Role of women in the Nicaraguan Revolution

Women that joined the Sandinista movement in the revolutionary Nicaragua essentially fought a battle: to secure national freedom from the Somoza dictatorship and to advance gender equality.[1]

There was an emergence of women as active participants and leaders. Many women joined the ranks of the Sandinistas as Women and the Armed Struggle in Nicaragua starting in 1967.[1]

Women also joined the Contras movement. Women from both the Sandinistas and Contras worked together to generate reform in Nicaragua.[2]


It is estimated that women made up approximately 25 to 30 percent of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).[2] On the other side of the revolution, women also participated, albeit in fewer numbers. It is estimated that seven percent of Counter Revolutionary Soldiers (Contras) were women.[2] Women on both sides of the revolution were involved in many roles, including: organizers, supporters of communications, providers of their homes for their female comrades’ protection, and persuaders of their husbands to join the revolution.

A change in gender relations was limited due to the process being shaped by the values and priorities of the Sandinista government rather than by the main women's organization AMNLAE (Asociacion de Mujeres Nicaraguenses Luisa Amanda Espinosa) or the rising Feminist Ideology During the Sandinista Revolution, which resulted in the victory of the opposition candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, over the incumbent Daniel Ortega in the 1990 elections that ended the revolution.[3]

The women were empowered to challenge any attempts that would reduce them back to the domestic role. Chamorro's portrayal of women reinforced rather than challenged the politics of gender equality in Nicaragua.

Feminist ideologyEdit

The women in Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution saw their way of life drastically change. Women became involved as guerrilla fighters in the overthrown of the Anastasio Somoza García regime, as many women mobilized to assist the FSLN bring about the revolution.[1]

Early in the revolution, the FSLN made the emancipation of women one of its top goals. With the assistance with their partner and the predominant women's organization AMNLAE (Asociacion de Mujeres Nicaraguenses Luisa Amanda Espinosa), the FSLN made significant progress towards this goal. Specifically, the Sandinistas prohibited the use of women as sexual objects; the female body could not be used to sell products in Nicaragua.[1] The Sandinistas promoted breast feeding and made legalized breaks for working women to do so, eliminated the distinction between children born in and out of wedlock, banned the former "family wage" that saw male heads of households receive the wage of his wife and children's labor, and established penalties to suppress prostitution. They required that men and women shared the household duties including child care. This requirement came in the form of a "nurture law," which mandated that men were responsible for half of whatever their child needed—education, upbringing, support, clothing, etc.—until they reached eighteen.[1]

Nicaraguan feminists were not able to find a voice through AMNLAE, who they saw as more feminine than feminist, thus many feminists cut their ties with what they see as a right-wing organization and began advocating for gender equality on their own. This became increasing difficult during the Contra war when AMNLAE, the FSLN, and other independent women shifted their focus away from emancipating women and towards winning the war. The reluctance for AMNLAE to explicitly pursue the anti-sexism agenda and the subsequent acceptance of more traditional roles for women and families by the FSLN was largely responsible for the outcome of the 1990 elections.[3]

In 1990, Violeta Chamorro, representing the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), was elected into office. [4] This was not only a defeat for the FSLN and revolutionaries but for the Nicaraguan feminists. Because neither AMNLAE nor the FSLN explicitly challenged the sexist controversies, they subsequently fell to a much more traditional and conservative party led by a woman president fulfilling the typical gender-roles that Nicaraguan feminists felt that women desperately needed to dismantle during the revolution.[5]

Women in the armed struggleEdit

The women in revolutionary Nicaragua played a significant and uncharacteristic role in the revolution as guerrillas in the armed forces, subsequently challenging their traditional roles as mothers and primary caregivers. Their initial entry point into the public sphere as guerrillas was a precursor to women's further involvement in more political revolutionary events and agendas. Women of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds joined both sides of the conflict as part of the Sandinista revolutionary forces, and as part of the counter-revolutionary forces.

Women joined the FSLN to challenge the Somoza regime for many reasons which in essence surrounded the issue of the political repression of Nicaraguan women and Nicaraguan youth in particular. The FSLN began integrating women into their guerrilla forces in 1967. Unlike other left-wing guerrilla groups in the region, the Sandinistas espoused progressive views on gender equality because they believed that winning women's support and participation in the revolution would only strengthen it and ensure greater success. This in turn led to women aligning with the Sandinistas and the additional support of young Sandinista women who wanted to revolt against the Somoza regime.[1]

Women participating in the revolution (1970)

Women among the FSLN were encouraged to participate in every aspect of combatant and civilian life as equals to their male counterparts.[5] Women had their own battalions which marched in rallies organized by the FSLN such as the one held in 1979 in the town of Carazo. Women were required to carry forty pound backpacks, and men were required to engage in traditionally-female tasks such as food preparation. Although men heavily outnumbered women in the leadership positions within FSLN ranks, women consisted of approximately 25 to 30 per cent of the members.

