A step backwards for women’s rights in Nicaragua

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The Colectivo protesting the reform of Law 779 outside the National Assembly.

At the end of September the two parliamentary commissions responsible for reviewing the section of Law 779 that deals with mediation between victims and their abusers announced that the reform was approved. The commissions did not consult with women, communities or any NGOs in the country. The official approval of the reform occurred after a wider parliamentary vote in which only four out of eight-eight members of the Assembly voted against it.

This reform is a huge setback for the women’s rights movement in Nicaragua and for the safety of thousands of women. Mediation is now allowed for crimes with penalties of less than five years; this includes bodily harm, the abduction of children, psychological abuse, sexual assault and harassment both in the workplace and in the home.  The head of the supreme court has stated that mediation will not be obligatory and can be requested or denied by either party. However, many women in Nicaragua are in vulnerable positions – dependent on their partners for economic stability and often shunned by communities and family members when they denounce their abusers. Women are likely to feel pressured to agree to mediation even when their very lives are in danger. Mediation does not protect women; it often results in re-victimization and ongoing abuse.

The strength, passion and determination of the Colectivo and the women’s rights movement in this country amazes me. They tirelessly fight to have their voices heard and to demand real change and progress, yet the passing of this reform reminds me what we are up against – a powerful patriarchal society, a Catholic church in bed with the government and a long history of inequality and oppression. Those in power never want to release their hold of it, but the grip is weakening. So we have taken a step backwards, but we will continue to march forward.

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