Nicaragua’s Controversial Women’s Rights

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Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, allegedly abused stepdaughter of President Daniel Ortega

By: Abby Belongy

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum has released an annual Global Gender Gap Report, ranking nations based on gender disparities in economic, politics, education, and health.  Iceland came in 1st as the best nation for gender equality in 2013; the U.S. is 23rd.  Nicaragua cracks the top 10 at a surprising #9.  The country has a well-respected female Chief of Police and a wildly popular First Lady. The director of a pro-life organization states that “Nicaragua has the strongest feminist movement in Latin America.”  According to the quantitative data included in the report, Nicaragua ranks high in all 4 categories.  Its highest rank is in Political Empowerment, where it claims the 5th spot.  This stems from a law, approved by President Daniel Ortega, requiring women to hold 50% of all party and government positions.

However, women in Nicaragua argue that things aren’t quite as ideal as they appear.  For example, several women’s rights activists claim that women hold superficial political positions.  While they may have a respectable title, they cannot actively participate in the government and voice their opinions.  In many ways, they are only there to give off the appearance of an equal Nicaragua without having any real power.

Much more troubling, however, is the country’s problem of violence against women.  According to a report by Catholics for the Right to Choose, there were 50 cases of femicide in Nicaragua in 2013, and that was only through July.  Although supposedly 9th in closing the gender gap, Nicaragua has the 2nd highest rate of domestic violence in Latin America – one in three women report physical abuse.  A large majority of these women do not seek help.  They often feel shame and believe nothing will be done to punish the men.

Perhaps the case brought against President Daniel Ortega exacerbated this fear.  Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, Ortega’s own stepdaughter, first accused him of sexual abuse in 1998.  Now 45, she alleges that the now-President abused her from the age of 11.  Back in 1998, the court rejected her charges (even if her charges were accepted, the president is immune from any criminal prosecution).  With the help of the Inter-American Human Rights Council, Ortega Murillo’s case was legitimized.  However, her own mother (and Ortega’s wife) pushed her to drop the charges, and she complied in 2008.  Recently, though, Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo has reaffirmed her original claims of sexual abuse.

This case shows just how far Nicaragua still has to go.  Not only were the woman’s complaints rejected by the court, but she also faced pressure from other women (in this case, her own mother) to withdraw her charges.  On top of that, Daniel Ortega overwhelmingly won presidential elections while this took place.  This gives women the impression that no one will care or fight for their rights and safety.  Men will continue to get away with the abuse that is already entirely too prevalent in the country.  Quantitative reports may be the only way to get a great amount of information from all countries, but as we can see in Nicaragua, they clearly do not show the full picture.

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