What are you, Nicaragua, but pain and dust and screams in the afternoon, screams of women

In Nicaragua yesterday, July 17, the State celebrated el Día de la Alegría, the national Day of Joy which celebrates the day in 1979 when the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled the country. In Nicaragua yesterday, July 17, the State sent its soldiers and paramilitaries into Masaya, the protest or rebel city, and “regained control.” The cost of control, extracted over the past three months, is more than 300 dead and untold injured, wounded, scarred, violated, tortured, and traumatized. This has been unfolding for the past three months and, until this week, the world press, and in particular the English language world press, has gone largely silent. The one exception has been Al Jazeera which, from the very start, seemed to sense that something was going on, and has had almost daily reports, often two or three a day.

Yesterday, Al Jazeerareported on a march through Managua. People demanded justice for victims in a scenario in which masked paramilitary forces are attacking barricades, churches, schools, communities, individuals, and justice itself. Another Al Jazeera report yesterday noted that the United Nations and much of the rest of the international community has called for a negotiated end to the violence, but there is no negotiation with masked parastatal agents who seek to terrorize not only the population but the very idea of negotiated settlement. Al Jazeera also updated its ongoing “Nicaragua unrest: What you should know”.

You should know that the world has stood by while 300 people have been butchered. You should know that the world press largely stood by while 300 people have been butchered, and you should ask, “Why?” How many Nicaraguans must die before “pressure mounts on Ortega”?

There is “unrest” in Nicaragua, but there’s unrest everywhere. The news in Nicaragua is that there’s a massacre taking place, and yet again much of the world has not cared. It took an assault on a church, with students and, significantly, a Washington Postreporter, to draw some attention. Yesterday, José Mujica, the former President of Uruguay, condemned the State violence in Nicaragua and lamented his error in not doing so much earlier. In his remarks, Mujica declared, “I remember the names of comrades who gave their lives in Nicaragua, fighting for a dream. I feel that something that was a dream has gone awry, has fallen into autocracy that those who were once revolutionaries have lost the understanding that in life there are moments when one has to say, ‘I’m going.’”

There’s much to say about what’s going on in Nicaragua, for example the role of women as leaders of the struggle for justice, but for now it’s important to say anything, to insist that our local and national and international news media do better, do something, do anything, because if they don’t, when the “international community” finally decides to “do something”, almost certainly that something will be military, which is precisely not what the Nicaraguans calling for Ortega’s resignation want. They want justice, not invasion.

In another context and time, and yet the same, Nicaraguan poet Giocanda Belli wrote,

 

“¿Qué sos, Nicaragua?

¿Qué sos
Sino un triangulito de tierra
Perdido en la mitad del mundo?

¿Qué sos
Sino un vuelo de pájaros
Guardabarrancos
Cenzontles
Colibríes?

¿Qué sos
Sino un ruido de ríos
Llevándose las piedras pulidas y brillantes
Dejando pisadas de agua por los montes?

¿Qué sos
Sino pechos de mujer hechos de tierra,
Lisos, puntudos y amenazantes?

¿Qué sos
Sino cantar de hojas en árboles gigantes
Verdes, enmarañados y llenos de palomas?

¿Qué sos
Sino dolor y polvo y gritos en la tarde,
—Gritos de mujeres, como de parto—?

¿Qué sos
Sino puño crispado y bala en boca?

¿Qué sos, Nicaragua
Para dolerme tanto?”

 

“What are you, Nicaragua?

What are you,
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?

What are you,
a flight of birds,
guardabarrancos
cenzontles
hummingbirds?

What are you,
a roar of rivers
carrying off polished, shiny stones,
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?

What are you,
a woman’s breasts made of earth,
smooth, pointed and threatening?

What are you,
a song of leaves in giant trees,
green, tangled, filled with doves?

What are you,
pain and dust and screams in the afternoon,
screams of women as if in childbirth?

What are you,
clenched fist, bullet in the mouth?

What are you, Nicaragua,
to hurt me so deeply?”

What are you, Nicaragua … and who is asking? Who hears the screams in the afternoon and who is paying any attention?

 

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera)

Nicaraguan feminists protest for their bodies, autonomy, lives

The news of the day was that Democratic representatives walked out of a hearing on “religious liberty and birth control.” Republicans had blocked the testimony of a woman who wanted to speak in favor of the Obama administration’s compromise on birth control.  But the Republicans allowed representatives, men, from conservative religious organizations to testify.  House Representative Carolyn Maloney remarked, “What I want to know is, where are the women?”

A picture tweeted by Planned Parenthood illustrates this question completely.

Where are the women?  In Nicaragua, some women are in the streets.

Yesterday, at the International Poetry Festival in Granada, there was a parade, with dancing and singing and cheers.

