Resisting the Feminist Threat: Antifeminist Politics in Post-Sandinista Nicaragua

KAREN KAMPWIRTH In this article I note that one important result of the last several decades of social upheaval in Nicaragua has been the emergence of active feminist and antifeminist movements. Since there has been significant analysis of feminist organizing, and very little on antifeminist organizing, the focus of this paper is antifeminism. I argue that the emergence of this backlash movement can be explained in terms of both domestic and global politics. From a domestic perspective, the movement can be seen as a reaction against the Sandinista revolution and its aftermath. From a global perspective, it is a response to what antifeminists see as the challenges of globalization such as feminist successes in international development agencies and the loss of sovereignty due to neoliberalism. It is also a response to the opportunities provided by globalization such as the emergence of a global antifeminist movement with strong links to like-minded organizations in other countries. This article analyzes the historical roots of the movement and then considers the worldviews of the participants in the movement. Keywords: feminism / antifeminism / gender / Nicaragua / social movements / politics / Latin America In November 2002, a Nicaraguan girl who became known as Rosa was raped in Costa Rica. She was not quite nine years old. As though the rape were not enough, Rosa had the bad luck of becoming pregnant and contracting two venereal diseases as a result of the rape. When the Costa Rican health ministry refused her migrant worker parents’ request that she be given an abortion, the three of them returned to Nicaragua. Fearing for her life (because of her physical immaturity and because of the infections that resulted from the venereal diseases), her parents sought an abortion in Nicaragua. Though they had a legal right to the abortion, given the unusual circumstances,1 Rosa was not quietly treated. Instead, her case became a public scandal that pitted feminists against antifeminists. In addition to her parents, major players in Rosa’s case included Enrique Bolaños, the president of the Republic, staff at the Ministry of Health (MINSA), staff at the Ministry of the Family (MIFAMILIA), the hierarchy of the Catholic church, the mass media, the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia (Network of Women Against Violence, an alliance of more than 120 feminist organizations), and the international feminist community, organized by a Spanish group known as Red Feminista (Feminist
©2006 NWSA Journal, Vol. 18 No. 2 (Summer)


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Network). Within Nicaragua, activists on both sides held demonstrations and collected signatures. In the end, Rosa received her abortion, not in the public hospital where she had been treated, but in an unnamed clinic in the middle of the night. Afterwards, according to one of the psychologists treating her, it was “as if she recovered her childhood” (Nitlapán-Envío 2003, 3). But Rosa had come close to losing her childhood and perhaps her life. During the month that the case dragged on, the Minister of the Family sought to have her held indefinitely in the hospital; some considered this a “kidnapping.” At another point, the Minister of Health tried to deny her parents the right to take her to Cuba, the only country in Latin America where abortion is legal without restrictions (Romero 2003). On the Sunday after she had the abortion, Cardinal Obando y Bravo announced during mass that everyone who was responsible for the abortion (with the exception of the rapist), was automatically excommunicated (Velásquez Sevilla and Pantoja 2003). That purely symbolic attack (for the archbishop of Managua lacks the authority to unilaterally excommunicate) was met by an equally symbolic counterattack by the international feminist community. A feminist group in Spain initiated an e-mail petition campaign entitled “I also want to be excommunicated for collaborating in the interruption of the pregnancy and the saving of Rosa’s life.” The petition, which was to be presented “to the most recalcitrant sectors of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua” collected 7,500 signatures just in its first day. On 4 March 2003, a week into the campaign, 27,126 people had signed the petition in solidarity with Rosa (Red Feminista 2003). Rosa’s sad story illustrates one important result of the last several decades of social upheaval in Nicaragua: the emergence of active feminist and antifeminist movements, neither of which existed to a significant extent during the rule of the Somoza family from 1936 to 1979, nor during the Sandinista revolution of 1979 to 1990. Many scholars have analyzed the important role that feminism has played in social movement politics since the formal end of the Sandinista revolution in 1990 (e.g., Babb 2001; Isbester 2001; Kampwirth 2004). But little attention has been paid to the role of antifeminism in Nicaraguan politics. The activists I identify as “antifeminist” rarely use that term to describe their own work, instead they call themselves pro-family or pro-life. But I contend that the term “antifeminist” is appropriate for at least three reasons. First, feminist activists are also in favor of families (albeit egalitarian families), and their work against maternal mortality and domestic violence is clearly pro-life work. Second, activists in this movement are not simply social conservatives any more than feminist activists are simply social liberals. In both cases, the movements are centrally concerned with the politics of intimacy and daily life. Finally, the term “antifeminist” identifies it as a backlash movement.

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I will argue that the emergence of this backlash movement can be explained in terms of both domestic and global politics. From a domestic perspective, the movement is a reaction against the Sandinista revolution, especially against the mobilization of women and young people within the revolution. The movement is also a reaction against the emergence of organized feminism, which was an indirect consequence of the revolution. From a global perspective, it is a response to what antifeminists see as the challenges of globalization such as feminist influence in international development agencies, and the loss of sovereignty due to neoliberalism. It is also a response to the opportunities provided by globalization such as the emergence of a global antifeminist movement with strong links to like-minded organizations in other countries, especially organizations affiliated with the Catholic church. This article is divided into four sections: (1) the historical context (the Sandinista revolution and the emergence of organized feminism); (2) how antifeminist activists remember that history (the domestic roots of Nicaraguan antifeminism); (3) the global context that has given rise to the movement; and (4) an analysis of the worldviews of some participants in the movement. It is based on a combination of participant observation, interviews with feminists and antifeminists (more than a hundred feminists and about twenty antifeminists), and analysis of press reports on gender politics in Nicaragua conducted over the period 1990 to 2004. Antifeminist organizations do not comprise a movement in the same sense as the feminist movement. Hundreds of organizations identify with the Nicaraguan feminist movement, but a relatively small number of Nicaraguan groups actively oppose organized feminists. The most extensive list I have seen is comprised of nine organizations that identified themselves as pro-life and pro-family.2 So the feminist movement is far more significant than the antifeminist movement if measured in terms of organizations; however, counting organizations is not the only way to measure the strength of a movement. In fact, the antifeminist movement is more powerful than the feminist movement if power is measured in terms of the movement’s access to the Nicaraguan state and to the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

Feminism and the Revolution
Both scholars and activists in Nicaragua typically date the origins of Nicaraguan feminism to the last years of the Somoza dictatorship when women were mobilized by the revolutionary Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional or FSLN (Sandinista Front for National Liberation) in its effort to end the Somoza family dynasty (1936 to 1979). Many have suggested that about 30 percent of the Sandinista combatants in the 1960s


