When I arrived in Nicaragua my colleagues and host family warned me to exercise caution in this country. They spoke of parts of the city to avoid, to be careful on buses and in taxis, to carry few belongings especially those of value, to never be out at night alone, to be alert at all times and have a plan to defender myself if I were to be attacked. Being a woman puts me at a heightened risk of being accosted and being a foreigner, especially a “chela” (white and very pale) one makes that risk even higher. Of course poverty breeds crime, especially opportune crimes. I have travelled a lot in my life so this did not surprise me.
However it is the gender element that I have been mulling over of late. It is not just foreigners or those with money that need to be constantly looking over their shoulders – it is all women in Nicaragua. A woman’s body itself becomes a target. Women’s bodies, our bodies, act as commodities to be had and taken. While the possibility of rape lives with all women in developed countries and developing countries alike, I am more acutely aware of it here. In Nicaragua the world doesn’t seem as safe a place as it should, as it does when I am at home. It saddens and angers me that violence against women is so common here that it forms a very real part of women’s daily lives. It frustrates me that it restricts my movement, my freedom to go where I choose and when. Women have the right to be able to live without fear. Women shouldn’t have to live with the expectation that they will be attacked.
I should note, as an aside, that I do feel comfortable here. I enjoy taking early evening walks with Fiona, the family pit bull, through the neighbourhood and feel safe. I am cautious, but I am not letting fear ruin my experience. The people are friendly and my host family takes wonderful care of me. It helps knowing I have them looking out for me too.