Photo: (c)Benedicte Desrus

Women Empowerment in Nicaragua

“We women will never stop feeling inferior because men control us. They will never let us live our lives.”

Maria Fernanda Pineda Calero is just 17 but is fully aware of the weight of the strong macho culture in her country, Nicaragua. Not afraid to call herself a feminist, in addition to study engineering, she promotes a program (“Born to fly”) that teaches girls about their sexual and reproductive rights and their right to citizenship.

This isn’t easy in Nicaragua, a small country in Central America, where girls and women face serious discrimination. The law prohibits abortion in all cases, even when the mother is a victim of rape. And sexual violence in the country is widespread: in 2013 alone, at least 6,069 cases of violence were recorded and the main victims (88% of cases) were girls. As a result, Nicaragua has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America: 28% of teenagers give birth to a child before the age of 18.

For Maria, the objective is the fight against the machista culture that dominates Nicaragua, which places men above women. This culture is transmitted by the families and the school: girls are merely required “to have children and to be subservient, submissive and weak.” Women in Nicaragua are simple “caregivers” in a society that considers them “objects of pleasure for men.”
She reaches her peers in the small rural community of the Esteli region through the “Nací para Volar” (“Born to fly”) program. She has spent time with them, talking about those issues that no one discusses at school or at home. She explains to the other girls what are their sexual and reproductive health rights and their rights as citizens.

For Maria, promoting sex education projects is the only way to provide the knowledge needed to have full rights over her own body. “The sexual health is important for the empowerment of women who must be free to make decisions about their own bodies. We women must not allow men to manipulate us, control us or enslave us,” she explains. “As women, we must all agree on this. We have to be in agreement that we want to control our mind, our body and whether to have children.

In 2015, “Nací para Volar” included 84 girls and has recently expanded its activities, mainly to rural areas of the country where teenage pregnancy (in girls as young as 13-14 years old) is more widespread. Spreading information and raising awareness about their rights is a key element to offering the possibility of a better life for many girls. “Now, for me, having a boyfriend is not a priority. Having someone to lean on is not a priority,” says Maria. “Sometimes I wonder how many children I would have by now if I had not attended training seminars in the past. I probably would have children by now.”