CM8M: Providing shelter when the government won’t

womens-dayToday is International Women’s Day – a time to celebrate all that has been achieved for women’s rights in the last century and a time to pause and reflect on all that still needs to be done. We don’t live in a world where women have lives free from violence or where gender equality is the norm. I’ve been back in Canada now for a few weeks. In the conversations I’ve had with others, especially women, about my experiences in Nicaragua they often remark how fortunate we are to live in a country where women have recognized reproductive health rights and access to government funded women’s shelters. It’s true – while it’s not a perfect system we do have options.

One of the most important aspects of CM8M’s work in Managua is running a women’s shelter as a vital response to the overwhelming problem of domestic violence in Nicaragua. The State provides no services for women who are in urgent need of refuge and help. In the last seventeen years the Colectivo has safeguarded the lives of 5 120 women and their 15 360 children. Of this number nearly 11% (1 659) girls were victims of rape. These women have experienced horrific abuse, have often been threatened with death by their partners and have experienced psychological, economic, emotional and sexual violence. Most have very low educational levels and no formal jobs.

domestic-violence-victim-007The Colectivo’s women’s shelter provides a safe space where up to 35 people (13 women and roughly 22 children and teenagers) are housed and fed for a period of up to three months. The women receive support on moving forward with their lives and in dealing with the trauma they’ve been subjected to. The Colectivo coordinates with public officials and justice centers to ensure that the women’s legal cases are properly dealt with and that their children continue to receive formal education.

Currently there is no such shelter in Esquipulas, though the Colectivo is one day hoping to build a shelter on the top floor of their office. There is nowhere for women in the town and surrounding communities to go when they are in danger or in need. During my last week in Esquipulas a young fifteen year old girl visited us with her baby, desperate for help. She was from Costa Rica and had met her boyfriend, a twenty-two year old from Esquipulas, while he was living and working there. The year before, when she was just fourteen, they had a daughter. The relationship itself is illegal – a child of that age is not in a position to give consent. Her boyfriend convinced her to return to Nicaragua with him, but not long after arriving he began to beat her. When she threatened to report him to the police he fled, leaving her and their child alone with nowhere to go and not even enough money for a bus ticket back to Costa Rica. All of us at the Colectivo that day so badly wanted to be able to offer her and her daughter refuge and be able to ease her burden. We need women’s shelters so that we can protect the lives of women and children in danger. We need them so that when there are no other options, we are there. We need women’s shelters so that we don’t have to turn young, vulnerable woman like that girl away.

holding_sunThis year the Colectivo in Managua only has 18% of the annual cost of the shelter covered out of a budget of $140 000 needed to cover all the costs. The Colectivo in Esquipulas doesn’t have any money yet for such a service. On International Women’s Day we need to remember that women’s rights organizations need us for support in the pursuit of economic resources. We are privileged to be in a position where we can afford to help. If any of you would live to give to the women’s shelter initiative in Nicaragua please let me know and I can put you in touch with the Colectivo. Your donation will go directly to the shelter and I can promise you your support will matter and will make a difference.

The last leg of my Nica journey

photo (1) The last month has flown by and it’s hard to believe I only have six weeks left here in Nicaragua. My husband has come and left; we spent three wonderful weeks travelling around the country. Highlights include exploring Ometepe Island by motorcycle, communicating with howler monkeys on a hike around Maderas Volcano, wandering through Somoto Canyon near the Honduras border, getting nearly lost in a cloud forest and perhaps Ryan’s favourite, being serenaded by three competing Mariachi bands in a lively bar in Managua. It was hard to see him leave and his visit reminded me how difficult long distance relationships can be. Skype calls and text messages don’t replace the warmth and intimacy of being together in person. However, I am grateful for a partner who respects my independence and who supports and is proud of my career, even if that means spending half a year half a world apart.

photo (2)

In the last of my time here I’ll be focusing my efforts on wrapping up the webpage I have created for the Colectivo and putting together a context report on Esquipulas. The latter will involve interviewing the local health centre, the mayor, the local judge, schools, police and other NGOs to compile information on birth and death rates, prevalent diseases, education rates, average age of pregnant women, reported incidence of violence against women and so on. The latest statistics the Colectivo have are years old and are not comprehensive. It’s important to have this information as it helps the Colectivo to better address key issues, to plan effective initiatives and to track progress or setbacks. I’m looking forward to having a project I can focus on and creating a much needed resource.

There continues to be no working internet at the Colectivo’s office and there have recently been problems with the phone line and my laptop, meaning we are completely disconnected now. This doesn’t surprise me, though it continues to make work difficult and reminds me how dependent we have become on technology. I’m in Managua now, getting ready to head back up to Esquipulas and enjoying my last few days being ‘connected’. Here is to wishing everyone a happy and fulfilling New Year. May we take risks, find joy in each day, learn from one another and give thanks for what we have.

A small glimpse of life in Esquipulas

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It has been quite the experience living in a small, Northern mountain town in Nicaragua for the past three months. It has been both challenging and rewarding. I joke that the one internet café in town has become my new office, because we are still waiting for the internet connection at the Colectivo to be fixed after two months. I’m used to sharing the roads and even buses with chickens and pigs and I have almost mastered the technique of the bucket shower. Every day I stop to take in the views here of the sprawling mountain ranges. I’ve picked up the local phrases and have learned to laugh when people can’t understand my Spanish, despite my best efforts at a Nica accent. Most importantly, perhaps, has been the people I have met – my colleagues and the local women who attend our workshops and come to us for help. They have taught me more about this country than I would ever learn as just a tourist. They have shown me the strength and resilience of the women’s rights movement, as well as the difficulty and obstacles faced here in the fight against patriarchy and machismo. I’ve included some photos to give you a small glimpse of what daily life is like here. As I come to the half way mark of my time in Nicaragua I would also like to thank you – my friends, family and supporters – for your encouragement on this journey of mine.