Three out of every 10 women in Nicaragua experience domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of these crimes are committed in the country’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), and the vast majority of the victims are Miskito indigenous women. Yet, this region is home to only one domestic violence shelter, operated by the Asociación Movimiento de Mujeres Nidia White, an IAF grantee partner.
Before my recent interview with the association’s coordinator, Shira Miguel, I had a broad idea of its work in providing legal and economic support to victims of domestic violence. However, I had little understanding of the challenges the organization faces every day and of its unwavering commitment to bring justice to domestic violence survivors, which is so desperately needed in the RAAN.
Shira mentioned a recent case in which a young girl who we will call Rosa** was so brutally abused that when she was found, seven months pregnant, she was barely able to move. Rosa was given refuge in the Nidia White women’s shelter, where she will live until her baby is born. She is receiving medical attention from the shelter, as well as from the Ministry of Health. The shelter has also launched an investigation into the incident and has filed an official complaint with the national police.
The Nidia White association works with survivors of domestic violence like Rosa every day. The victims’ families, neighbors, and community leaders often ignore their cries for help, believing that domestic abuse is a normal part of family life. The association trains women promotoras, many of whom have themselves been victims of domestic violence, to combat this belief. Promotoras educate community members about the importance of taking action to protect domestic violence victims. Oftentimes, even with the support of the community, women are not able to escape from the grasp of their abusers because of financial dependence. Nidia White addresses this issue by providing technical training to women so that they can earn an income and become independent.
Promotoras immerse themselves in the communities where they work in order to earn women’s trust and to more easily identify women who are being abused. This is extremely important, because survivors, especially indigenous women, often distrust outsiders and law enforcement. The trust that promotoras build with survivors allows them to act as facilitators in the legal process between women, their lawyers, and the police.
Shira explained that the RAAN’s police force eliminated the department that dealt with crimes against women. This has made it extremely difficult for women with few resources and limited access to the legal system to report their abuse. Women from isolated communities must spend money on travel in order to report a crime to the police. And even when they do so, they are often sent from department to department, which is time consuming and emotionally draining. Throughout this process survivors frequently encounter insensitive law enforcement and health officials. These factors dissuade most women from continuing through legal proceedings. Approximately only 10 percent of cases are tried in court, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 Human Rights Report for Nicaragua.
These obstacles make the Nidia White Women’s Association’s services ever more valuable. Its fierce advocacy on behalf of women and its ability to gain the support of survivors’ communities increases the likelihood that their cases will be taken seriously by law enforcement and the courts. The Nidia White team understands the twists and turns of the legal system and can connect women with the resources they need. The association perseveres through this array of challenges on a day-to-day basis, bringing justice to the lives of women who are often left in the shadows of society.
Talk about community-led development!