Abortions, Catcalling, and Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua

Abortions, Catcalling, and Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua

Violence against women is a sad reality in many countries in the world, including Nicaragua. My romantic ideas about women in Nicaragua being more empowered because of their central role in the Sandinista Revolution was quickly shattered when I realized that violence against women is, according to the WHO definition, at endemic proportions in Nicaragua.

While there have been cases of violence against female travelers in Nicaragua, most of the violence perpetrated is intra-familial and Nicaragua still remains one of the safest places to travel in Central America. However awareness of the two largest current controversies surrounding women’s rights in Nicaragua will greatly aid both female travelers in general and those wishing to engage in conversations about women’s rights.

Law 779 is the Comprehensive Law against Violence toward Women. Often just called “la ley,” it is at the tip of everybody’s tongue and a very contested new law that was introduced in June 2012. It includes sections on piropos or catcalling, workplace sexual assault, discrimination based on sex, and most importantly, it made it easier for women to seek immediate protection from abusive partners.

Nicaragua is one of the only four countries in the world where abortions of any sort are illegal.

Abortions, Catcalling, and Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua

Barely a year later, in September 2013 it was reformed to make it harder for women to immediately seek protection, instead stating that they first had to go through counselling or mediation. Much of this pressure, and most of the subsequent arguments in favor of the reform, came from the Catholic Church, whose position was that this law was an attack on family and religious values.

A large point of debate is the law itself; many people are against the law in general and will commonly argue that it gives opportunistic women the ability to imprison innocent partners because of reasons not relating to domestic violence but rather to personal problems.

Another point of debate is the unjust nature of the reform to the law; many groups in Nicaragua argue that mediation in cases of violence is not effective, primarily because two of the guiding principles of mediation, equality between parties and voluntariness of parties, are not present.

Abortions, Catcalling, and Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua

women in Nicaragua

What does this mean for women travelers? Many things. For one it is an interesting topic and one worth brushing up on before traveling to Nicaragua. It is also a magic word for when piropos get to offensive or when male strangers get too close. Just saying “hey, la ley,” will often get overly curious men to back off.

Finally it is important to be aware that this law does exist for the protection of women; reminding ordinary citizens, police officers, and yourself of this you can do your part to cement the principle of female equality in everyday life.

The second and perhaps more controversial topic is abortions. Nicaragua is one of the only four countries in the world where abortions of any sort are illegal. In many Latin American countries, abortions are also illegal but therapeutic abortions–in cases where pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest–are allowed.

Mentioning abortions in Nicaragua is akin to setting off a bomb and will be met with polite and disapproving silence.

Abortions were legal in Nicaragua until 2006, the year the current ruling FSLN party came into power. A large reason many believe the law was enacted was to garner decisive support from the religious parties and popular support from conservative members of the public. As a result, the current leading cause of maternal mortality in teenagers is complications arising from illegal abortions.

Mentioning abortions in Nicaragua is akin to setting off a bomb and will be met with polite and disapproving silence. That is not to say that people don’t think about it or talk about it behind closed doors. However the subject is so strongly linked with religion and politics that it is rarely publicly discussed.

Abortions, Catcalling, and Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua

Abortions, Catcalling, & Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua

A story that is intricately linked to the abortion law is the “miracle birth” of a 12-year-old indigenous girl in 2011. After a risky pregnancy the girl delivered a healthy baby boy and she has since become emblematic of the Sandinistas parties stance against therapeutic abortion. What is failed to mention is that she was raped by her stepfather and afterwards returned to the same household to raise the child.

Since enacting the law, Nicaragua has faced intense pressure, especially by the European Union, to re-allow therapeutic abortions, with some countries such as Sweden cutting off foreign aid as a result.

What does this mean for female travelers? One is: don’t try to get an abortion in Nicaragua. The other is: don’t talk about abortion publicly. While people will talk about it behind closed doors, public discussion of this topic is highly taboo.

By all means, do feel free to engage in discussions about women’s rights. Such discussions are both necessary and often well received as Nicaraguans love a good chacuatol – long-winding, airy, political discussions. Just steer clear of abortions, unless you want an easy and immediate end to any conversation.

Abortions, Catcalling, and Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua

Have you traveled to Nicaragua? How was your trip? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Abortions, Catcalling, & Assault: How Laws Deal With Women in Nicaragua photo credits: Sarah Sax

About Sarah Sax

Sarah SaxSarah Sax took her first trip from the US to New Zealand when she was 9 months old and has never quite stopped. She has lived in the US, New Zealand, India, Germany, Canada and is currently residing in Nicaragua where she works for CUSO International, researching food and nutrition security. She is fascinated by the similarities and differences of the various places she has visited and nothing lifts her soul quite as much as the view of an open road in front of her. Follow her adventures on her blog.

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