The regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo established “gender equity” by law in Nicaragua. With the 50/50 Law, which reformed the Law of Municipalities or Law 40, women began to gain spaces in the mayoralties of Nicaragua, but in exchange for having a “designated, clientelist and party loyal” presence in public office, affirms the sociologist and feminist Sofia Montenegro.

The reform, approved on March 8, 2012, supposedly established the policy for public election of distributing positions 50/50, that is, half to men and half to women. The application in the municipal governments to a certain extent contributed to equalize the gender composition of the authorities in the Municipal Councils, although this parity in numbers does not mean that women were given real power.

“They are women who are only there because they were put in place by the government party and who are more than anything like a way of masking, they are symbolic women who serve to mask and give the impression that there is parity here in the participation of women in order to hide things while displaying the government’s supposedly democratic will.” says Montenegro.

Even when women in public positions are more conspicuous, few are publicly known by their full names, nor are their achievements known. They do not provide interviews, and the reports from the ministries they lead are communicated by the spokeswoman for the Sandinista regime, Rosario Murillo, who, along with Daniel Ortega, has been accused of moving them like chess pieces.

Thirteen years have passed since the approval of the 50/50 Law on Equal Rights and Opportunities. However, the long-awaited gender equality in all areas -political, social and economic- continues to be “an outstanding debt with women”, although for some organizations, the “situation has worsened”.

Although theoretically the participation of women was expanded, those who occupy positions in the Municipal Councils are still subordinate to the male leadership in those spaces and do not have the “capacity to decide.”

The sociologist believes that the regime is trying to exhibit a “supposed parity” in terms of  gender, but which in reality “lacks institutional weight, political credibility or authority.”

“Instead it is a strategy to divide up public patriarchy, through which women are not prevented from entering the state public space, but where control and the best positions are still held by men,” explains Montenegro.

Women who hold public office “enter in a subordinate way,” says the sociologist.

“In the end, they are all subordinate, because the only power that is obeyed, that requires absolute obedience, is that of Daniel Ortega and his wife, a single serving in two dishes that is.” says Montenegro.

“It is not a favor”

The teacher, sociologist and feminist activist who directs La Corriente, María Teresa Blandón, clarifies that the approval of legislation that might help gender parity “is not a favor” of a government, but is “the object of long feminist struggles and demands to get women’s work recognized”.

She points out that because of the context in which the 50/50 Law is applied, “it is just a mirage, which means that the regime does not lie when saying that these years the numerical participation of women has significantly increased, but it is not true in terms of decision-making”.

Men control the power

The study carried out by the Center for Constitutional Rights entitled “Without a Republic and without citizenship: political participation of women in Nicaragua in the 2014 legal and political context” revealed that the implementation of Law 50/50 has not changed the “condition of gender subordination, although the numerical correlation has changed in the favor of women”. The study was led by Montenegro.

The study’s findings, gleaned from interviews and focus groups, highlight the fact that women have “little margin for decision-making” in political spaces and evidences how control continues to be firmly in the hands of men.

“At a local level, these women have neither autonomy nor representation, nor the ability to decide anything, because they are completely subordinate (…) not to mention their participation as deputies in the National Assembly, which is absolutely useless, because no one there decides, those who decide are Rosario and Daniel Ortega. Everything is pure appearance”, emphasizes Montenegro. At the level of municipalities and state institutions, some women who have held important positions have finally been relegated and forced to submit and obey the dictatorial couple.

Commissioner General Róger Ramírez and First Commissioner Aminta Granera, together with the Commissioner Generals Francisco Diaz and Pablo Emilio Ávalos in an activity of the institution. Photo: Confidencial

Aminta Granera: From strong woman to ceremonial figure

On September 5, 2006, Aminta Elena Granera Sacasa was appointed director of the National Police, in the last stage of the Government of Enrique Bolaños.

Her appointment generated great expectations, since she received a totally delegitimized institution and it was assumed that she would bring an end to police corruption, as well as guarantee professionalism among the ranks of the police.

