t be leftist without being feminist.”
“The greatest achievement was María Teresa Blandón (50 years old) – “I was born in Matiguás, Matagalpa. The most relevant thing about the feminist struggle in the eighties was that some women tried to be feminist withyout defining themselves as such. The definition came later. Being feminist was a bad word during the revolution; you were either a revolutionary or you weren’t, and being “feminist” wasn’t politically correct.
getting out into the public arena”
We women were allowed to have our own organization, AMNLAE, and later collectives emerged that didn’t function according to the lines AMNLE’s leadership established. Some of us wanted to be independent of the FSLN, and that was a tough struggle right from the start.
The Sandinista women made a determined effort to convince others that Sandinismo represented an emancipating alternative for us, a vindication of our rights. But that wasn’t quite true. At one point we wanted to put together a kind of all-inclusive proposal in which the revolution would be the vanguard of women’s struggle for social equality. That was the force that moved us organized women in the eighties.
I think that the most important achievements of those years had to do with the vindication of women in public spaces. Despite the sexism prevailing in the FSLN’s revolutionary vanguard, the fact that women have emerged into the public arena was the most relevant success for me. The revolution created a collective sense of participation in which we women weren’t on the outside looking in. For the first time in Nicaragua’s history we stopped being responsible just for filling churches, looking after the needy and coordinating charity parties. We became protagonists.
Young, adult, rural, urban, religious, atheist, poor and middle-class women, in other words all women, managed to insert ourselves into this process and that was highly important for my generation. I was 18 years old when the revolution triumphed, and I saw the notion of women’s role in society turned on its head. We came from a very traditional society, influenced by the most conservative ideas, which insisted that our role was restricted to family, maternity, home…
With the arrival of the revolution, all this started to fade and there were other expectations: organizing, being in the Sandinista Youth, going to pick coffee, participating in the literacy campaign, or getting a scholarship to study in another country… The most traditional ideas about women’s role were upset and that infected us with hope and enthusiasm.
“We were very young and very inexperienced” The main obstacles were misogyny, the prevailing sexism and the utilitarian discourse about women. Although we all assumed the FSLN had the capacity to lead society towards its goals, that was grandiloquence, real ingenuousness. We were very young and very inexperienced and idealized the FSLN and its leadership. The revolution and its vanguard weren’t endowed with a pro-equality way of thinking. The FSLN grew out of a very limited Marxist ideology and didn’t debate the forms of oppression experienced specifically by women in the countryside. Its leaders had no proposal for responding to the unequal relations between men and women. They viewed women as simply poor and treated them as such.
We agreed on socioeconomic rights, such as decent jobs, decent wages, maternity allowances, child development centers for daycare… All that was fine. But those rights only referred to women as workers. The FSLN didn’t recognize women’s other rights, having do with their freedom, autonomy and self-determination.
The FSLN avoided issues related to gender violence, voluntary maternity, clandestine abortion and its conse¬quences and those related to household work and the poor distribution of labor within the family. That evasion generated obstacles, backbiting and even threats. The revolutionary leadership put AMNLAE against the wall because it didn’t want the women’s movement further developing an anti-discriminatory agenda. Sexism was so prevalent among them that it prevented the women’s movement from moving toward feminist ideas of equality.
I don’t think a real revolutionary can be anti-feminist, racist, homophobic or lesbophobic any more than not have a real and legitimate commitment to ending exploitation and the abuses of capitalism. I think a person who’s against feminist demands is a revolutionary in name only. I don’t believe in those who say they’re leftwing but against feminism. That seems like a huge contradiction to me.”
“The FSLN leadership was male”Lea Guido (60 years old) – “I was born in Managua. Feminism was nuanced in different ways in the eighties. We grew up in a war against the dictatorship, where women’s role was impregnated with the focus on political participation. That’s why the revolution included women right from the start, based on their heroism. That changed later.
Women’s own demands were conceived as very general and got subsumed within the ideological struggle. The FSLN had pioneering and exemplary women in it such as Doris Tijerino, Mónica Baltodano and Dora María Téllez, and feminist demands emerged through them, but very timidly.
Feminist theory wasn’t very well thought out in the early eighties and the FSLN’s National Directorate was all male, preserving the alliance between the party’s three tendencies in a balanced way. Women had no representation or presence at the top.
I think one of the most important achievements of that time was the critical consciousness that was awakened among the different compañeras who then bequeathed their knowledge to younger women. Many of today’s NGOs are the result of that legacy. The Network of Women against Violence, the Matagalpa Women’s Collective, the Committee of Rural Women of León, Catholics for the Right to Decide, the March 8 Women’s Collective and Puntos de Encuentro, among others, are the daughters of the feminist struggle of the eighties.
