On June 22, the Law on Violence Against Women entered into force in Nicaragua, with the approval of its rules of procedure five months after the bill passed in the National Assembly. It carries a penalty of 25-30 years of jail time for a man who kills a woman with whom he had a relationship, including current or former romantic partners, family members, or friends.
The law is the result of two bills. The first was sponsored by the María Elena Cuadra Women's Movement in October 2010, with the backing of more than 12,000 signatures of women from around the country. Four months later, a second initiative was launched by the Supreme Court, and the approved law was a fusion of the two.
“The ratification of the law is the culmination of a process, because it's been the efforts over many years from within different sectors of the government,” said Roberto Larios, Supreme Court communications director. “When the government's project emerged and was publically announced by the Supreme Court, there was also a proposal by the María Elena Cuadra Women's Movement. There were a lot of people and media outlets that tried to confront both sides to see who deserved the credit, but both entities were wise enough to rise above these trivialities and push the bill forward together in the Assembly.”
“The law is extremely necessary and it's the product of many years of struggle by Nicaraguan feminists, by the organizations in the women's movements, and at the same time it's a result of the efforts made for more than 30 years in Nicaragua to eradicate violence against women,” said Ana María Pizarro, director of the NGO Sí Mujer and member of the Network of Women against Violence, during the forum “Human Security for Women: An emergency for states, society and regional integration,” held in Managua in March.
In the last decade, approximately 800 women were killed in Nicaragua, according to the Network of Women Against Violence. In the first three months of 2012 alone, 26 women were killed, including two girls and an adolescent — nine more than during the same period in 2011, according to press and online media monitoring conducted by the civic organization Catholic Women for the Right to Choose.
It is the first time at the national level that a law criminalizes femicide, which is the murder of a woman by a man as a result of extreme violence in private or public spheres. It also takes into account misogyny, defined as hateful behaviors toward women that are manifested through cruel or violent acts against them because they are women, which is considered to be causally related to femicide. This is “a huge step forward in national legislation,” according to Nicaraguan feminists.
In addition, the law provides comprehensive protection measures to “prevent, punish and eradicate violence, and assist female victims of violence, prompting changes in the sociocultural and patriarchal patterns that support power relations.”
According to Pizarro, “the law obligated the State to establish a policy of holistic protection for women, which will surely go beyond the violence issue, since it establishes a series of measures and provisions the country needs, and supports some that already exist, and also incorporates into the law definitions from other laws that benefit women.”
For example, to fully exercise of all rights, it is proposed that the country must strengthen and promote campaigns for all the rights of women, improve public policies to prevent violence, ensure financial resources for institutions that must comply with the law, create minimum standards for early detection and understanding of violence, and promote appropriation and broad participation of various civil society associations.
“Men kill women and rape them because it's the fastest and most efficient recourse aggressors have to try to control women and prevent them from exercising their autonomy, and especially to discipline them, to prevent women from transgressing the patriarchal mandates that place them as inferior to men, which can be a simple form of violence or the most extreme, like femicide,” Blandon said.
The feminist movement agrees that the law is a starting point, but as long as state and society as a whole do not change ideologies or messages that promote inequality and the power of domination, it is impossible to eradicate violence.
The implementation of the law will continue with the creation of six courts specialized in violence in departments that have higher rates of violence against women: Managua, Masaya, Matagalpa, León, Granada and Puerto Cabezas in the Autonomous Region of the Northern Atlantic.
“This is the best articulated effort so far to implement a law, because there has been an intensive selection process for [male and female] experts who will serve as judges and magistrates,” Larios said.
He said the main challenge is to ensure financial resources the law necessitates.
“Funding from the judiciary will ensure the immediate operation of the six courts, but if the budget request for next year is not addressed, there will be a delay of justice because the courts are going to be crammed with cases,” he said. “Guaranteeing the budget is essential. The law is useless if there are no resources to implement it.”