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and 1970s, including a number of the top guerrilla leaders, were women (Flynn 1983, 416; Reif 1986, 158). There is some controversy regarding these figures but, whatever the actual numbers of women in the guerrilla struggle and the roles they played, the dominant memory of the guerrilla struggle is that women were present. Both feminist activists and their opponents credit—or blame—the mobilization of women in the guerrilla struggle and the revolution for the emergence of feminism. In fact, as Victoria González-Rivera (2002, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1997) has shown, Nicaraguan feminism was not born with the revolution. Instead, it can be traced back to the nineteenth century. Moreover, many of the most independent and politically active women of the twentieth century were supporters of the Somoza dictatorship; therefore, the Sandinista revolution was not the first time women were mobilized behind a partisan or feminist project. Nonetheless, the history that González-Rivera uncovered is truly a lost history. In the dominant story, told by feminists and by their opponents, feminists first began organizing in the 1980s. Feminist organizing was possible in large part because of the mass mobilization of men and women, especially young women, in the early 1980s. They were mobilized by the Sandinista government for a variety of purposes: to teach others to read, to immunize children, to harvest coffee, and to guard their neighborhoods at night. Those campaigns played a critical role in the challenge to traditional authority that was the revolution (Kampwirth 2004, 26–8). In the early years of the revolution, the Sandinista-affiliated national women’s organization, Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza (AMNLAE), played an important role in challenging traditional authority. Founded in 1977 as Asociación de Mujeres Ante la Problematica Nacional (AMPRONAC), it was one member of the Sandinista coalition that helped bring down Somoza. With the revolution it changed its name, but when the FSLN changed from a guerrilla movement to a political party, AMNLAE remained an FSLN support group. AMNLAE’s work included advocating for legal changes to help women and providing services through Casas de la Mujer (Women’s Houses), which numbered over 50 nationwide by the end of the revolutionary decade. These Houses provided services in the areas of health, psychological counseling, and legal counseling, at the same time as they offered workshops in areas such as sexuality, contraception, and job training. Yet, despite all the important work it did, AMNLAE’s role supporting the male-dominated FSLN impeded its ability to challenge gender inequality. With time, many women began to question the relationship between the association and the party (Criquillón 1995; Kampwirth 2004, 28–36, 54–7; Murguialday 1990, 101–48).

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With the onset of the contra war in 1982, gender politics in Nicaragua entered a new phase. Within the evolving women’s movement, there were at least two very different responses to the war—that of AMNLAE and that of what Nicaraguans call “the sectors” (labor unions or other economically organized groups). Secretarías de la Mujer (Women’s Secretariats), were founded in all the major labor unions in the early to mid-1980s. The first secretariat was created within the rural wageworkers union, the Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (ATC), in 1983. The women of the ATC Women’s Secretariat successfully made the case that the key to increasing rural women’s productivity—and therefore raising funds necessary for the war effort—was to address gender inequality. Perhaps because of the power that came out of their important role in the national economy, the women of the ATC succeeded in pressuring the FSLN to open hundreds of day care centers, collective corn mills and washbasins, and to address issues like sexual harassment and access to contraception. While the women of the secretariats insisted that the war could never be won without more gender equality, the women of AMNLAE accepted an ever more subservient relationship with the FSLN, on the grounds that the war could never be won without softening demands for gender equality, at least temporarily. The final years of the 1980s were a time when elements of the revolution were institutionalized; they were also the years when another sort of women’s organizing began to emerge. Joining the Sandinista-affiliated women’s movement, AMNLAE, whose roots could be traced to the guerrilla period, and the women’s secretariats that grew up in response to the contra war, was a third branch: independent or autonomous feminism. This third way, explicitly rejecting links to parties and unions, developed in the context of the debates that led up to the 1987 Constitution, and the 1987 Encuentro Feminista Latinoamericana (Latin American Women’s Gathering) that was held close enough—in Taxco, Mexico—to allow 40 to 50 Nicaraguan women to attend. By 1987, one of the earliest autonomous feminist groups, the Colectivo de Mujeres de Matagalpa (Matagalpa Women’s Collective) was formed. Initially, it broadcast over the radio and performed feminist theater on topics such as abortion, soon adding classes in literacy, midwifery, and the law. The Centro de Mujeres de Masaya (Masaya Women’s Center, founded in 1988) and the Centro de Mujeres IXCHEN (IXCHEN Women’s Center, founded in 1989) were organizations that provided a range of legal, health, and psychological services, while advocating for gender equality. Groups like the Masaya Women’s Center and IXCHEN (which soon had centers in many Nicaraguan cities) were in many ways like AMNLAE’s Women’s Houses, except that they operated independently from the FSLN. A very different model of women’s organizing—an autonomous feminist


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organization that sought to change state policy rather than providing services—was founded by many of the women who participated in the Encuentro Feminista. Upon their return from Mexico in 1987, they founded the Partido de la Izquierda Erótica (Party of the Erotic Left, or PIE). The PIE was a lobbying group that succeeded in promoting gender equality as a constitutional value. In the 1987 Constitution, at least ten articles make specific mention of women’s rights (compared to none in the 1974 Constitution). Couples in common-law marriages (which are more common than legal marriages among Nicaragua’s poor majority) were protected from discrimination, and no fault divorce was permitted. The PIE did not last into the 1990s, but it left its mark on the Constitution and on the women’s movement (Kampwirth 1998; Stephens 1990, 1988). After the FSLN lost the 1990 election, all twenty-some members of the PIE became founding members of the autonomous feminist organizations that emerged in the early 1990s. The winner of the 1990 election, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, or doña Violeta as she was called, always dressed in white, invoking the image of the Virgin Mary. Through her words and image, she made the claim that she, a woman with almost no formal political experience, would be able to end the war and reconcile the Nicaraguan family, just as she had reunited her own politically divided children. Instead of formal political experiences, doña Violeta promised to draw on her experiences as wife, widow, and mother. Doña Violeta is the widow of one of the most important political figures in recent Nicaraguan history—Pedro Joaquín Chamorro—an outspoken opponent of the Somoza dictatorship whose murder in January 1978 set off a wave of protests that contributed to the FSLN’s overthrow of Somoza in July 1979. Throughout the campaign, doña Violeta reminded the public that she is the widow of the heroic figure, Pedro Joaquin, and that she had been a good, traditional wife to him. As she told a reporter, “I am not a feminist nor do I wish to be one. I am a woman who is dedicated to my home, as Pedro taught me.” Later in the interview she claimed “to be marked with the branding iron of the Chamorros.” Appealing to an imagined past in which men protected women in exchange for their loyalty and subservience, a past in which families were not divided by politics, she promised to end the war, reconcile the Nicaraguan family, and end the suffering of mothers (Kampwirth 1996, 67–72). Based on that platform, she won with almost 55 percent of the vote. When doña Violeta took office in April 1990, she fulfilled many of those promises. The contra war ended, the draft ended, and to an important extent she came through on her promise of reconciliation, even making an alliance with some FSLN legislators against more radical right-wing members of her own political coalition. And doña Violeta also fulfilled the implicit antifeminist promise of her political campaign by

