By Christina Sudduth & Mara D’Amico*
Violence against women is a pervasive problem throughout the world, and global attention to the issue is prompting some nations to take action. This attention to such a critical women’s health and human rights topic could not be more timely considering the push-back occurring in Nicaragua against the national Law 779 which went into effect on June 22, 2012. (El Nuevo Diario, 2013; Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, 2012). Law 779 strengthens the protection of victims and creates an avenue for women to seek justice in such cases of violence against women. (Amnesty International, 2013; El Presidente de la República de Nicaragua, 2013). Nations seeking to adopt similar legislation should look at the successes and challenges of implementing Law 779 in Nicaragua.
One in three women are affected by violence, which is known to be experienced by women of all socioeconomic levels, races, ethnicities and across all parts of the world. (World Health Organization, 2013). Such violence has serious implications on women’s physical, psychological and economic health, and it is a critical issue that is rooted firmly in gender inequality. (World Health Organization, 2013). In June 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a comprehensive report on global intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence against women, incorporating results from almost 30 years of data. The report indicates that the prevalence rate of violence against women in the Americas is at around 36%, and other reports place parts of Nicaragua with rates as high as 52%. (World Health Organization, 2013; Ellsberg et al., 2000). The WHO utilizes this data to illustrate how violence can and should be prevented with the proper action, such as changes in national legislation against violence. (World Health Organization, 2013).
It is recognized that policies do take time to implement. However, with the new legislation in place for over a year, agencies such as Amnesty International and other human rights groups are still concerned by the reaction of some opponents of the law who are stating that the legislation is tearing families apart, and that it is “anti-family”. (El Nuevo Diario, 2013; Amnesty International, 2013). What these groups fail to acknowledge is that the violence itself is the real culprit, not the new law. (Amnesty International, 2013). Those who are in favor of Law 779 are disappointed by the lack of commitment shown by the government thus far. (Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, 2012).
During a personal conversation with one of the authors, a police officer of the women and children’s division of the Nicaraguan police department (Comisaría de la Mujer y la Niñez) described herself as being overwhelmed with the amount of violations occurring and being reported in her region. The officer noted that the majority of these reports fell under the category of physical abuse, and that, shockingly, many of the women were previously unaware that this was considered a crime. From January to March 2013, 8,768 reports were made to the Comisaría de la Mujer y la Niñez throughout Nicaragua, while only 6,706 cases had been reported during the same time period in 2012. (El Nuevo Diario, 2013). The statements of the female police officer, as well as a report released by the Network of Women against Violence, demonstrate that there are not enough resources being designated to the authorities to effectively respond to the needs of women in their communities. (Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, 2012).
Even if government officials had sufficient resources to fulfill the legislation, existing societal norms make it difficult for women to speak about the violence they have endured. As seen firsthand by one of the authors, in some of the smaller and more rural communities in Nicaragua, gossip can be ubiquitous and prevents many women from having a safe space where they can talk about the violence they have experienced. This is compounded by the belief held by some that violence is punishment for being a bad wife. Women choose not to disclose their experiences with violence for fear of ridicule and stigma from neighbors and family members. Finally, many women will not pursue litigation for their case because they may be financially dependent on their partner and may not be able to survive economically without his income. Even still, during conversations with Nicaraguan women, many spoke of the desire to know more about what is included in Law 779, how and what types of incidents they can report, and how important it is for them to know their rights.
In Nicaragua, activists are calling for a strong response from the government, including activities such as: investigating these ever-increasing reports on acts of violence against women; creating a national budget that reflects the changes outlined in the policy and strengthening the protection of the victims without weakening the expected penalty of offenders. (Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, 2012).
The attention of the international community and continued support from civil rights groups in the country is necessary to keep the momentum going, and to maintain the focus on women who are taking courageous steps to document their experiences with violence. In addition, political leaders around the world should take a look at the example of Nicaragua’s Law 779 to learn from these challenges and successes in order to push forward their own anti-violence legislation. The further development of women’s organizations and support groups can help encourage women and men, families and officials to take a stand against violence, to shine a light on gender inequality, and to further move local communities down the challenging path toward social change.
* Mara D’Amico was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and received a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business and Spanish from Central Michigan University in 2010. Upon graduation, D’Amico moved to Miami, Florida and completed two AmeriCorps terms working in civic engagement at Miami Dade College and the University of Miami. She moved to Little Rock in 2012 to pursue a Master of Public Service at the Clinton School of Public Service. Here, Mara has served as Student Body President, and has completed field service projects working to address recidivism in Little Rock, violence against women on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, and policy related to women and girls in Arkansas. D’Amico will graduate from the Clinton School in May 2014, and plans to work in the field of public policy.
Christina Sudduth is currently a graduate student at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, as well as a project coordinator for a statewide anti-hunger advocacy organization called Florida Impact. Her work and studies have focused on the issues of global health, hunger and poverty, and women’s rights within the context of the non-profit, public health research and public policy sectors. Before beginning her graduate program, Christina served two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA, coordinating civic engagement initiatives at Miami Dade College. A west coast native, she graduated from Oregon State University in 2010 with a B.S. in Nutrition Science and a B.A. in International Studies with a focus on Latin American communities and the Spanish language
1. La Agencia Centroamericana de Noticias (ACAN-EFE). Unos 97 casos de violencia contra la mujer se denuncian al día en Nicaragua. El Nuevo Diario. May 11, 2013. http://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/nacionales/285755. Accessed February 3, 2014.
2. Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia. Informe anual de femicidio 2012. http://www.reddemujerescontralaviolencia.org.ni/file/Violencia%20Intrafamiliar/Feminicidios/Informe_Anual_de_femicidio_2012_RMCV.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2014.
3. Amnesty International. Press Releases, Nicaragua: Authorities should support law protecting women from violence. 3 May, 2013. http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/nicaragua-authorities-should-support-law-protecting-women-violence-2013-05-. Accessed February 3, 2014.
4. El Presidente de la República de Nicaragua. Ley No. 779: Ley integral contra la violencia hacia las mujeres y de reformas a la Ley No. 641, “Codigo Penal” 2012. http://www.asomif.org/images/stories/CEDOC/Leyes/ley_779.%20ley%20de%20la%20violencia%20contra%20la%20mujer.pdf. Accessed February 4, 2014.
5. World Health Organization. Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and nonpartner sexual violence. 2013. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/9789241564625/en/. Accessed February 3, 2014.
6. Ellsberg, M., Pena, R., Herrera, A., Liljestrand, J., & Winkvist, A. (2000). Candies in hell: Women’s experiences of violence in Nicaragua. Social Science & Medicine, 51, 1595-1610.