'Red alert' in Nicaragua: Activists fight back against spike in femicides
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'Red alert' in Nicaragua: Activists fight back against spike in femicides

Every four days, a Nicaraguan woman has died at the hands of a partner, spouse or family member in 2014, marking a dramatic spike in femicides in the small country.

Feminist activists are taking action through public demonstrations, educational programs and organizing in neighborhoods and communities. The actions began with a string of simultaneous protests in cities throughout the country in July as the number of femicides in the year approached, then eclipsed, 50. So far this year, there have been 59 femicides, according to the Network of Women Against Violence.

The rise in deadly violence against women comes in spite of a domestic violence law, Law 779, passed in 2012, that feminists hoped would help protect women and hold violent offenders to a higher standard of justice.

“It’s a new and controversial law that has generated a lot of rejection by men, religious leaders, journalists and more,” said María Martha Escobar, a feminist organizer in Managua. “In this context, these recent years have seen an increase in femicides. Facing this picture of violence and impunity, the organizations that work to stop the problem decided to announce a national red alert for the increase in assassinations of women.”

Since the law was passed, there have been various efforts to weaken it, such as adding language requiring mediation between the victim and her attacker as a possible part of the abuser’s punishment, and limiting the law’s scope to boyfriends and husbands, despite the prevalence of violence inflicted by other male family members and neighbors.

Because feminist activists and the government disagree about what qualifies as femicide, they have different counts for the number of deaths. At a candlelight vigil in July at the University of Central America in Managua, protesters screamed “There are 48, not 18,” highlighting the difference between the two groups’ statistics, and demanded that the government stop minimizing the deaths of women.

In Chinandega, Carla Bermudez is helping women organize so that they understand and are better able to fight for their rights. These efforts have seen backlash from local government — some women from rural communities who have participated in public actions have faced threats that they will lose access to public assistance programs that provide materials for home building and livestock, said Bermudez.

“In Chinandega and in other parts of the country, our actions are on track to strengthen us and empower us to mobilize our demands, ideas and complaints,” she said. “The government and its institutions don’t want to do their job of providing security for women and giving them access to justice.”

Despite the pressure and fear, activists are optimistic about the work women are doing. Escobar, the Managua organizer, said the movement has encouraged many women to speak out and reject violence and those that support and cover it up.

“In the midst of the drama of the violence, the culture of misogyny and the political manipulations that are subverting the laws and reality in Nicaragua,” she said. “I believe we have proof of rebellious women, activists who will resist violence. This is a latent reality that has become evident during the actions against the femicides.”