The woman police chief became a well-respected person in Nicaragua, to such an extent that in opinion polls, she led the list of public figures with a favorable rating ahead of Ortega himself and Murillo.

When Daniel Ortega came to power in 2007, the First Commissioner of the police submitted to the authoritarianism and arbitrariness of the regime. During the inauguration, Ortega swore in the head of the National Police and reminded her of the institution’s Sandinista roots.

Granera Sacasa, little by little, was stripped of her authority and eventually only performed public relations functions. Some police sources began to affirm that her position was only there for decoration.

In 2011, Ortega extended Granera Sacasa as head of the National Police and ratified it again in 2016, despite the fact that the decision was not legal. Some security analysts observed that his intention was to wear down any pretense of hers to run for president.

Granera Sacasa bowed to Ortega’s decisions and remained silent in the face of events that the entire society repudiated, such as the El Carrizo massacre (2011), the brutal attacks and theft against the #OcupaINSS protests (2013) and the Jagüitas massacre (2015), to name only a few.

After she assumed her third term of at the head of the institution, the public activities in which she participated became few and far between. Behind the police chief was always the male figure of Commissioner General Róger Ramírez Guzmán, who it was said to be the one really in command of police structures.

Ortega then paved the way for his son’s father-in-law Francisco Díaz to take over, sending several deputy directors of the Police into retirement, including Ramírez Guzmán.

Granera Sacasa gradually lost control of the Police, along with the trust and acceptance that she had enjoyed from the population and the media. She no longer appeared at public activities, and after 2015 her complete absence became evident.

In April 2018, she was silent and did not comment on the massacre carried out by the regime against the population.

Díaz was the one who appeared in public justifying the murders through appearances in official media outlets.

One of the last public appearances of Granera as the formal head of the Nicaraguan Police, occurred on April 23, 2018, when she participated in the funeral policewoman Juana Francisca Aguilar Cano, who died during the protests against Ortega.

At the end of April 2018, it came to light that Granera Sacasa had resigned from her position, while the country was in full turmoil and immersed in an unprecedented crisis.

On August 23 of that same year, through a presidential agreement published in La Gaceta, it was announced that Granera Sacasa had “concluded her career in the National Police” and her retirement was confirmed.

In September of that year, Díaz assumed the leadership of the public institution. A position that she in practice held long before.

Reyna Rueda: Fidel Moreno, the voice in the Mayor’s Office of Managua

The study conducted by Montenegro revealed that “appointing and removing” officials in a capricious way without giving any kind of explanations and going over the heads of municipal governments, actually discourages the participation of women.

Although in the last elections of 2017, women achieved more than 40% participation in the 153 municipalities of the country, their contribution to decision-making remains limited, as in the case of the current mayor of Managua, Reyna Juanita Rueda Alvarado.

Rueda Alvarado is a Nicaraguan politician, a career business administrator and member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), but behind her is a male figure to whom all power is attributed. This man is Fidel Moreno, party general secretary and the public face of the Managua Mayor’s Office.

He is said to be the right hand man of the regime’s number one spokesperson, Rosario Murillo, and completely overshadows the figure of Reyna Rueda.

Rueda began to stand out when she served as secretary of the Managua Municipal Council in the previous administration. Since she took office as mayor in January 4th 2018, she has been limited to making tours of Managua’s popular markets and only has a protagonist’s role when she chairs the sessions of the Mayor’s Office, reading out loud the agenda and facilitating interventions.

Moreno is the only one authorized to give the reports which by law is the responsibility of the mayor. He is the figure in the Mayor’s Office that reports on disasters and floods, the announcements of plans for the rainy season, and making agreements with the different agencies involved in the municipality.

When journalist Daysi Torres took office on July 7, 2009, replacing the Alexis Argüello after his death, the story had been the same as that of Rueda.

Moreno is considered to be the “de facto mayor” and has been the main voice within the capital city government ever since.

Jessica Yaoska Padilla Leiva (center) is the latest woman appointed to the Ministry for Women.

The curse of the Ministry for Women: 13 women have paraded through as ministerial heads

Formerly called the Nicaraguan Women’s Institute (INIM) that was created in 1987, The Ministry for Women remains constantly unstable as an institution since Daniel Ortega came to power. More than 10 different directors have passed through its doors.

