As in much of Latin America, gender-based violence in Nicaragua is on the rise, and 2017 was an alarming year. Fifty femicides and six murders of women took place in 2017, a 15 percent increase over 2016, as reported by the Catholic organization Right to Choose, which has a chapter in Nicaragua.
This serious crisis is not limited to Nicaragua. I traveled to the XIV Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Meeting (EFLAC) in Montevideo, Uruguay in November 2017. With me were representatives from two Nicaraguan organizations that are working to combat gender-based violence and which are funded by the Inter-American Foundation: the Associación para el Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer (APADEIM) and Asociación de Mujeres Estelí Xilonem (AMEX).
APADEIM works mainly in the rural areas of Chinandega and Estelí to help women gain access to microenterprise opportunities and credit, improve their self-esteem, and recognize their rights to a dignified life free of violence. APADEIM was represented at EFLAC by Ana Celia Tercero. AMEX is promoting the social and economic development of women after having conducted a participatory appraisal of rural communities, the LGBTI community, tobacco workers, and sex workers to determine their priorities. AMEX was represented at EFLAC by Alba Azucena Martinez.
It was all too clear at EFLAC that, among the many issues facing women in Latin America, femicide was one of the greatest concerns. The term “femicide” has been defined as the killing of females because they are females. Such crimes are generally perpetrated by a woman’s partner or former partner. The rape and murder of 16-year old Lucía Pérez in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2016 galvanized a movement in the region to combat gender-based violence. EFLAC included workshops to coordinate future steps of this campaign.
EFLAC also featured workshops on a range of other critical feminist and gender equality issues such as women’s rights under national laws and how to apply those rights, affordable housing, and democratic practices. Held every two years, the meeting serves as a regional forum for discussion among a diversity of cultures of the problems that women need to address.
The slogan for EFLAC 2017, “Diverse but Not Dispersed,” points to the common goal of the many organizations fighting for women’s rights. Although they may workin different countries, with different cultures, and employing different approaches, they fight for the same cause. In Nicaragua, for example, APADEIM is not only limited to training women about their rights; it also trains men on issues such as defining what masculinity really means. Through this approach, rural men become aware of women’s rights and are more inclined to share household and childcare responsibilities. These men also recognize that a woman has an important role in working and participating in public life.
Working at the community and municipal levels, APADEIM gathers information about gender-based violence cases reported anonymously by community residents. APADEIM publishes a quarterly newsletter about those cases in order to raise awareness about violence against women and contribute to a discussion of this issue at the national level.
Both Ana Celia of APADEIM and Alba Azucena of AMEX returned to their organizations after attending EFLAC more motivated than ever to continue the daily struggle for women’s rights.
“For me, participating in a meeting about women empowerment was an opportunity to share with so many women from different organizations, combine our energy and optimism, and see that we are not alone in combating the scourge of gender-based violence experienced in different countries of the world,” explained Alba Azucena. “Like the slogan says, diverse but not dispersed, each one of us has a certain knowledge, and when we come together we are stronger, and we have the opportunity to design intervention strategies to address the different types of violence.”
Besides APADEIM and AMEX, I’ve had the opportunity to be in contact with several other Nicaraguan organizations that work every day to help women access legal and economic opportunities. The IAF also supports the Centro Jurídico Popular (CJP), Movimiento de Mujeres Nidia White, and Asociación Centro Especializado de Atención a la Mujer (CEAMUJER). Each has its own methods to address gender-based violence issues, whether by promoting training, providing psychological or legal assistance, or undertaking other initiatives.
EFLAC 2017 ended with a march against gender-based violence as part of the worldwide International Day of Action against Violence towards Women on November 25. This was not the only march in Montevideo that day: the Uruguayan organization Mujeres de Negro also marched in solidarity with those of us who traveled to their city from other countries throughout Latin America and Caribbean. In total, thousands of people marched through the streets of Montevideo that day – diverse but no longer so dispersed.
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