rights groups supporting marginalised and impoverished people are
banned by Ortega’s authoritarian regime
of feminist groups in Nicaragua that provide crucial support to
vulnerable women have been labelled “foreign agents” and
outlawed by the government, meaning they can no longer operate.
healthcare services, shelters for survivors of gender violence, and
loans and training for peasant women—to cite just a few
activities run by feminist groups—are vanishing as a result of
the government ban, say activists.
a delusion of absolute control,” says María Teresa
Blandón, a sociologist and prominent feminist who coordinates
one of the affected groups, La
The authorities “know there is critical thinking, a defense for
human rights and a democratic vocation in feminist organizations,"
month, the Nicaraguan National Assembly—which is controlled by
the ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front—terminated
the legal status of 50 civil society organizations,
including La Corriente and six other feminist groups.
Daniel Ortega’s regime has
outlawed 267 NGOs since 2018,
including 40 women’s groups serving vulnerable groups,
according to the Mesoamerican
Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative.
Many of them were affected by a 2020
that forced any group receiving funds from international donors to
register as a “foreign agent.”
Corriente refused to register, arguing it was against their right of
association and the Nicaraguan constitution.
is a policy of sweeping away any form of organization that is not
under state control. Even though we don't have a partisan
perspective, they have declared us a mortal political enemy,”
its founding in 1994, La Corriente has provided inclusive education
for women and LGBTQ youth, and managed development projects. It is
one of the leading voices denouncing violence against women and
said: “Women’s groups, like other civil society
organizations, do work that the state does not do, not because it is
not its responsibility, but because it has not been part of its
their legal status revoked, La Corriente and other groups were no
longer eligible for international funding, so had to shut down
prospects for women and the LGBTQI+ community are bleak without these
groups working on their behalf. There is no legal protection for
LGBTQI+ people in Nicaragua, and sexism and homophobia are
widespread. In the first four months of this year, the country
(there were 71 in 2021).
2018, there were 13 shelters for women and children survivors of
gender-based violence. Today, only three remain open—and they
have to operate clandestinely, to avoid government persecution, a
source from the Nicaragua Feminist Articulation told openDemocracy.
of the first feminist groups to close was one of the oldest, the
(Colectivo de Mujeres Matagalpa, CMM), set up in 1984 by leftist
women activists. It gained legal status as an NGO in 1990, to work
with women in impoverished communities in Matagalpa department, a
countryside area ravaged by the U.S.-funded civil war in the 1980s.
is one of the lowest
spenders on public health
in Latin America, according to the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD). Only Guyana, Honduras,
Venezuela, and Haiti spend less. For decades, CMM provided more than
10,000 women per year with reproductive and mental health services,
legal support, and protection from violence.
have always been a critical voice against the state, demanding public
policies for women to enjoy their rights in areas where the state
does nothing," said a member of the group who asked not to be
named for fear of reprisals.
status was revoked
last August, but state-led harassment started in April 2018, when
civil unrest erupted in the country and the group became involved in
anti-government protests that were crushed by the authorities. At
people were killed,
according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and
Ortega’s regime was accused of committing crimes
foreign members of CMM have been deported,
and several Nicaraguan members forced into exile. CMM activists who
still live in the country face harassment and persecution.
have been called everything, from terrorists to lesbians to being
financed by ‘Yankee invaders’ to money launderers,”
said the anonymous activist. Since Ortega took power in 2006,
“Matagalpa’s people experienced brutal repression,
peasants were murdered, and we feminists needed to raise our voices,”
fears that closing CMM’s office and halting its projects will
damage women’s health and allow gender violence to flourish:
“The government thinks it is harming those of us who work in
these organizations, but it is harming the women our projects have
benefited for years.”
Rural Women’s Organization
(Coordinadora de Mujeres Rurales, CMR) was one of the few formally
organized spaces for rural women in Nicaragua. It provided loans and
agroecology training to peasant women, while also fighting for more
equitable tenure of farmland.
resources provided by international aid organizations including
Oxfam—which was itself banned
from working in Nicaragua,
in 2021—CMR distributed loans to women to purchase plots of
land or seeds. It also campaigned for a law
to create a fund to provide lands to rural women (only 20 percent of
landowners are women, according to the last agricultural census). The
law was passed in 2007 but never implemented by the government
status was revoked
in May, meaning it could no longer support more than 600 women in the
northeast of Nicaragua.
our projects, women can access credit through cooperatives.
Unfortunately, banks do not lend to women farmers. Sadly, we will be
unable to help them that way anymore," said María Teresa
Fernández, president of CMR.
as "Enemies" of the Government
women’s rights groups have been at odds with Daniel Ortega
since 1998, when his stepdaughter Zoilamérica accused
him of sexual abuse,
and feminists stood with the victim and demanded justice. Ortega and
his wife Rosario Murillo began to attack
branding them murderers financed by the “Yankee empire.”
a former leftist guerrilla commander during the Sandinista Revolution
of 1979, was president in the 1980s and then re-elected in 2006. As
he became an increasingly authoritarian ruler, he managed to sustain
a left-wing rhetoric while forging a close alliance with
conservatives, supporting, for example, Nicaragua’s total
ban on abortion
from La Corriente, who was a supporter of the Sandinista Revolution,
highlights the widespread “macho” culture of Ortega and
other Sandinista leaders who are eager to retain their privileges.
marriage of feminism and the Left was bad because we [women] were
very faithful and the revolution leaders did not want to hear our
proposals,” she said. “The breakup was inevitable, and it
was only the beginning of a conflict that has got worse and worse.”
not only feminist groups that are affected. Social and rights
activism is diminishing in general in Nicaragua, as many other groups
also shut down their activities out of fear, according to a recent
no projects to run nor options to raise funds, feminist activists are
seeking ways to sustain their work and resistance. CMM will continue
supporting community efforts to organize, and denouncing "human
rights violations and authoritarian rule,” said a member.
tell us ‘they can't take away our knowledge,’”
Fernández from CMR said.
for Blandón, she says La Corriente will survive as a group,
because “feminism does not depend on funds or a physical
space.” “Our work will continue because they cannot take
away our right to think and build critical consciousness.”