There was also a protest by Nicaraguan women.  Nicaraguan feminists.

On the parade route, a group of Nicaraguan women, wearing signs that read “Fui violada y ahora estoy embarazada.  ¿Te parece justo?” (“I was raped and now I am pregnant.  Does that seem just?) lay down in the middle of the parade, stopping the flow of the marching.  They passed out flowers in protest of the ban against therapeutic abortion in the country.

Therapeutic abortion—an abortion performed to save the life of a pregnant woman—had been constitutional in Nicaragua up until October 2006.  When Sandinista politician Daniel Ortega re-assumed the presidency, he kept the law intact, a complete reversal from his stance before his re-election.  Women’s groups have been pressuring the State to repeal the ban, but Ortega’s switch came with the support of an important Catholic bishop.  Within a year of the law’s passing, 82 women had died due to lack to life-saving abortion procedures.

The State passes regulations preventing women from accessing health care that would save their lives.  Then the State uses religious institutions to embolden its position.  Sound familiar?

Violence against women more than often flows from patriarchal institutions trying to police their bodies and autonomy.  It happens globally, outside the United States, and inside the country just as easily.

Women are defending their equality all over the world, in the State and in the streets.  That is where they will be until the job is done.

(Photo Credit: Esteban Felix / AP / Guardian)

 

Domestics: I am myself and my circumstances

I am a member of a women’s group called Woman, Action and Change. We are part of Tenants and Workers United of Northern Virginia. We are predominantly Latina immigrant and migrant women from all parts of Latin America. Our members include Mexicans, Dominicanas, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Chileans, Argentines, many women from many countries. I am from Nicaragua. I have been living continuously in the United States for only 16 months.

When the group selected me to talk about domestic work, I was worried about how to approach a subject of which I am not an expert and then I remembered an expression of José Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, who said: “I am myself and my circumstances” so I decided to approach it from my own experience.

I’m from Nicaragua. My mother came from a poor farming family. As a single mother she raised 5 children alone. My mother was an entrepreneur. She had a store and all of us had to work ever since we could remember. I grew up with the image of a strong, working woman, and in an environment where domestic work was part of an effort to sustain the family. I grew up working and studying, got married and, as my mother did, I took care of my home and my children as part of my duties to support and protect my family.

Antecedents

As we all know, in developing countries, domestic work has been used as a mechanism to preserve machismo. In most of these countries, girls are educated to manage the home and boys are educated to have jobs and participate in the greater world.

Under these conditions, domestic work is a form of subjugation of women because their principle duty is to look after the home. Often, women are exploited and in the case of working women, they work the equivalent of triple shifts in order to manage a career and take care of the home. This represents an obstacle to professional development because many women drop out of school to find jobs to solve the needs of their family. For Latin American women like me, completing household chores in addition to our career responsibilities is a source of identity and pride.

There are countries that have incorporated legislation for domestic workers and social security. In some cases this is an appeal by the ruling parties to provide a progressive image and appear concerned about this part of the electorate marginalized by all public health policies.

This is a way to hide the inability to create better jobs. However, the inclusion of the domestic worker in the social security system provides them with medical care benefits and pension rights.

Domestic work in the USA

In this country domestic work has become a job for immigrant women to allow them to survive and meet the needs of their family. Except for in the movies, where we see an elegant butler, well trained and educated for these tasks, this “profession” seems to be exclusively for poor immigrant women.

A little while ago, the National Domestic Workers Alliance convened in Washington, D.C. This organization deals with the work of humanizing domestic work. It has brought to the table an interesting proposal to give more substance to this career.

Estimates are that the Baby Boomer generation reached 13 million in 2000 and in 2050 will be 27 million. This will require over 3 million healthcare workers to take care of them as they gradually age, making geriatric care a moral imperative for this country. Thousands of people, who have built the economic success of this country, will enter old age alone and without help as a result of globalization and the global economic crisis.

We have heard a lot about the budget cuts to social services in the media and the only proposals for jobs seem to focus on technology. In my opinion, there is no effort being made to support real people living in this country today. This is very irresponsible. Domestic workers can help resolve major societal issues through the care of the elderly, disabled and young members of our community. In the long run, this is much more important for building our quality of life because each of us will eventually be old and need help, too.

Today anti-immigrants accuse immigrants of taking jobs from Americans. I don’t think anyone is taking anything from anybody. The jobs filled by immigrant women, in particular, are low-wage domestic workers. These women work in horrid conditions for the chance to feed their families.

It is important that we discuss the legislative opportunities available to improve working conditions and educational opportunities for domestic workers. Improvements in those areas are connected to the outcomes and improvements in the care and wellbeing of our health, for the elderly, disabled and children. By supporting the development of women we will make our society stronger.

 

(Photo Credit: D.C. Intersections / Kate Musselwhite)