“We lagged behind in the area of violence”After the revolution, young people’s sexual initiation became more natural, more “normal” than in my parents’ time. But we still lagged behind on the issue of violence against women, and that’s still reflected today. How is it possible that there are still discussions in Nicaragua over whether a raped girl may or may not have an abortion? It’s absurd. For me, that represents a huge step backward. The therapeutic abortion legislation had existed since the time of President Zelaya, at the end of the 19th century. How is it possible that it’s still being discussed today? During the eighties, therapeutic abortion was legal in Nicaragua. How many women had abortions in the eighties so they could participate in the FSLN’s struggle? If that happened today, we’d all be in prison.
I think it’s possible to be feminist without being leftist, without a doubt. There are rightwing feminist women. Feminism has various tendencies and one of them is the egalitarian socialism I identify with, but working for justice and social equity isn’t the same as doing things for poor people out of populism. Mussolini did things for the poor and he was a fascist. Working for the majorities means making transformations that seek greater equity between men and women. A revolution doesn’t only teach reading and writing to those who are illiterate. It teaches men and women how to love and coexist peacefully. And that’s what real feminism is about.”
“We were already reflecting Dorotea Wilson (64 years old) – “I was born in Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua’s North Caribbean region. After the 1979 triumph and during the whole of the eighties, we dedicated ourselves to reconstructing the country and organizing as women. In the Caribbean coast we had to work to restore families after ‘Red Christmas,’ that mass movement of entire indigenous communities to Tasba Pri, which means ‘Free Land’ in Miskitu. During the war houses were burned and communities exterminated. A lot of blood was shed. In that wartime context, our task as multiethnic women was to work for the return of the communities that had fled to Honduras, with households split and dismantled. And along the way, we became feminists.
on liberation theology”
There wasn’t a lot of talk about feminism in the Caribbean region in the eighties, although we did grow closer to the Pacific, where that movement had its greatest intellectual force. We Caribbean feminists worked with AMNLAE and also with the Capuchin priests and Sisters of St. Agnes who were working in the mining area. We fought against violence in the countryside and against the mass disappearance of so much of the rural population. We also worked closely with Delegates of the Word and other religious leaders. By that time we were already reflecting on liberation theology.”
“Sexual diversity triggered fear” “We worked to link women in the Caribbean with those from the Pacific to achieve a more comprehensive vision of the country. Our struggle was to feel identified with each other, respect our differences and build a national identity. We also fought to guarantee health care for women, teach them to read and write and provide them work and access to credit.
In that effort, I gradually realized that some rights corresponded particularly to women and had to be fought for. Then feminist training sessions came up and I had the privilege of being invited to Taxco, Mexico, to the Second Feminist Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean (1987). I returned from that experience with loads of documents, books and knowledge to share with compañeras who were starting to link Marxism with feminism.
We coast women started to participate in feminist training circles being held in Managua. Matilde Lindo, Élida Centeno and Alejandra Centeno were among the compañeras who came to spend two or three days a month in the capital and we became very close and strengthened our lines, as the political climate obliged us to be united.
During the eighties therapeutic abortion was legal for women. There were also alternative clinics and the Health Ministry itself supported women who decided to have an abortion. What was viewed with great reservation and fear was sexual diversity. There was a lot of violence in the coast, with young gay men and women having their throats slit on the beach in Puerto Cabezas just because they had a different sexual option. We had to fight against that as well.
We were limited by the war and economic instability, with the few resources dedicated more to defending the revolution than to educating society. Communication was also very limited; we didn’t even have telephones in the Coast.
I don’t think you can be feminist without being leftwing. And although many of our compañeras still don’t have a precise definition of what it means to be a leftist, they do have a clear position on defending human rights. And that’s both feminist and leftist.”
They left us a legacy we can still see today Some later and others ahead of their time, all these women became and still are feminists. And they took on one of the most difficult eras of the nation’s history: the eighties. They dreamed, idealized, got involved and came up against the wall of tradition erected with machismo and misogyny. Conservative ideas stopped them from achieving greater successes.
But they left us a legacy. Although Nicaragua’s feminist movement is currently fragmented and waging more targeted struggles than before, the revolutionary experience of the eighties matured them all to project themselves more forcefully toward the future.
We can recognize their legacy in the new generations of young people who are living their sexuality more openly. We see it in the media denunciations of sexual crimes, abuse and mistreatment of women. It is present among the women currently occupying public posts alongside men. Without the feminist struggle of the eighties, it would have been impossible for Violeta Barrios de Chamorro to be elected the Nicaragua’s first woman President in 1990.
There have been many achievements, and also many challenges. But the legacy is noticeable. These interviews, which have taught me so much, are my way of thanking these eight brave women I talked to, the many I didn’t reach and also my mother for all the efforts they have made. Gioconda Belli’s novel Women’s Country is still fiction for Latin America. But in Nicaragua we can imagine it closer to reality thanks to all that was done by these daughters of Sandino.
William Grigsby Vergara is a Nicaraguan social communicator.