Women in Nicaragua
“Like many young women here, I thought I could solve all my problems by getting married.”
– Marlen del Socorro Lopez Paz, Owner of Vivero La Esperanza, Business Owner in Leon, Nicaragua
Where are the Women in Nicaragua?
When you travel to Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan men are much more visible than the Nicaraguan women. They are your loquacious taxi drivers, eager to tell you about their culture. They are your tour guides, who give passionate, thorough explanations of Nicaraguan history while guiding you to a rumbling volcano under the dark of a Nicaraguan night. They are the groups of men in the streets who will occasionally catcall while you walk, giggling afterwards like school children.
It’s the men you will see, much more often than the women in Nicaragua, and particularly as a tourist. They are your waiters, tour guides, touts, hotel owners, bartenders, and carriage drivers ~ all highly visible on the streets of Nicaragua.
So, where are the women & girls?
Donde Estas Las Mujeres?
You see their handiwork in many stores and roadside stands that line the streets in Nicaragua ~ from bracelets to paintings, to colorful clothing to patterned necklaces, most of which were made by the hands of Nicaraguan women. The evidence of them is all around, yet the women in Nicaragua, for the most part, are not visible to the outsider.
Over 25% of Nicaraguans now live outside the country; some in America, some in neighboring Central American countries and Mexico, and a large number in neighboring Costa Rica (which some Costa Ricans resent, as they say it places too heavy a burden on their healthcare and education systems). Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, which is why so many seek employment outside the country, where they believe they’ll have greater opportunity.
Remittances, moneys sent back to Nicaragua from family members working outside the country, are a huge source of income for Nicaragua. In fact, they comprise roughly 15% of the total Nicaraguan GDP.
500,000 children in Nicaragua do not attend school, which accounts for Nicaragua having one of the worst literacy rates in Central America. Some NGO’s have come in and tried to address this, by providing greater access to schooling for those who otherwise would not receive an education.
Women’s Rights in Nicaragua
Nicaragua has a total ban on abortion ~ even in cases of rape. And unfortunately, in Nicaragua, perhaps due in part to its strong machismo culture, rape is not uncommon. It typically occurs to females under 18, and often the crime is perpetrated by a close family member. Afterwards, the woman is often shamed for it ~ not the man.
As such, Nicaragua has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world.
(**Note: Though we would like to think that this “shaming” of the survivor only happens in “third-world” countries, those of us who live in the U.S. know that this goes on every day, right here in our country, in court rooms all across America.)
The average age for a woman in Nicaragua to start having children is 19. Back in 1980, the average number of children a Nicaraguan woman had is six ~ SIX children! This, in the poorest country in Central America. Today, that number has dropped a bit, due to increased availability to birth control.
This cycle of rape, poverty, abuse, and the shame that often follows, creates a powerful cycle that makes it difficult for women in Nicaragua to rise up out of their circumstances, and create better lives for themselves and their children.
The Church in Nicaragua
The evangelical church that exists in Nicaragua has not necessarily helped this situation. By encouraging their followers to have many children, providing little to no sexual education, and in some cases, telling congregations that those without children cannot enter heaven, they send a very confusing message to the youth of Nicaragua: be sexually ignorant ~ but have lots of children!
Never mind silly little practical things like how you’re going to pay for them.
The church in Nicaragua tends to foster a “Don’t Talk About It” mentality with regard to teens and sex. They encourage a culture of silence and abstinence, with the usage of birth control not endorsed. This leads not only to high pregnancy rates and STD’s, but to the creation of an unprepared, naive young female population. And it would seem that both the church, as well as the machismo culture that exists in Nicaragua, want to keep it this way.
Women in Nicaragua
The ignorance of the Nicaraguan teenage female often leads to the disillusionment of the middle-aged Nicaraguan woman. This phenomenon is certainly not found in Nicaragua alone, but occurs in countries all over the world. Few women alive have managed to escape the hard knocks that inevitably come as a result of being naive to the ways of the world.
Which leads us back to the quote at the beginning of this article, from Marlen del Socorro Lopez Paz:
“Like many young women here, I thought I could solve all my problems by getting married.”
Rather, the young innocent entering the marriage bed finds at some point that, instead of eliminating her problems ~ marriage has likely given her dozens of new ones! She now has a man to feed, clean up after, tend to, and in some cases, be abused by. Machismo culture, unfortunately, is a breeding ground for abuse.
Additionally, in Nicaragua, the man likely controls the finances, often using money not for needed household items, nor education for their children ~ but rather, for booze and women.
Again, this is not a situation found solely in Nicaragua. This goes on all over the world. It just may be more prevalent, more noticeable, in Nicaragua.