Emilia Torres was the first director of INIM for a few months, at the beginning of Ortega’s mandate in January 2007, but she was removed from her position in March, under the pretext that she been transferred to the Ministry of Culture.

That same year, at least three women held the top position at INIM, including Rita Fletes (R.I.P), who was there until November and was replaced by Claudia Cerda López, who held the director’s chair until 2008.

After Cerda Lopez, Lilia María Alfaro took office, until March 2009, when she was replaced by Perla López Miranda, who was there until March 2010.

At the Institute, which was supposed to ensure gender equality in the State, the constant changes continued to occur every year. In 2010 Gustavo Porras’ sister-in-law, Isabel Green Casaya, assumed the leadership of INIM until 2013, when the institution was renamed and Arlen Patricia Vargas Padilla was appointed minister.

The instability, however, continued and on December 17 2015 Vargas Padilla was replaced by Martha Erica Martínez González, who was removed from the position after one month and two days after being appointed. She was replaced by Ángela Yadira Meza Vargas in 2016.

The last woman to take on the position at the head of the Ministry was Jessica Yaoska Padilla Leiva, who was appointed on May 7, 2019 and continues to date.

This Ministry, in theory, is responsible for formulating, promoting, coordinating, executing and evaluating government policies, plans, programs, and projects that guarantee the “participation of women in the process of economic, social, cultural and political development of the country”. But in practice the institution has produced no tangible results.

“They are not real, they have no hold, they have no impact, [the Ministry] is practically a shell that’s demolished inside. All there is, is a group of employees who in the end are supernumerary. I don’t think they do anything at all, beyond proselytism and activism in favor of the Government”, criticizes Montenegro.

The sociologist affirms that women in reality are nothing more than “objects that can be manipulated by their mistress with ring-laden hands” who in practice manages the “bureaucratic changes within the institutions”.

“They are irrelevant, they are interchangeable, they are disposable, they pass through without shame or glory, because there is no merit, there is no representation, and there is no capacity for deciding, they have been handpicked” [for this], argues Montenegro.

Greater presence, little known

An exhaustive review of La Lupa shows that the presence of women in public office is significant. Both deputies and mayors or vice mayors and ministers exceed 40% of representation.

A Nicaraguan public policy specialist spoke with La Lupa on condition of anonymity for fear of the repression against critical voices. She points out that although it is described as “an insufficient measure (…) on paper it is progress.”

“It does not level the political playing field specifically, because you can have 50 women and 50 men legislators, you can have 50 women mayors and 50 men mayors in the case of municipalities, however, that is not enough to say that women are making decisions. or that they have real power to make decisions.” she says.

Although numerically they show improvements, these increases in political participation, for the specialist in public policies they are actually positions that “are subordinate to the decisions of the ruling party … because parallel authorities are imposed on them by the centralization of power in such a way that their actual functions are annulled”.

The Top Ten of the Global Gender Gap

According to what has been proposed since its approval in 2008, the 50/50 law sought to guarantee equitable participation for women, especially in positions elected by the population and in appointments. Months before the municipal elections of 2012, this law caused a reform to take place in the Municipalities Law and the Electoral Law, which required the political parties to reform their proposals for candidacies.

After these changes, which brought about a considerable increase in the participation of women, at least quantitatively, Nicaragua began to climb in rank in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF).  The report ranked the country, for the first time, in the exclusive Top Ten, after it had ranked 90th in 2007.

“Nicaragua continues to be the most advanced country in the region in terms of gender equality, ranking tenth in the world index,” stated the 2013 document when it ranked tenth. A year later it rose 5 positions.

The 2013 report ranked 136 countries “according to their ability to close the gender gap in four key areas: health and survival; educational achievements; political participation and economic equality ”.

For Blandón, these evaluations, where only purely quantitative aspects of women’s participation are taken into account, “cannot show the true meaning of strengthening gender equity.”