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seeking to overturn many Sandinista-era gender reforms. In the early 1990s, a number of day care centers were shut down, state-funded marriage counseling, workshops against domestic violence, and services for battered women were eliminated, and contraception counseling was no longer offered in public hospitals. A new textbook series used in all public schools, called “Morals and Civics,” directly addressed gender and generational relations through images and words. The texts emphasized the value of legal marriage—though the 1987 Constitution recognized both common-law and legal marriages—as well as the evils of abortion—which had been decriminalized but not legalized under the FSLN (Kampwirth 2004, 47–54). The early 1990s brought major changes for Nicaraguan feminists. The electoral loss of the party of the revolution, the FSLN, meant that they lost an ideological ally in government, and many of the laws and social programs that had promoted gender equality were overturned or underfunded. But feminist activists were also freed from the constraints that the vanguardist FSLN had tried to place on them. The most unanticipated result of the 1990 election was not the peaceful end of the Sandinista revolution or the demobilization of the contra forces, it was the explosive emergence of autonomous feminism, including lesbian feminism. Due to space limitations, I will not discuss the growth of autonomous feminism after 1990. But it is worth discussing the emergence of one of the currents within the autonomous feminist movement—lesbian feminism—before turning to the rise of antifeminism, for the antifeminist activists object most strongly to feminist demands related to sexuality and reproduction. While a few gay and lesbian rights organizations existed as early as the mid-1980s, they occupied a precarious space during the revolution, ordered by FSLN leaders to lie low and refrain from making waves. Also, many lesbians were loyal revolutionaries who accepted those limits. For example, Mary Bolt, who helped found the sexual rights organization Fundación Xochiquetzál in 1991, had a long history as a Sandinista, having become an urban guerrilla in 1974. I asked if she was an open lesbian when she joined the FSLN. “They never asked me, what sort of thing are you? Never [laughter]. You just joined and period, it isn’t as though they asked me what I thought, what I believed. . . . So before the triumph [overthrow of Somoza] I never had any problems. . . . And after the triumph, I still wasn’t very interested in lesbian organizations. For me the fundamental goal was defending the revolution” (Bolt 1994). But after the Sandinistas lost the 1990 election, she reconsidered her political goals. “Later, with the [1990] election, an emptiness opened up and I think that happened to a great number of Nicaraguan men and women. It was a political emptiness . . . for us it was very strong, it was painful. So for me, this emptiness was filled by the feminist movement”


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(1994). A single thread tied together Mary Bolt’s life as guerrilla, party activist, and autonomous feminist. She never rejected her earlier activism but moved on from one sort of activism to another when circumstances changed: from guerrilla to party activist after Somoza was overthrown, and from party activist to autonomous feminist after the Sandinistas lost the 1990 election. Many gays and lesbians did the same thing in the early 1990s. Freed from the constraints of the FSLN, a political party that tried to limit their activism, and faced with the hostility of doña Violeta’s government, 3 gays and lesbians organized themselves; 1990 saw the founding of the gay rights organization SHOMOS, the anti-AIDS organization Fundación Nimehuatzín, and the lesbian feminist collective Nosotras. In 1991, the sexual minority rights organization Fundación Xochiquetzál opened its doors. It was soon followed by the lesbian organizations Entre Amigas, and Grupo por la Visibilidad Lésbica. And in 1992, more than 25 groups united in the Campaña Por Una Sexualidad Libre de Prejuicios (Campaign for Sexuality Free of Prejudice). (On the gay and lesbian rights movement see Babb 2003, 2001, 229–39; Kampwirth 2004, 57–63, 1994; Randall 1993; Thayer 1997.)

Domestic Origins of Antifeminism
As I have shown, the Sandinista revolution had mixed implications for feminism. On the one hand, within the guerrilla struggle to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship and during the subsequent decade of the Sandinista revolution, hundreds of thousands of women were mobilized into new nontraditional roles. Through that mobilization they acquired organizing skills and a consciousness of social inequality as changeable, and as something that should be changed. On the other hand, Sandinista leaders were often reluctant to directly challenge gender inequality and male privileges. Those newly mobilized women were often impeded in their efforts to address gender inequality by the same Sandinista leaders who had mobilized them. Both Sandinista encouragement of women’s organizing and Sandinista efforts to impede independent women’s organizing set the stage for the powerful emergence of an autonomous feminist movement in the early 1990s, a movement that included lesbian feminists. But some Nicaraguans remember this story differently. They too remember a generation of social upheaval. But for them that upheaval corrupted a formerly moral social order. For them, the revolution and its side effects—especially the mobilization of women prior to 1990 and the growth of the autonomous feminist movement following 1990—are legacies to be rejected. In an important sense, Nicaraguan antifeminism is a form of anti-Sandinismo.

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When Nicaraguan antifeminists talk about the problems facing their country, they often do so by contrasting life before and after the Sandinista revolution. For instance, two sisters who lived together in the Altagracia neighborhood of Managua directly linked Sandinista programs to what they saw as a negative change in family life: “before the Sandinistas, life was different. Due to the night watch many men lost their women. There was disunion at that time.” Her sister condemned the coffee picking brigades, also in family terms: “They prostituted young girls by sending them off to harvest coffee, where they had to practice free love. That was what made those people fall” (Anonymous 1991). Elida de Solórzano, perhaps the most prominent opponent of the feminist movement,4 also identified the Somoza years as a time when family values were strong. “Education [under the Sandinistas] was devoid of a lot of traditional family values that Nicaragua had known under the Somozas . . . Christian values were lost” (Solórzano 1991). This does not necessarily mean that Solórzano was a Somocista, or that she sympathized with the Somoza dictatorship. Instead, identifying the time of Somoza as the time of family morality was a way of identifying the Sandinista revolution, and the feminist groups that emerged indirectly out of the revolution, as the forces that destroyed previous moral stability. Asael Pérez, executive director of the pro-life organization Asociación Nicaragüense por la Vida (Nicaraguan Association for Life, or ANPROVIDA), hoped to recuperate the values of paternal responsibility, monogamy, and celibacy before marriage that he said were the norm in the past, a past that he did not date or identify with any particular government. Replying to my question regarding what, in his opinion, Nicaraguan feminists want, he said, “I think there is a justification for the feminist movement that no one can deny, which is the inequalities that at certain moments have existed between men and women.” Like many feminists, Pérez identified his work as fundamentally about values. “You can’t see the results of our work in very physical ways, because what we try to do is to arrive at the conciencia of problems” (Pérez 2002). Conciencia is a term Nicaraguan feminists use often, which could be translated as “consciousness” or, in the case of work to create conciencia, as “consciousness raising.” But when I noted that I had previously interviewed feminists and that they seemed to have some things in common, both concerning themselves with conciencia and with changing values, he objected. “We don’t talk about changing values, we think there is a loss or an absence of values. We try to recuperate values, in contrast I think the feminists really are trying to change values, even to denaturalize values. I don’t think being an irresponsible father is a Nicaraguan value. It is an antivalue” (2002). The disagreement over the terms “values” and “antivalues” runs through the politics of feminism and antifeminism in Nicaragua and


