How to Support Women in Nicaragua

**Author’s Note: This article, on “How to Support Women in Nicaragua,” is different than my typical travel fare.  It instead illuminates the plight of many women in Nicaragua, who face significant challenges in many aspects of life, for a variety of reasons.  Though I loved solo travel in this country, & felt quite safe: I recognize that women there have far fewer resources than most American women ~ & the end of the article discusses simple ways that we can show our support for these hard-working people.

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, in Leon, Nicaragua

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

The yellow cathedral that presides over Granada, Nicaragua

Where are the Women in Nicaragua?

When you travel to Nicaragua, Nicaraguan men are much more visible than 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 volcano under the dark, Nicaraguan night.  They are the groups of men in the streets who will occasionally cat-call while you walk, giggling afterwards like school children. 

It’s the men you will see, much more often than the women in Nicaragua, & 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?

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

Photo courtesy of UpNicaragua.

Donde Estas Las Mujeres?

You may see their handiwork in the many stores & roadside stands that line the streets in Nicaragua ~ from bracelets to paintings, to colorful clothing & patterned necklaces, most of which were made by Nicaraguan women.  Evidence of them is all around, yet the women in Nicaragua, for the most part, are not visible to the outsider. 

Nicaragua Statistics

Over 25% of Nicaraguans now live outside the country; some in America, some in neighboring Central American countries & Mexico, with a large number in neighboring Costa Rica.  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, money sent back to Nicaragua from family members working outside the country, are a huge source of income.  In fact, they comprise roughly 15% of the 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 & 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, & 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, & the shame that often follows, creates a powerful cycle that makes it difficult for women in Nicaragua to rise up out of their circumstances, & 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, & 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!

The church in Nicaragua tends to foster a “Don’t Talk About It” mentality with regard to teens & sex.  They encourage a culture of silence & abstinence.  This leads not only to high pregnancy rates & 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, by Marlen del Socorro Lopez Paz:

Like many young women here, I thought I could solve all my problems by getting married.” 

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, Maria, Girl Who Travels the World

Marie Jose Maran: “In Nicaragua, when a man divorces his wife, he also divorces his children.”

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, & 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 necessary household items or education ~ but rather, for booze & women. 

Machismo culture is so strong in Nicaragua, that often times, the men simply leave or vanish ~ leaving the women to both work & 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, & families, & 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

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, Women's Collective, Girl Who Travels the World

Women working together to provide crafts & jewelry for a local non-profit called Nica Life Jewelry.

In response to this situation, women all over Nicaragua are creating & participating in women’s collectives.  These are groups of women (& the occasional man!) who come together to create textiles, artwork, & 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 to take care of them.  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

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, Garden Cafe, Girl Who Travels the World

The delightful Garden Cafe in Granada, where you can purchase handmade goods made by Up Nicaragua.

During my travels in Nicaragua, I was particularly struck by two organizations actively working to support the education & advancement of women in Nicaragua: Up Nicaragua & Nica Life Jewelry.  Up Nicaragua’s goods are easy to find, as they’re displayed beautifully in Granada’s popular Garden Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants.  If you go to Granada & don’t go there ~ you’re missing out!

Originally, I frequented the Garden Cafe for their delicious food & fast Wi-Fi, returning nearly every day during my stay in Granada.  Only later did I become aware of Up Nicaragua, & its association with the colorful goods being sold in their store.

 Their front shop is like a kaleidoscope of color, with everything from bracelets to striking necklaces, shawls, books, coffee…& all things in between.  And most of these items were created by the women & girls involved with Up Nicaragua.

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, & after-school programs for young girls throughout Nicaragua.  By purchasing products made by these young women, your money goes directly towards funding these programs.

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, Up Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

UP Nicaragua! works with low-income girls who are talented and have leadership potential but lack access to resources.

Up Nicaragua’s Mission

Mission = To empower & 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, & are able to uplift themselves, their families, and their communities.

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, UPNicaragua Girls

The girls of UpNicaragua!

To read Up Nicaragua’s fascinating blog, & learn about potential volunteer opportunities, click here.

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 & Jerry.  They were inspired by the artisans of Nicaragua & the laid-back style they found on its beaches, & they wanted to help these artisans earn a better living doing what they loved.  They collaborate with locals to blend beach-y, Nica-style with U.S. boho style ~ & the result is a jewelry line that screams, “SUMMER!”

As my two favorite colors are turquoise & 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 love that you can read about their artisans, hear their stories, & find out which pieces are their favorites.  It makes the shopping experience that much more personal.  Click here to read their stories & shop.

How to Support Women in Nicaragua, Nica Life Jewelry, Girl Who Travels the World

Turquoise & coral bracelet, made by Nicaraguan female artisans. Courtesy of Nica Life Jewelry.

Closing Thoughts

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’s going on beneath the surface.  What exists, but that as a tourist passing through, you may not be aware of.  It’s meant to help you seek out people & opportunities that will deepen your understanding of this country.  Particularly of its women.

Because, travel is not just about ourselves.  Rather, travel gives us the opportunity to step into the lives & awareness of others.  To me, that 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, & to change.

Read Next: Women of Nicaragua, by Chris Dray.  A fantastic article that helped shape much of my understanding for this piece.

xoxo Noelia