Similarly, the National Guard also had women among its ranks, active as police officers as well as in the EEBBI, the Somoza regime's special forces. These women also saw combat actions against the guerrillas.

Luisa Amanda Espinoza was the first Sandinista woman to be killed in battle against the Somoza regime, was one of the revolutionary role models.[1] Espinoza, before joining the ranks of the FSLN, was a poor urban woman who had left her abusive husband. Surviving many dangerous missions, she was killed after being betrayed by an informant. Her name was later incorporated to the Nicaraguan women's association, AMNLAE (Asociacion de Mujeres Nicaraguenses Luisa Amanda Espinosa) in commemoration of her role in the revolution. Sandinista women, largely supported by the major women's organization of the time, AMNLAE, fought to preserve the revolution and continue the fight for women's emancipation by maintaining the Feminist Ideology During the Sandinista Revolution. The AMNLAE provided women with legal aid if they needed it for child support cases or divorce, and helped women who were being mentally or physically abused.[1] The association also had a journal for women with information on women's bodies, birth control, pregnancy, and their menstrual cycles as well as political information in a form that was easy to read as many of the women were not fully literate.[1]

Female counter revolutionariesEdit

Female Contras Commandos (1987)

Nicaraguan women participated as part of the counter-revolutionaries or Contras for many reasons. Many joined as part of a general native uprising by Amerindian people mistreated by the Sandinistas, others were former left-wing Sandinista supporters disaffected with the regime. However, all of the reasons women had for adopting counter revolutionary positions stem from personal experiences rather than purely ideological reasons.[2] Specifically, many women joined because of the men in their lives and the political decisions they made. It is estimated that seven percent of the Contras were women.[2]

Violeta Chamorro - the first female head of state in the Americas.

Similar to the organizations made by Sandinista women, the female members of the Contras created organizations to aid women who had lost husbands and children in the conflict. The Committee of Mothers of the Resistance (Comité de Madres de la Resistencia) was formed in an effort to obtain war pensions from the government.[2] The women of the Sandinista and Contra movement worked together. In 1993, groups of Sandinista and Contra women merged to form an organization with the goal to attempt reconciliation; the organization was called the Association of Mothers and Victims of War.[2] This organization managed to obtain pensions for a small number of women. It also funded and completed joint development projects. These development projects included a self-help housing project, food aid packages, and a construction cooperative. The housing project, El Progreso, built 26 houses for Mothers of the Resistance and 26 houses for Sandinista women.[2] In the construction cooperative, women learned how to make bricks and build latrines.[2] The organization also received funding from a German agency. This allowed them to buy a house where they could hold meetings, workshops, and courses for women.[2] The excess money was used to fund other initiatives such as: a credit fund, art classes for children, and training courses for women with disabilities in beauty therapy, floristry, baking, and dressmaking.[2]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Santos, Maria; Engel, Barbara Alpern (1983). "Women in the Nicaraguan Revolution". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 7 (2): 42–46. doi:10.2307/3346284. ISSN 0160-9009. JSTOR 3346284.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cupples, Julie (2006). "Between Maternalism and Feminism: Women in Nicaragua's Counter-Revolutionary Forces". Bulletin of Latin American Research. 25 (1): 83–103. doi:10.1111/j.0261-3050.2006.00154.x. ISSN 0261-3050. JSTOR 27733822.
  3. ^ a b Heumann, Silke (2014). "The Challenge of Inclusive Identities and Solidarities: Discourses on Gender and Sexuality in the Nicaraguan Women's Movement and the Legacy of Sandinismo". Bulletin of Latin American Research. 33 (3): 334–349. doi:10.1111/blar.12103. ISSN 1470-9856.
  4. ^ Kampwirth, Karen (1996). "The Mother of the Nicaraguans: Dona Violeta and the UNO's Gender Agenda". Latin American Perspectives. 23 (1): 67–86. doi:10.1177/0094582X9602300105. ISSN 0094-582X. JSTOR 2633938.
  5. ^ a b Mendez, Jennifer Bickham (June 2002). "Organizing a Space of their Own? Global/Local Processes in a Nicaraguan Women's Organization". Journal of Developing Societies. 18 (2–3): 196–227. doi:10.1177/0169796x0201800209. ISSN 0169-796X.


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