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elsewhere (on the concept “antivalue” in Mexico see González Ruiz 2001, 29; for a Venezuelan example, see Saba 2005). In part, this disagreement is based on different definitions of the word “value.” By “values” Pérez seemed to mean things that are good; thus, for him, fathers abandoning their children could not be called a “value.” But feminists use the word in an anthropological sense, as referring to an aspect of culture or a particular tradition. Using the word as feminists do, paternal abandonment of children clearly is a Nicaraguan value. Studies of family structures, going back as early as 1950 (long before the Sandinista revolution) consistently show that a significant percentage of households were headed by single women (for a review of these studies, see Kampwirth 2001, 84, footnote 20). Also, with some frequency men and women have told me that it is “natural” for a Nicaraguan man to have more than one woman. Fundamentally, the dispute over values and antivalues is a dispute over two views of the past. One position is that families have always had their conflicts and inequalities but that they can be reduced by working to transform values toward greater equality. According to this position, which is the feminist position, the Sandinista revolution created opportunities for the evolution of values and, especially after 1990, organized feminists have actively promoted less violent and more egalitarian values. According to the other position, the values of the past were good and Nicaraguan families used to be characterized by complementarity and respect, not conflict and inequality. According to this antifeminist position, the problem is that something transformed age-old values into antivalues and the way to end social problems, like sex out of wedlock or paternal abandonment, is to reject that something, to reject antivalues in favor of the values of the past. For Max Padilla, who was Minister of the Family under President Arnoldo Alemán, the something that turned values into antivalues was the Sandinista revolution. Padilla explicitly linked the political upheaval of the Sandinista revolution to the threat of foreign imperialism in the post-revolutionary period, explaining in an address to the World Congress of Families II: “Family autonomy was under attack in my country under the Marxist government that ruled during the 1980s. . . . In that decade, the Constitution recognized common-law relationships as equal to marriage, and also unilateral divorce. What great wrongs against the family!” (Padilla 1999, 1). Padilla suggested that this conflict in Nicaragua also plays out on a global stage and that the fundamental battle in the post-cold war world is no longer between socialism and capitalism but between feminism and antifeminism: “Perhaps the Berlin Wall has come down but the ideology, the atheist and antifamily vision of Marxism, continues to be very much alive at the end of this century. Today the class struggle has been transformed into a struggle to eliminate sexual classes or for the triumph of

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the ‘neuter sex’ ” (Padilla 1999, 4). In June 2000, Padilla was fired or chose to resign (depending on the source) under pressure from leaders of international development agencies who said that “they could not work with Max Padilla” (Ruse 2000, 2), “order[ing] Padilla to change his government’s definition of gender to say that it was only a social construct” (Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute 2001, 1).5

Global Origins of the Movement, or Resisting Feminist Imperialism
Activists like Max Padilla often react against what they see as feminism imposed from above and by outsiders. His analysis is not uniquely Nicaraguan. In other places, colonial powers often justified their rule through the argument that locals treated their women poorly and so needed civilizing through colonialism. In response, nationalists have sometimes defended or even exaggerated traditional patriarchal practices. For example, the British used such language in India as they banned the practice of sati or widow-burning, and so the practice of sati has been resurrected by some modern-day Hindu nationalists as a way of rejecting the colonial legacy (Hawley 1994, 80–1). This potential association between antifeminism and nationalism complicates our view of politics. Though we tend to speak of movements as left- or right-wing, liberal or conservative, movements may be all of these things at once, simultaneously resisting imperialism, rejecting dictatorship, and promoting gender inequality. Within left-wing political culture in Nicaragua, there is a strong current of anti-imperialism, of defending the political and cultural integrity of Southern countries against the more powerful countries of the North. Such anti-imperialist thought has sometimes informed negative reactions to the feminist movement from the left, with some Sandinistas claiming that although women’s mobilization behind a revolutionary project is appropriately Nicaraguan, women’s mobilization behind a feminist project is not appropriately Nicaraguan. Leftists are not the only ones who sometimes use the language of anti-imperialism to criticize the feminist movement. Dr. Rafael Cabrera, a gynecologist and president of ANPROVIDA, described one of his first experiences of such imperialism at a conference at George Washington University in 1974. While listening to speeches promoting family planning programs in Latin America, he came to the realization “that our countries did not need family planning, but rather development planning.” Family planning programs were detrimental to development because “if my country is underpopulated there will not be production.” For Cabrera the politics of population have changed little since he first


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became aware of them in 1974, and he told me that he thinks Nicaragua remains underpopulated (Cabrera 2002). Cabrera argued that resisting the pressures placed by international nongovernmental organizations that “want to impose the feminist agenda” is difficult in the age of neoliberalism with its pressures to privatize state enterprises.
What is happening? The governments have had to privatize so the government ends up without extra money. They are practically monopolies, the prices go up and the salaries don’t stretch far enough. The population suffers from terrible poverty and then they say, ‘here is money but you have to get sterilized.’ (2002)6

According to Cabrera, the Nicaraguan government has been forced, by international lending agencies and by the international health establishment, to implement policies that violate Nicaraguan values. Dr. Cabrera’s hostility to the international health establishment is such that in 1995 he publicly claimed that the tetanus vaccines provided by the World Health Organization contained something that would sterilize women. Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo then publicized that claim in his Sunday homily leading to a panic that required the Ministry of Health to suspend tetanus vaccinations for a time. Some priests, especially in rural areas, continue to recommend to families “that they only vaccinate the men, just in case. But . . . rural women die of tetanus with greater frequency than any other sector” due to unsanitary conditions during childbirth (Pizarro 2003, 36–7). Violeta Reyes de Padilla, a sociologist, member of the women’s organization Asociación Nicaragüense por la Mujer (ANIMU), and mother of former Minister of the Family, Max Padilla, shares Cabrera’s views of international health agencies. She wrote:
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has an agenda of perversity and attack against all of our values. . . . The Nicaraguan people need food, housing, medicine, basic education, work and the UNFPA comes to ‘provide a remedy’ with contraception, condoms, ‘sex education,’ pornography. . . . Don’t be naive, these are diabolical programs to limit population growth in underdeveloped countries. (2002)

From Reyes de Padilla’s perspective, these programs are flawed in multiple ways. They are culturally inappropriate, and they do not even effectively address poverty, offering contraception and what she called pornography7 instead of food and shelter. While Cabrera suggested that efforts to reduce population growth are a bad idea because Nicaragua is underpopulated, Reyes de Padilla took a stronger position, suggesting that such population programs are the work of the devil.

