Women's Role in the Sandinista Revolution

"Nicaragua, accustomed to kidnappings, tortures, murders of its peasants, border patrols, union leaders and members, children and teachers, coffee pickers, brave youth... our people, for whom heroism has turned into an everyday reality, and suffering the price we pay daily," Ser madre en Nicaragua (Being a Mother in Nicaragua) 23.

The Sandinista Revolution was marked by an unprecedented level of women's participation. By 1987, it was reported that 67% of 'active members' in the popular militia and 80% of guards - an estimated 50,000 nationwide - were women.

Many of these Nicaraguan women recorded their testimonies as guerrilla soldiers, producing a subaltern literary genre known as testimonial literature. Roads of the Polar Star is the everyday testimony of a Sandinista woman that walks with her battalion through rural towns, relating what she sees: "there they go, they are going to step in mud, sticky, like gum; they are going to be bitten by mosquitoes and some will get malaria... this is the reality of the peasant farmer, the reality that he lives each day, the reality that needs to change.. where there is mud, roads, highways must be opened; where there is malaria, health centers must be opened; where there is suffering, beauty must be created" (xii).


Outside military circles, Nicaraguan women, particularly mothers, formed the backbone of the Sandinista support network. They set up safe houses to feed, clothe and shelter guerrilla soldiers and political activists, organized shipments of first aid and medical supplies, built bombs and hid ammunition, carried messages and food to refugees hiding in the mountains, and rallied for the release of political prisoners.

Being a Mother in Nicaragua is a collection of forty-two testimonies of women activists, who lost their children to the Sandinista revolution and testify to the injustices wrought by U.S.-backed Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza and his National Guard. One mother draws strength from her son's death for her work in community service and activism: "on account of my child that has fallen, much help has come to us mothers. In truth, my child, now that he has fallen, helps me in the life that he gives me" (24).

Opinion varies whether women penetrated the male-dominated leadership circles of the Sandinista military. In "Women Challenge the Myth," Patricia Flynn argues that "(Nicaraguan) women held important leadership positions, commanding everything from small units to full battalions." As evidence, she points to the key final battle of León, where four of the seven high-ranking commanders were women. In addition, Glenda Monterrey, Chief of the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women (AMNLAE) estimated that women comprised 50% of the Sandinista leadership by 1984.


Others argue that male leaders in the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) held sterotypical views of women as irrational and unmotivated, discouraged women from joining the army, and segregated them into separate training camps - lacking confidence in their capabilities. Sandinista commander, Tomás Borge admits, "we are aware of compañeros that are revolutionaries in the street, in the workplace, in all parts, but are feudal lords of the gallows and the knife in the home" (cited in Mujer en Nicaragua, 15). He continues, "economic development on its own is not enough to achieve the liberation of women, and neither is the mere fact that women are organising. There must be a struggle against the habits, traditions, and prejudices of men and women. We must launch a difficult and prolonged ideolgical struggle, a struggle equally undertaken by men and women" (cited in Molyneux 128).

Continue! Discover what factors led to the
dramatic rise in Nicaraguan women's political participation in the 1970s-1980s. Or explore the depth of the FSLN commitment to women's equality and the current state of the Nicaraguan women's movement.

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Credit: Kristina Stevens. Adopted from: La mujer centroamericana y el género testimonial (Central American Women and the Testimonial Genre), B.A. Thesis, Spanish Language and Literature, Whitman College, 1996.


Revolution in Central America. Edited by the Stanford Central America Network. Westview Press: Boulder, Co. 1983.
------ Cagatay, Fatma and Joanne Scott. "Women and Revolution," pp. 379-384.
--------- Chinchilla, Norma Stolz. "Women in Revolutionary Movements: The Case of Nicaragua," pp. 379-384.
--------- Flynn, Patricia. "Women Challenge the Myth," pp. 414-22.

Molyneux, Maxine D. "Women's Role in the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Process: The Early Years," pp.127-147. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 9 #2, winter 1993.

Mujer en Nicaragua, p. 15. Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza. Editorial Nueva Nicaragua: Managua, Nicaragua, 1984.

Najilis, Michele. Caminos de la estrella polar. Editorial Vanguardia: Managua, Nicaragua, 1990.

Rosset, Peter and John Vandermeer. The Nicaragua Reader. Documents of a Revolution Under Fire, pp. xv-351. Grove Press, Inc.,: New York, N.Y. 1983.

Solá, Roser and María Pau Trayner. Ser madre en Nicaragua. Testimonios de una historia no escrita, pp. 13-244. Icaria: Barcelonia. 1988.

Works Related to Central American Testimonial Literature:

Alegría, Claribel and D.J. Flakoll. No me agarran viva. La mujer salvadoreña en la lucha. Ediciones Era: Mexico D.F., Mexico. 1983.

Beverley, John and Marc Zimmerman. Literature and Politics in Central American Revolutions. University of Texas Press: Austin, Texas. 1990.

Cabezas, Omar. Fire from the Mountain, the Making of a Sandinista. Translated by Kathleen Weaver. Crown Books: New York, N.Y. 1985.

Hooks, Margaret. We Guatemalan Women Speak. Introduction by Rigoberta Menchú. Ecumenical Program on Central American and the Caribbean: Washington, D.C. 1993.

I, Rigoberta Menchú, an Indian Woman in Guatemala. Edited and introduction by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. Translated by Ann Wright. Verso: New York, N.Y. 1984.

Lievens, Karin. El quinto piso de la alegría. Tres años con la guerrilla. Ediciones Sistema Radio Venceremos, 1988.

Martínez, Ana María. Las cárceles clandestinas de El Salvador. Prologue by René Cruz. Casa el Salvador: Mexico. 1992.

Tijerino, Doris María with Margaret Randall. Inside the Nicaraguan Revolution: "Somos millones.." La vida de Doris María combatiente nicaragüense. Mexico: Editorial Extemporáneos.

Zimmerman, Marc. Literature and Resistance in Guatemala. Vol. I and II. Ohio University Center for International Studies, Athens, Ohio. 1995.