MANAGUA—Women from all corners of Nicaragua descended on Managua Thursday to celebrate International Women’s Day. Accompanied by the drums of the feminist group Batacuda Feminista and decked out in bright purple and white, the women chanted and marched through the streets, demanding the right to lives free from violence.
Banners demanded an “end to impunity” for perpetrators of crimes against women. Some protesters carried placards in the shapes of women to commemorate Nicaraguans murdered for their activism. One teenage activist held a homemade sign that read, “This body—you may not touch it. You may not rape it. You may not murder it.”
Other young feminists carried a banner declaring, “We start a revolution when we live in our bodies with pleasure.”
At the rally after the march, speakers criticized the government of Daniel Ortega for its “unconstitutionality” and disrespect for women’s rights. Many referenced the right to a therapeutic abortion, which the government opposes.
In 2006 the National Assembly criminalized all forms of abortions, including life-saving medical interventions when a woman’s life is endangered or to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape or incest. That made Nicaragua one of three Latin American countries with total abortion bans, and one of only five countries in the world to ban therapeutic abortion.
According to Magali Quintana from Catholics for the Right to Choose, 32 women die each year as a result of the ban.
Nicaragua also has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America, and a shockingly high rate of sexual violence against girls; two-thirds of reported rapes are committed against girls under 17.
Many of the women participating in Thursday’s demonstration condemned the violence against women.
“I came to support the mothers and other family members who have lost their daughters because their husbands, boyfriends, or partners have killed them or have left them mutilated, and for their children who are orphaned,” said Reyna Isabel Davila Día.
One success referenced by activists yesterday is the Integral Law passed in February that defines the murder of a woman with the legal term “femicide.” It imposes a minimum penalty of 15-20 years and a maximum of 30 years—the maximum for all crimes in Nicaragua.
Speakers at the rally drew attention to the latest figures for femicides: in 2011, 76 women were murdered by husbands, boyfriends or ex-partners, and the first two months of this year have seen 18 murders. More than half of the perpetuators of femicides last year were not brought to justice, resulting in a level of impunity that must be addressed, the Nicaraguan activists insist.
Despite the sobering statistics, activists emphasized the strength of the feminist movement in Nicaragua, and drew on the origins of International Women’s Day: successful labor strikes in the early 1900s that were pioneered by women factory workers in New York City.
The closing rally featured more of the color and music that began the march. Activists from Matagalpa invited everyone to join in by waving bright banners and tossing beach balls painted with words of inspiration: “freedom” and “equality.”