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But opponents of population programs held little hope that Nicaraguan politicians could resist the pressures of the international organizations. Responding to a question about the Bolaños administration’s policies with regard to family life, Asael Pérez complained that policymakers in poor countries are not free to implement culturally appropriate policies. “I think that in countries like Nicaragua it is difficult to maintain the country’s values.” When development projects are dependent on funding from foreign sources, as they all are, “sovereignty becomes wet paper. . . . Sometimes we sell our values for a plate of lentils. Or we change them, we don’t even sell them, like what happened to the indigenous when the Spaniards arrived. It is the same thing, we just wear different clothing” (2002). Pérez eloquently spoke of the sadness of Nicaragua’s place in the world in ways that are reminiscent of the way that Nicaraguan feminists and other leftists often speak. They agree that, too often, the cost of development projects is submission to the agenda of powerful foreigners. The difference is which foreigners they consider to be imperialist and which they consider to be allies, for both feminists and antifeminists have their foreign friends as well as their imperialist enemies (on feminists’ foreign allies, see Kampwirth 2004, 6, 36–7, 66; Mendez 2002, 121, 125–31, 136; Weber 2002, 45–6, 50–6). Probably the most important source of support for the Nicaraguan antifeminist movement is the Catholic church as an international organization, and conservative interpretations of Catholic faith more generally. The Nicaraguan Catholic church is divided between a conservative branch that adheres strictly to Vatican teachings regarding questions of sexuality and reproduction, and a liberation theology branch that is more concerned with social justice than with individual sexual behavior (Lancaster 1988; Vuola 2001; Williams 1989). Many feminists trace their histories as activists to the liberation theology movement, and many of them continue to identify in some way with liberation theology-informed Catholicism. In contrast, all of the antifeminists whom I have interviewed or whose works I have read identify strongly with conservative interpretations of Catholicism and with the hierarchy of the Church. Indeed, some of the most prominent leaders of the movement are active in international conservative Catholic organizations. For example Humberto Belli and Max Padilla belong to Opus Dei, and Elida de Solórzano is a founding member of Ciudad de Dios, or City of God (Palacios 2002, 4A; Opus Dei 2002; Solórzano 2002a). Nicaraguan opponents of feminism have been supported by a variety of international organizations. The U.S.-based evangelical organization, Focus on the Family, has provided materials to the Ministry of Education (Neven n.d, 1) and to ANPROVIDA. Vida Humana Internacional (based in Miami) and the Catholic church also have provided money and


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materials to support ANPROVIDA’s work (Cabrera 2002; Pérez 2002), and the Catholic church in the United States has provided the model for ANIMU’s Proyecto Raquel. Max Padilla has participated in the activities of the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families (Padilla 1999). Finally the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation has provided support for the work of Max Padilla and Elida de Solórzano (González Ruiz 2004). Government delegations from Nicaragua (headed by Humberto Belli and Elida de Solórzano) have been some of the most prominent opponents of feminism at the United Nations, especially in the events surrounding the Cairo Population conference and the Beijing Women’s conference (Belli 1994; Druelle 2000, 15; Pizarro 2003, 31, 36; Solórzano 2002a). Not only have Nicaraguans participated in international events, but Nicaraguan governmental delegations have been at the forefront of global antifeminist organizing, in alliance with governmental delegations from Argentina and several Muslim countries, Christian Right nongovernmental organizations based mainly in the United States, and the Vatican (Druelle 2000, 15–6; Vuola 2001, 13–4). Since 1990, a number of right-wing political activists (who often trace their political roots to the non-Sandinista opposition to Somoza and/or to the contra movement) have made periodic alliances with feminists in defense of gender equality (Blandón 2001; González and Kampwirth 2001, 14–7; Kampwirth 2004, 66–70; 2001, 104–6; 1996, 75–7). These women rarely call themselves feminists, and certainly would not call themselves revolutionary or leftist. But since they support some efforts to increase gender equality, they are clearly not antifeminist either. In contrast, none of the antifeminist men or women whom I asked about their first political experiences traced their origins as activists to the anti-Somoza struggle or the contra movement. Nor did they trace their political roots to the revolution, as do almost all those who are active in today’s feminist movement. The one organizational experience that many of them did share was of being mobilized by the hierarchy of the Catholic church. It is a conservative version of Catholicism, not conservative Christianity in general, that motivates Nicaraguan antifeminists. Evangelicals play a fairly insignificant role within the antifeminist movement despite the fact that Nicaragua has a significant and growing evangelical Protestant population, and despite the fact that many evangelical churches promote a model of family life and women’s roles that is similar to that promoted by conservative Catholics (e.g., Ruiz 1999). This seems to be true elsewhere in Latin America as indicated by the absence of Latin American Protestants from the World Congress of Families (Buss and Herman 2003, 82), and from antifeminist politics in Mexico (González Ruiz 2001, 30). Though evangelical churches are growing in Nicaragua, they are still a religious minority. As a minority group, evangelicals do not want to see the majority religion dominate public life. So they tend to make at least

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intermittent alliances with other social groups that share their desire to protect Nicaragua’s status as a secular Republic. Though not always for the same reasons, both feminist activists and evangelical church members have protested periodic instances of state promotion of religion, for the religion that is promoted is invariably Catholicism (Chamorro 1999; Kampwirth 2003, 146–48; 1997, 120–22, 126; Pérez-Baltodano 2004).