Machismo culture is so strong in Nicaragua, that often times, the men simply leave or vanish ~ leaving the women to both work and raise their children. There are very few repercussions for men who simply decide to leave.
“It is the machista culture that is destroying men, women and families and what we have to understand clearly is that 40% of households in Nicaragua are now sustained by women alone.”
– Editorial from Nicaragua’s National Paper, El Nuevo Diario
The Rise of Women’s Collectives
In response to this situation, women all over Nicaragua are creating and participating in women’s collectives. These are groups of women (and the occasional man!) who come together to create textiles, artwork, and jewelry representative of Nicaraguan culture. These goods are then offered for sale throughout the country, most commonly in popular tourist sites such as Granada, Leon, and Nicaragua’s capital, Managua.
By creating a source of revenue for themselves through the creation of these collectives, the women involved are better able to take hold of their own financial futures, without waiting for or relying on a man to “take care of them.”
Because in many cases, the men simply are not there any more to take care of them, if they ever were to begin with. In the words of a sales clerk from Leon, Nicaragua: “There are no men left at home, just three generations of women.”
“If you really want to change a culture…empower women.”
– Greg Mortenson, Author, Three Cups of Tea
How to Support Women in Nicaragua
During my travels in Nicaragua, I was particularly struck by two organizations actively working to support the education and advancement of women in Nicaragua: Up Nicaragua! and Nica Life Jewelry. Up Nicaragua’s goods are especially easy to find, as they are displayed beautifully in Granada’s popular Garden Cafe, one of my absolute, favorite restaurants. If you go to Granada and don’t go there ~ you’re missing out!
Originally, I frequented the Garden Cafe for their delicious food and fast Wi-Fi, returning nearly every day during my stay in Granada. Only later did I become aware of Up Nicaragua, and its association with the colorful goodies that were being sold in their front store.
And their front shop is like a kaleidoscope of color, with everything from bracelets to striking necklaces, shawls, books, coffee…and all things in between. And most of these items were created by the women and girls involved with Up Nicaragua. The store is so cozy and inviting, I couldn’t help but purchase all kinds of goodies for my darling niece Emma, knowing their purchase was all the more special because they had been made by girls close to her age.
About UP Nicaragua!
Up Nicaragua! was founded by Xiomara Diaz. who incidentally is also co-founder of the Garden Cafe. UP Nicaragua’s mission is to provide education, mentoring, and after-school programs for young girls throughout Nicaragua. By purchasing products made by these young women, your money goes directly towards funding these programs.
Up Nicaragua’s Mission
Mission = To empower and inspire under-served Nicaraguan girls through our after-school program, which provides mentoring & educational reinforcement.
Vision = That UP Nicaragua girls become conscious, informed, educated and dynamic change-makers who want to, and are able to uplift themselves, their families, and their communities.
“If you teach a boy, you educate an individual. But if you teach a girl, you educate a community.”
– Greg Mortenson
Nica Life Jewelry
Another similar organization is Nica Life Jewelry. Nica Life was created in 2015 by a couple named Liz and Jerry. They were inspired by the artisans of Nicaragua and the laid back style they found on the beaches of Nicaragua, and wanted to help these artisans earn a better living doing what they loved. They collaborate with the artisans to blend beachy, Nica style with with U.S. boho style, and the result is a jewelry line that screams, “SUMMER!”
As my two favorite colors are turquoise and coral (both prevalent in their line), Nica Life’s jewelry is a match made in heaven for me. But the story behind it fascinated me even more. I loved that you can read about their artisans, hear their stories, and find out which pieces are their personal favorites. It makes the shopping experience that much more personal. Click here to read some of their stories ~ and shop here.
The purpose of this article is not to bring you down. Rather, it’s meant to enhance your travels in Nicaragua by giving you an idea of what is going on behind the surface ~ what exists, but that as a tourist passing through, you may or may not be aware of. It’s meant to help you seek out people and opportunities that will deepen your understanding of, and appreciation for, this country. Particularly for its women.
Because, travel is not just about ourselves. Rather, travel at its best gives us the opportunity to step into the lives and awareness of others. To me, this is the most exciting part of travel, because it’s the part that changes us. Which is exactly what it means to me, to be a traveler ~ having the infinite ability to adapt, react, and to change.
Read Next: Women of Nicaragua, by Chris Dray. A fantastic article that helped shape much of my understanding for this piece.
Why I Use World Nomads
Whenever I travel ~ especially if I’m traveling solo, I always get travel insurance. It gives me the peace of mind to go out and have all kinds of adventures, because I know someone’s got my back. Who do I use? World Nomads. They cover you whether you’re sky-diving, spelunking, or volcano-boarding in Nicaragua: they’re not your average insurance company. Read more about travel insurance here.