“Here, you can buy a girl for 20 dollars”
In Puerto Cabeza, on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, the fishing boats rock between waves, waiting for tomorrow’s catch. But what appears to be a picturesque paradise on the surface has a dark side. Here, anyone wishing to do so can buy a girl for just 20 dollars. The younger she is, the more it costs.
- A girl under 10 can cost up to 30 dollars. If she’s lucky, she will come home after a few days or a week. Sometimes she’ll be pregnant, but she will have always been raped. Many of them never get to see their families again, says Ninoska Rita Sanchez Reyes, activist at Diakonia’s partner organization AMICA.
Traditions poisioned by poverty
This oppression has a long history. Ancient traditions live on in a context poisoned by racism, discrimination and poverty. Women and children are the most vulnerable. The population, which mainly consists of Miskito and Mayagna, two of the ten indigenous peoples that have lived here for hundreds of years, does not only have its own customs and traditions – it also speaks its own language. This is something that has often been a factor that has contributed to their exclusion.
- We have women and girls who not only encounter violence, abuse and oppression in their home villages – when they finally manage to leave to get help or to create better lives for themselves, they come up against racism. Many bear witness to doctors refusing to see them, hearing at women’s shelters that they smell or are thieves, and how the fact that they don’t speak Spanish but instead speak a minority language closes many doors, says Ninoska.
Sexual violence in the wake of macho culture
Like many other countries in Latin America, Nicaragua is characterised by a strong macho culture. One in which women are seen more as property than people with their own free will, without the right to decide over their own bodies. According to AMICA sexual violence is widespread, but it is most prevalent in isolated villages and smaller communities. It affects thousands of women and girls.
- In many communities, raping girls is viewed as normal. The perpetrators may be fathers, grandfathers, uncles or even brothers. It is viewed as a pain that must be endured. But it doesn’t mean that the girls accept it, says Ninoska.
Recently they had a case with a 13-year-old girl who told them that her father had been raping her since she was 9.
- We naturally reported it, the father was arrested and we started working on the case. Following pressure from her family, the girl said to the judge that she couldn’t recall what she’d said. I still remember her last words before we parted: ‘If I’m not pregnant in three months’ time, it’s because God is great.’ She still lives with him today. Things like that stay rooted within you, says Ninoska.
Support making a difference to thousands
AMICA is one of few organizations in the region to work with sexual violence. They have received support from Diakonia since 2003, and their need is great. AMICA currently supports around 5,000 women and girls regarding issues such as sexual and reproductive health, financial and legal rights, and developing strategies to prevent violence against women. For an organization with just a handful of employees, it is a strain that is tangible not only in their professional lives but also their private lives.
- I have three daughters and am constantly forced to discuss with my husband how we should raise them. My husband would prefer that my eldest, who’s 15, dressed in a certain way and that she took responsibility for the household when I’m not at home. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I separated from him. What I do know is that I’m tired of fighting all the time. We learn from a very early age that everything that happens in the home and with the family is the fault of the woman. A young woman who perhaps dresses a little provocatively only has herself to blame if she gets raped. We need to break this cycle, says Ninoska.
A government that lets women down
Women’s rights are given a low priority in Nicaragua.
- Despised by their husbands and families, and with the state not taking its social responsibility, the alternative is often to find a new husband and have even more children or, in the worst case scenario, turn to prostitution, says Rodalina Gonzales, who is also an AMICA activist.
Those who dare to defy the abortion ban and society’s moral codes risk their lives when they seek help at illegal abortion clinics. These are the structures that have created and continue to create new generations of impoverished people, with single women who have no education, employment opportunities or support from society. The majority of the women working at AMICA have experienced first hand the oppression that they are now fighting against.
- My mother was raped by her step-father for many years. She had six children by him. Once he cut her across the stomach so that she nearly bled to death. She was 16 years old. It was from her that I learned to stand up for myself. To be the woman I am today, a feminist. I myself experienced an attempted rape when I was 15. It was in the back seat of a taxi. I screamed, bit him and fought him off as much as I could manage, and finally I got free and ran as fast as I could, says Rodalina Gonzales.
The struggle continues
There are a lot of witness statements and a large number of unreported cases. But despite this there are some glimpses of light in the darkness. One of these is the struggle that AMICA and other organizations are engaged in.
- There is hope. We help a lot of women and girls. Personally I can see how my daughter is standing up for herself. Yes, it’s difficult for her but I’m happy when I see how she lives her life the way she wants to. We all have the right to a life of dignity and respect, says Ninoska.