Antifeminist Worldviews
In Nicaragua and elsewhere, feminists and their opponents disagree on some of the most fundamental things that make us human. They disagree on the social significance of biological differences because they make different assumptions “about the roles of the sexes, about the meaning of parenthood, and about human nature” (Luker 1984, 158). In short, they disagree because they have different worldviews, or different sets of assumptions about how the world works and how it should work. These conflicting worldviews help explain sometimes heated conflicts over the terms “sex” and “gender.” According to most feminist scholars, sex refers to biological differences between men and women, while gender refers to social differences. The fact that women can get pregnant is a sex trait, as no men can get pregnant. But the fact that globally, women do most childrearing, is a gender trait, for men are also capable of caring for children. The antifeminist response is that both are sex traits (or that sex and gender are synonyms). From their perspective women are psychologically and intellectually suited to raising children, while men do not possess the innate traits required for childrearing, or at least they are unsuited for being primary parents. This semantic conflict has many political consequences. Most feminists assume that gender traits can and should be changed, arguing, for example, that fathers should share equally in childrearing. In contrast, antifeminists assume that the dominant gender division of labor is natural and that it would hurt everybody to tamper with it. This assumption, which for them is a matter of common sense, arises first and foremost out of their lived experiences, or prior encounters with the world. Those encounters include the experience of living in a sexually segregated society and, especially, being raised in families in which rights and duties are carefully divided along sexual lines. Nicaraguans, like people in most, if not all countries, are raised to embrace the idea that men and women have different roles to play in life, differences that extend well beyond biology. But according to a widely embraced cultural stereotype, females are not simply in need of male protection. Rather, males are in need of female responsibility.8 Based on his research in working-class neighborhoods of Managua, Roger Lancaster


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wrote: “The traditional ideal of femininity is not simple ‘passivity’ . . . but rather an ideal of elevated motherhood . . . [that] emphasizes planning over risk, self-abnegation over self-promotion, domesticity over worldliness” (Lancaster 1992, 93). Indeed, unlike many countries where mothers express a preference for sons over daughters, in Nicaragua there is a mild sex preference for girls, who are seen as more responsible and therefore as better insurance against old age even though their income-generating ability is usually lower. Activists in the feminist and antifeminist movements have all been shaped by these cultural tendencies. What differentiates Nicaraguan feminists from antifeminists is that feminists I interviewed consistently noted turning points in their own lives when they felt that they or other women were treated unfairly for being women, or when they came to reevaluate their past experiences of inequality, experiences that they had previously accepted as natural. In contrast, antifeminists seemed quite comfortable with their memories of sexual difference, often (especially in the case of women) insisting that there is no sexual inequality in Nicaragua. For instance, Elida de Solórzano argued that gender quotas are a bad idea because they are unnecessary. “I think that a woman can reach whatever goal she wants. Perhaps they discriminate against her [but] not because she is a woman, perhaps because of her family, because of her appearance, but not because she is a woman. This is a matriarchy here and women are very beloved. That is why there is so much devotion to the Virgin Mary” (Solórzano 2002b). Blanca Gutiérrez, an economics student at the Universidad Centroaméricana (UCA) who volunteered with the pro-life organization ANPROVIDA from 1997 until 2001, shared some of Solórzano’s opinions. The feminists, in her view, were mainly in favor of legalizing abortion; “They claim that it is a woman’s right” and also favor “equal rights in the [National] Assembly. I don’t agree with that either. I think by studying every person can reach [his or her] goals” (2002). Similarly, in the United States, many antifeminists hold individualistic positions like that of Gutiérrez, suggesting that gender inequality is nonexistent. When confronted with evidence of inequality, they explain that women must not study and work as hard as men. “It is for this reason that [Phyllis] Schlafly concludes, ‘The claim that American women are downtrodden and unfairly treated is the fraud of the century.’ Instead Schlafly insists that females are in a favored position in America, the privileged beneficiaries of the Christian tradition of respect for women, based on the chivalry and honor bestowed on Mary, the mother of Christ” (Klatch 1987, 50). A third woman who dismissed the idea of gender inequality is Evangelina de Guirola. In 1998 or 1999 she helped found the Fundación Sí a la Vida (Yes to Life Foundation). At the time of the interview she was also the

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vice president of ANIMU. She explained that feminists sought unnatural solutions to social problems that, in her view, did not exist.
I have heard some who say that they want equality but they want the sort of equality that goes against nature, like Marxism. . . . The first thing the radical feminists do is to make you feel like a victim. It is Paolo Freire’s system. . . . Never in my life have I felt discriminated against for being a woman. Never. This whole discourse about patriarchy, it doesn’t make sense to me. . . . I have never had the experience that women do not have the same opportunities as men. (2002a)9

In conflating the feminist argument that men and women do not always enjoy equal opportunities with Marxism and the work of the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, Guirola suggested that feminism is rooted in the revolutionary upheavals of the past generation. And she saw feminism, like other efforts for radical social change, as unnatural and deceptive. Guirola, who was born in El Salvador and moved to Nicaragua in the early 1990s, may have been thinking at least as much of El Salvador as Nicaragua when she condemned the revolutionary upheaval of Marx, Freire, and the feminists since she had extensive personal ties to the most powerful right-wing party in El Salvador, the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA).10 As she explained, many of the experiences that informed her anti-revolutionary, pro-life and antifeminist work were personal. “I was pro-choice when I was a teenager. I simply did not think that there was a baby. . . I lost two babies when I was newly married. . . . That helped to change my whole vision of motherhood” (2002). Two miscarriages, followed by five months in bed so as to finally carry a pregnancy successfully to term, left an impression. Those experiences transformed Guirola’s view of the meaning of pregnancy and motherhood, informing her later activism against abortion and feminism. Many prolife activists in the United States have had similar experiences. According to Luker,
For an astounding one-third of the pro-life people we interviewed, the event that ‘brought the issue home’ was a problem of parenthood: an inability to conceive, a miscarriage, a newborn child lost to congenital disease or an older child lost to childhood illness . . . it is hard to tell whether this is a higher than average rate of parental loss, but it is dramatically higher than the level reported by pro-choice activists. (1984, 151–2)

Perhaps because a personal experience of pregnancy cannot inform their activism or perhaps because it would be unseemly for a male antifeminist to deny the existence of gender inequality as many female antifeminists do, I found that male opponents of the feminist movement often identified gender inequality as a problem (while opposing feminist challenges to that inequality).