The public policy specialist also points out that this type of ranking “does not measure the quality of life of these women, nor the decision-making capacity that they are given in those positions that they measure by numbers.”

A mere numerical data

However, from the regime, year after year the “participation of women” in public positions is celebrated even though Murillo is the woman in whom the information and power has been concentrated. The remaining female politicians and civil servants fade into the background, appearing in the official media only at popular festivals or official acts of lesser importance.

Official data indicates that in the 16 ministries the presence of women in senior positions is 46.6%, that is, 14 women hold positions as ministers and vice ministers. In five of these ministries; Women, Health, Family and the Environment and Natural Resources, women who held positions as ministers or vice ministers were removed – in at least three cases – before they had completed one or two years in office. And it is noticeable that the portfolios they manage are those areas traditionally assigned to women.

In the case of the National Assembly, the situation is quite similar, on few occasions are the voices of the female members of the assembly or stand-in deputies heard. This occurs even when 46.4% of members’ seats are held by women in the national, departmental, regional and regional councils and in the Central American Parliament. In the case of the stand-in deputies this figure increases to 47.32%.

In the case of the positions of mayors and vice-mayors, in 2017 women obtained -after the controversial municipal elections- a participation of 44.4% in the position of mayors, that is, 68 of the 153 positions were held by women.

In the last three years, five of the 153 municipalities have undergone changes: one due to the death of a Sandinista mayor; another because the regime dismissed the local mayor and in three others the mayors resigned allegedly due to ill health or retirement. These situations led to a quantitative increase of 2% in the participation of women in the position of mayor or vice mayor.

Ruth Selma Herrera was in charge of Enacal for a period of three years and then resigned. Photo credit: El Nuevo Diario

“Woman is relegated”

In 2007, Ruth Selma Herrera, a researcher on water and sanitation issues, assumed the executive presidency of the Nicaraguan Company of Aqueducts and Sewers (Enacal). She only lasted until April 8, 2010 in office.

Herrera argues that the “system” reduces the good performance that a woman can have in a management or Ministry position. The former executive president of Enacal believes that Law 50/50 is part of the “political propaganda” promoted by the regime.

Herrera says that “Neither this Government, nor that of (Enrique) Bolaños, nor that of (Arnoldo) Alemán, nor that of Doña Violeta (Barrios de Chamorro), nor that of (Anastasio) Somoza, have done anything to be able to say they’ve given genuine respectful recognition [to women]. It has always been managed, even by this Government, for political propaganda purposes, to build up a story for national and international audiences, as if here they are giving an opportunity to women”.

This former executive president of Enacal, considers that the legislation on which the regime prides itself so much, was approved by “pure formality”, because if they put a woman in a position and do not listen to her proposals, they do not respect and support her, the appointment becomes ” A big lie”.

“I believe that many women who have been used as figureheads in the institutions and that in the end others are behind the decision-making. Not only in the Mayor’s Office of Managua, in a lot of institutions. And it depends on whether one wants to be [a figurehead or not]” she says.

Herrera resigned after considering that it was the opportune moment. “I did what I think I had to do and I quit when I felt I had to quit. I have to make my voice heard, but if I can’t, then I resign from the post. You can’t be in a post because they put you there, and just earn the money so they can say that they have women [in these positions]. Women disrespect themselves when they accept to be puppets of a government that appoints them, then doesn’t let them decide but put in an advisor to do so”.

According to Montenegro, the numerical presence of women within a “patriarchal, authoritarian regime does not modify it or make it democratic.”

“Gender parity loses all meaning when the regime lacks legitimacy in its origins, legitimacy in its [electoral] processes and legitimacy in the results. Because the lack of independence of state powers prevents compliance with the responsibility of accountability between these powers and the country’s citizens, and absolute power is exercised as a form of domination”.

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Periodista con 20 años de experiencia en radio, televisión y prensa escrita.
Graduada en Filología y Comunicación en la UNAN-Managua. Productora y presentadora del programa de corte agropecuario: AGROTV (2015). Desde 2019 escribe para medios de comunicación digitales que surgieron a raíz de la Rebelión de Abril en Nicaragua.