Introduction to the Nicaragua Site
of the Global Feminisms Project

Shelly Grabe

A list of key leaders in the Movimiento to be considered for the GFP was generated by the elected leader of the Movimiento, Juanita Jiménez, and solidarity activist, Carlos Arenas. The women chosen were reflective of the Movimiento’s “Diverse but United” strategy. Although prior scholarship on feminist activism in Nicaragua has concentrated on the middle class, the interviewees for this project have diverse backgrounds that reflect the complex identities included in the Movimiento: approximately a quarter of the sample were from poor backgrounds disenfranchised through years of U.S. economic exploitation and dictatorship, approximately two-thirds of the sample came from Sandinista sympathetic households, one woman was from the autonomous Atlantic Coast, and another came from a household with at least one parent being a Somoza supporter. The women interviewed were former guerrilla commanders during the Revolution, occupied ministerial or congressional positions, were heads of human rights counsels, journalists, grassroots organizers, academics, labor union organizers, Nobel Peace Prize nominees, and rural feminists.


This timeline has been prepared by Josephine Fonger for the Global Feminisms Project at the University of Michigan during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Overview of the Nicaragua Site

The Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (Women’s Autonomous Movement) in Nicaragua emerged, like many other Latin American social movements, in the 1970s and 1980s in the context of dictatorial regimes, as a marginalized and restricted movement. It is now characterized as expansive and diverse, with feminist agendas in multiple sectors (e.g., civil society, legal, nongovernmental, agricultural).

During more than forty years in Nicaragua (1936-1979), the Somoza dictatorship had what was considered the most heavily U.S.-trained military establishment in Latin America, and was internationally condemned for its human rights violations. In the 1970s the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) mobilized in opposition to the dictatorship in order to improve the situation of people in a region marked by egregious social and economic inequalities. The Movimiento was, in part, born out of the Sandinista Revolution, when many women first asserted the need to engage in a struggle for social justice by joining efforts with the FSLN to overthrow an authoritarian capitalist model imposed by a dictator and an imperialist ruling class. Women’s participation in the Revolution was lauded as more substantive than nearly any other revolution during the time. Women made up approximately 30% of the FSLN combat forces and were appointed to senior positions in the newly established ministries after the FSLN formally gained power in 1979.

Although women participated in the revolutionary struggle in unprecedented numbers, it was also true that during that period the FSLN imposed a singular focus in defense of the Revolution. This restricted women’s organizing and demands to those that supported the aims of the socialist agenda and silenced women’s concerns surrounding gender inequality and injustice. Women’s attempts to advance an agenda sympathetic to feminist concerns were further thwarted throughout the 1980s, when women’s rights were marginalized by male leaders in favor of the national agenda, which at the time included weathering the Reagan-imposed trade embargo and the U.S.-backed contra war. Despite the fact that women were involved in nearly all aspects of the war during the Revolution, male compañeros demonstrated neglect and often outright dismissal of matters of particular concern that were being raised by women – such as domestic and sexual violence, and reproductive rights. As such, many women came to understand gender oppression as profoundly cultural, crosscutting all public and private discourses and spaces — including those of the male-dominated Revolution, where women and their “issues” were too often consigned to the sidelines. By the late 1980s a fledgling women’s movement had begun to organize within Sandinista Nicaragua – driven by women whose experiences gave them an increased consciousness surrounding inequity, yet for whom the dominant ideology served to subjugate women’s rights and concerns. As the hierarchical, patriarchal culture prevalent on the Left came to be identified as part of the problem, early feminists declared the need to invent new ways of doing politics. In particular, questioning the social roots of women’s disadvantage led many women to consider a political separation from the FSLN in order to formulate their own agendas based on the rights of women.

A catalytic event in 1990 contributed to the transition toward political autonomy that many women were seeking. In the 1990 presidential election the Sandinistas were voted out of office and replaced by U.S.-backed candidate Violeta Chamorro. Her administration subsequently promoted neoliberal policies that worsened the already existing threats to gender justice. Several women seized the moment and made an official break from the Sandinista party by mobilizing a national meeting (the “We are 52%” festival) to publicly denounce the violation of women’s social and economic rights in Nicaragua. This was followed by the first National Feminist Conference in 1992 titled “Diverse but United,” to declare the political independence of women’s organizations that were mobilizing after the election. In mapping a model for an autonomous movement, feminist activists were revealing a strategic design whereby actors from different social locations could meet to enact politically effective means for transforming dominant power relations. At this crossroad, understanding and rejecting the social obstacles to actualizing women’s rights formed a key starting point for feminist groups to mobilize. At the same time, women’s personal experiences of marginalization within the Revolution appeared to influence an inclusive strategy for collective mobilization that was reflected in cross-class and urban-rural alliances. By 1992 several women’s organizations had mobilized into a network under the umbrella name Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres to represent one of the largest, most diverse, and most autonomous feminist movements in Latin America.

Procedures for Producing Final Interview Videos and Transcripts

The interviews for the Nicaragua site occurred through simultaneous translation. The translator was a U.S.-based activist who traveled to Nicaragua regularly for solidarity work and was familiar with feminist organizing in rural areas. The interviews lasted approximately an hour and the transcripts are reproduced in full (i.e., unedited).