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Max Padilla, former head of the Ministry of the Family (MIFAMILIA), agreed with a reporter who observed that “something like 50% or more of all households are headed by a woman.” But while he agreed, he also suggested that the large percentage of households headed by single females was evidence of the power and prestige enjoyed by Nicaraguan women.
Definitely . . . in all of Nicaragua there is a matriarchal society . . . women are the heads of families. Also another thing about Nicaragua is that Nicaragua is the only country, at least in Latin America, where Mother’s Day is celebrated on a set date (May 30th) and on this set date all companies are obliged to give a half day off so that everyone can go to celebrate Mother’s Day. Also Nicaragua is a country that has been consecrated to the Virgin Mary. (quoted in Ramírez González n.d., 1)

In suggesting that Nicaraguan women hold more elevated positions than Nicaraguan men, Padilla used the sort of language often used by female antifeminists. But he also said that Nicaraguan women did not enjoy full equality with men.
We [in MIFAMILIA] . . . are completely convinced that women should have the same conditions as men at work, equality in labor responsibilities and salaries, because they are very capable. . . . This has been a sexist society and we often think that women are not human beings, this is reflected in many ways. I think that the most important thing to do is create a culture in which women are human beings, that should be respected, that should be loved and appreciated for all of their tremendous value. To always keep in mind that the ideal is that there are two people who are in charge of the household, which would benefit the family unit. (quoted in Ramírez González n.d., 1–2)

Clearly some of Padilla’s arguments are in tension with others. In a single interview he claimed that Nicaraguan women hold an elevated and powerful position in their matriarchal society, but that many men do not think of them as human beings. But if his ideas regarding gender inequality are somewhat contradictory, they were also less dismissive of feminist concerns than those held by many of his female counterparts. In discussing gender inequality, one man I interviewed went even further toward what seemed like a feminist analysis of Nicaraguan social problems. Asael Pérez, of the pro-life organization ANPROVIDA, said that the feminists’ existence was justified by “the inequalities that at certain moments have existed between men and women.” But for Pérez, “the radical feminist movement or gender feminism has deviated from the authentic protests of equity feminism. . . . I try to understand how it is that a feminist woman can be in favor of abortion,” he said, explaining that he thought abortion was the worst form of violence against women. “More than anything abortion benefits men because it eliminates their responsibility” (2002). Pérez’s argument, implying that women only get

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abortions because men pressure them to do so, is one that is also used by U.S. pro-life activists. “[B]ecause abortion formally diminishes male decision-making power, it also diminishes male responsibility. Thus, far from liberating women, pro-life people argue, abortion oppresses them” (Luker 1984, 162). In that same quote, Pérez made a distinction between “equity feminism,” with which he identified (or at least which he did not reject) and “radical” or “gender” feminism (which he clearly rejected). This effort to make fine distinctions can be seen, in some sense, as evidence of the legitimacy of feminism and the struggle for equality between men and women. Even people like Pérez, who oppose all organizations that call themselves feminist, sometimes suggest that they too are feminists. And Pérez is hardly unique; outside of Nicaragua, one can find many examples of opponents of the feminist movement claiming that they are the true feminists.11 In the end, though Pérez often used language that had a lot in common with that used by Nicaraguan feminists, his solutions were different from theirs. He hoped for a total ban on abortion under all circumstances since it was a “cliché” to suggest that women were ever endangered by pregnancy: “Science and medicine have managed to overcome that problem” (2002). His arguments for sexual abstinence before marriage included the claim that nonmarital sex is a sin. But he did not emphasize that line of argument. Instead, his arguments for abstinence were largely about personal empowerment for men and women. Of course, this language of empowerment was not free of irony, for he sought to empower people to choose from a narrow range of options: empowering them to be heterosexual, to be abstinent before marriage, and chaste within marriage. According to Asael Pérez, unmarried men would benefit by choosing abstinence since abstinence guaranteed that they would not be responsible for unplanned pregnancies. They would never be burdened with either the economic responsibility of unplanned children, or with guilt for having abandoned those children. For unmarried women, abstinence would mean freedom from fear of pregnancy without the risks of hormonal contraception. Abstinence would give them options in life and would ensure that they would never be forced to drop out of school to take on the burdens of single motherhood. For men and women, abstinence outside of marriage, and chastity within marriage meant that they would be free from sexually transmitted diseases. According to literature distributed by ANPROVIDA (in which condoms were drawn to resemble guns) the HIV virus could pass through latex and so condoms should be avoided. From the materials he gave me and the posters on the office wall, it seemed that promotion of abstinence and opposition to condoms took up more energy even than


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opposing abortion, which is logical given that abortion is illegal under most circumstances, while nonmarital sex and condoms remain legal.

Transforming Personal Politics
The early twenty-first century feminist and antifeminist movements in Nicaragua emerged, in different ways, in response to the Sandinista revolution. In the feminist case, the movement emerged thanks to the mobilization of women during the revolution, and despite the efforts of many Sandinista leaders to keep women from organizing in autonomous and feminist ways. In the antifeminist case, the movement emerged to contest the legacy of the revolution—especially the mobilization of young people and women through the revolution—and movement activists blame the revolution for the destruction of what they remember as a previously moral order. The activities of both feminist activists and their opponents were nurtured by an international context in which they had access to international networks (the Encuentros Feministas in the feminist case, the World Congress of Families in the antifeminist case, and the United Nations population and women’s conferences in both cases). Activists on both sides have enjoyed economic support from various development agencies and international organizations. Ironically, both sorts of activists criticize the other for accepting such support, claiming that accepting support makes them tools of powerful outsiders; both sides use the language of resisting imperialism to promote their very different agendas. Although it goes beyond the scope of this article, both feminists and antifeminists have been successful in mobilizing supporters, lobbying for legal changes, and shaping public policy, as illustrated by the story of Rosa, the little girl whose parents sought an abortion. In relative terms, feminists have been much more influential in civil society while antifeminists have been much more influential in shaping state policy (Pizarro 2003, 29–32, 35–8). In the ideas these two groups care about, there are sometimes surprising similarities. Asael Pérez’s arguments for sexual abstinence were largely about men and women taking control of their own bodies and benefiting from that control. This is strikingly similar to the themes emphasized by many feminist activists. But Pérez offered more than the message that young people should control their bodies. He gave men and women arguments they could use to resist pressures to have sex, something feminists normally do not do. In the course of doing the research for this article, I was often struck by similarities between feminists and their opponents. Members of both groups focus their work on transforming the politics of the everyday,

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that is, relations between men and women, boys and girls. Members of both groups see paternal abandonment of their children as a major social problem. Members of both groups share an interest in abortion being rare. Finally, members of both groups are keenly aware of the injustice of Nicaragua’s position in the world, of the devastating impact of neoliberal policies, and of the cost of cultural imperialism. Of course, it would be foolish to overstate their points of agreement. While both groups see the politics of sexuality and intimacy as profoundly important (something that many of their counterparts on the left and right do not), they disagree on how best to transform everyday life. At the same time as the feminists promote equality between men and women and respect for a variety of family types, their opponents promote complementary roles for men and women and respect for a single family type, the heterosexual family comprised of a legally married couple and their children, ideally with the husband as breadwinner and the wife as child-rearer. While both feminists and their opponents would like to see abortion become rare, they disagree on how to make abortion rare. The feminist vision of a better world is one in which women would not need abortions because they would have more control over their sexual lives and fertility and would not have to confront unwanted or dangerous pregnancies. Calling for a “sexuality free of prejudice,” most Nicaraguan feminists hope for a world in which everyone—including lesbians and gays—could live in accordance with their sexual orientation, free from fear of violence or discrimination. The antifeminists, in contrast, hope abortion will become rare (ideally nonexistent) because men and women will limit their sexual practices to the confines of marriage, because married women will always be ready and willing to become pregnant, and because abortion will be illegal and severely punished. In their ideal world, all people would be heterosexual, and both laws and public policies would enforce heterosexuality. Despite their many differences, at least some opponents of the feminist movement, like ANPROVIDA’s Asael Pérez, use the language of control over one’s body and empowerment when making their case, much like feminist activists do. Indeed the freedom to be healthy, to have the possibility of pursuing higher education or a career, to choose—or not choose—parenthood, are things that most people across the political spectrum could support. But it is quite unlikely that activists in the antifeminist movement would consider an alliance with women’s movement activists who also focus on the politics of reproduction and sexuality. Ultimately, they would be unwilling to promote people’s control over their own bodies if that freedom entailed the right to say yes, in addition to the right to say no.


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Karen Kampwirth is Associate Professor of Political Science at Knox College. She is author of Feminism and the Legacy of Revolution: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas (2004), Women and Guerrilla Movements: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Cuba (2002), and co-editor, with Victoria González, of Radical Women in Latin America: Left and Right (2001). Send correspondence to

1. Nicaraguan law prohibits abortion with three exceptions: in case of a documented rape, in case of danger to the pregnant woman’s life, and in case of severe damage to the fetus. Danger to the pregnant woman or damage to the fetus is determined by a team of at least three doctors (Juarez Ordoñez 2003). In Rosa’s case, the team of doctors that examined her “determined that the little one would run very high risks if the pregnancy were interrupted or if it were continued” (Romero 2003). 2. The groups that signed the open letter to George W. Bush were the following: Asociación Nicaragüense por la Vida (ANPROVIDA), Asociación Nicaragüense por la Mujer (ANIMU), Fundación Sí a la Vida, CARITAS de Nicaragua, COPROSA, Alianza Evangélica, ALFALIT, ALAFA Nicaragua, and Proyecto Raquel Nicaragua (Vida Humana Internacional 2002). I do not claim that this is a complete list of antifeminist groups in Nicaragua. Similarly, my discussion of feminist groups in this article is incomplete, but it is accurate to say that there are hundreds of feminist groups and a much smaller number of antifeminist groups. I gathered information on these groups, using the same research methods in both cases. At the end of each interview (all of which were conducted in the Managua area), I asked for suggestions for other individuals or organizations with whom I should try to speak—a method known as snowballing. Feminists did not have trouble coming up with new names of like-minded organizations, while the antifeminists kept suggesting the same organizations. 3. In 1992, Article 204, presented to the National Assembly, read: “Anyone who induces, promotes, propagandizes or practices sex between people of the same sex in a scandalous way commits the crime of sodomy. It will be penalized with one to three years of prison” (Kampwirth 1996, 77–80; 1998, 60–3). Although the FSLN block in the National Assembly voted unanimously against 204, it passed anyway. To this day it remains on the books, and while rarely enforced, it is a threat. 4. Elida de Solórzano, who holds a degree in sociology from the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), has held many prominent positions. A participant in the charismatic Catholic movement since 1974, and a member of the charismatic organization Ciudad de Dios since its founding in 1978, she lived in Nicaragua throughout the revolution despite the fact that as charismatic Catholics, not

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liberation theology Catholics, her family was harassed. After the Sandinistas were voted out of office, she worked closely with Humberto Belli, as his advisor (1990 to 1996) when he served as Vice-Minister and then Minister of Education. She participated in governmental delegations to several UN Conferences on Population and served as head of the Nicaraguan delegation to the Beijing +5 conference. From 1999 to 2002 she worked within MIFAMILIA as an advisor to Ministers Humberto Belli and Max Padilla. At the time of the interview, she was president of ANIMU, an organization founded in 1996, that through lobbying and sex education, seeks to support women and motherhood (2002a; 2002b). 5. After leaving MIFAMILIA, Max Padilla served as the Nicaraguan delegate to the United Nations (Hurlburt 2001), and he became president of the Asociación para Cooperación Educativa Nicaragüense (ACOEN), a development organization with links to Opus Dei (Bartolo Morales 2001; Opus Dei 2002). 6. Some would dispute Cabrera’s equation of population control policies and feminism, arguing that just because the population control establishment is opposed by antifeminist groups, it does not follow that proponents of population control are therefore feminist. “Population control advocates impose contraception and sterilization of women; the so-called Right to Life movement denies women the basic right of access to abortion and birth control. . . . Both approaches attempt to control women, instead of letting women control their bodies themselves” (Hartmann 1995, xviii). 7. The Nicaraguan government does not produce what most people would call pornography. Presumably Violeta Reyes de Padilla referred to sex education materials distributed by the government (through the Ministry of Health or the public schools) that she found pornographic. 8. This cultural stereotype—including the idea that women are inherently more responsible than men—is not unique to Nicaragua. See Stevens (1973) for an approving analysis of this stereotype, that she calls marianismo; see Bourque and Warren (1981, 59–65) for a critical analysis of this view of gender relations, that they call the separate spheres perspective. 9. Evangelina de Guirola’s wealth (evidenced by her having studied in the elite American school and by the fact that she arrived for the interview in a huge SUV, a rare sight in Managua) may color her views of gender discrimination, which sometimes are mitigated by money. Wealthy families do not face the terrible choices that lead some poor families to pull girls out of school so their brothers may study. Moreover, her decision to drop out of college to marry and raise children, and the fact that she has not sought paid employment as the children have gotten older, means that she has not had to compete within male-dominated institutions as have many right-wing women who identify gender equality among their goals (on right-wing women and feminism, see González and Kampwirth 2001, especially 14–7).


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10. Evangelina de Guirola was open about her ties to the Salvadoran Right; for instance, she told me that many of her classmates at the American School in San Salvador, had gone on to hold very powerful positions within national politics (including Francisco Flores, former president of El Salvador). Guirola’s sister, Julia Regina Sol de Cardenal, who founded the Fundación Sí a la Vida in El Salvador several years before Evangelina founded a group with the same name in Nicaragua, is married to Luis Cardenal, who ran for mayor of San Salvador in 1999 as ARENA’s candidate (2002). 11. For examples of U.S. opponents of organized feminism claiming to be feminists, see Buss and Herman 2003, 40–1; Hsieh 1996; McElroy 2004; Sommers 1994. On the same phenomenon in Mexico, see González Ruiz 2001, 54; Ruiz de Icaza 2004; Zepeda Aguilar 2001, 29.

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