Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 300 | Julio 2006



The Words of Women from “Nicaragua’s Navel”

“We decided to call our station ‘Women’s Word’ because usually men are the only ones who speak. We need to recover the speech they’ve taken from us.” For 14 years, Bocana de Paiwas’ Women’s Center and radio station have banked on continuing the revolution of conscience. They’re a living echo of tet revolution that set out to transform Nicaragua 27 years ago.

María López Vigil

Bocana de Paiwas is the navel of Nicaragua and, although the Bible doesn’t say so, it’s also the earthly paradise,” explain the women from this corner of Nicaragua. Whether it’s heavenly is a subjective appriaisal, but it’s been scientific proven that it’s the navel. In 1999, a team of cartographers from the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER) arbitrated a local dispute and determined by mathematical and geodesic calculations that the very center of Nicaragua is in the Copalar hills. The Paiwas River starts in those foothills and then joins the Rio Grande de Matagalpa. Bocana de Paiwas is the municipal seat of Paiwas, which in the Chontal language means “two rivers.” It’s rich in agricultural land, has a long tradition as cattle country, and is studded with archaeological sites where the ancestral residents left beautiful petroglyphs and other treasures that are still being discovered.

To prove its serene beauty, you have to travel 300 kilometers east from Managua. Then you discover something even more beautiful: in this paradise, Eve isn’t born from Adam’s rib—she’s the one holding the reins. At least the reins to the development of conscience. The women have the word here.

“It’s extraordinary that our
voice has carried so far”

On June 10, 2005, Bocana de Paiwas went through one of globalization’s amazing and positive doors. On that day, the British organization One World Broadcasting Trust awarded Bocana de Paiwas’ only radio station, Palabra de Mujer (Women’s Word), its international media prize to communities in the South for its outstanding work in supporting women’s development and defending the environment.

Jamileth Chavarría traveled to London to receive the prize, overcoming her nervousness on the plane and in front of the microphone by setting her horizons further than the Copalar hills to speak to the British people in the name of millions of women. “I want to recognize the Paiwas feminists who, along with others from Nicaragua and the rest of the world, have dedicated a great part of our lives to understanding, denouncing and fighting the patriarchal culture that excludes half the world’s people,” she began. “We’re convinced that development is only possible when it comes from people’s genuine interests and not from capitalism’s great needs. We believe in our right to have a voice and presence in important decisions that affect everyone in Nicaragua. We believe that it’s necessary to take into account women’s ability to create and recreate life if we want to build a democracy that works for all of us.... We proudly receive this prize as recognition of our daily struggle, which is the struggle of thousands of women in that small piece of Nicaraguan territory. It’s extraordinary that our voice and our work have arrived all the way here today.”
It is indeed extraordinary that the voice of peasant women from that corner of Nicaragua have traveled so far with such strength and recognition. How was it possible? envío asked Jamileth Chavarría to explain how Women’s Word was born, what experiences brought the words of Paiwas’ women to the surface and what changes they’ve achieved with them.

Once there were three witches
who were the people’s conscience

Jamileth is a peasant woman in her late thirties, with an honest and astute smile and shining eyes. In Bocana de Paiwas they know her as “the Witch,” a title she’s earned and is proud of. For almost five years now, Women’s Word radio has opened its broadcast schedule at 5 in the morning with The Messenger Witch. Jamileth turns into a witch so she can wish the women a good morning, denounce the men who mistreat them and summarize and comment on the news so people can learn what’s going on in the world and think and even dream of another possible world. This hour of programming is most responsible for drawing the attention of the British organization that gave the award to the station.

Bocana de Paiwas’ Women’s Center is older than the radio station, with 14 years of life and effort under its belt. It has engaged in workshops, campaigns, training projects, organizing, thought and action. “For example,” explained Jamileth, “before we had the radio three of us dressed up as witches, with black costumes, pointy hats and brooms, and did street theater. Because life is so routine, people loved it. Once a month we performed in our cultural center. What did we do? We made up little wisecrack rhymes against the politicians, reported town news, criticized things. We improvised according to what was happening in town. Women, men and children came to hear what we were going to say and who we were going to target, ‘what the witches will pull out of their hats today.’ About a hundred people would come. The entrance fee was twelve plastic bags picked up from the street, so we were also cleaning up the town. At the end of each performance, the witches burned the bags with everybody. So even before The Messenger Witch came on the air, the witches were already popular.”

Why witches? Why not some other identity? Long before the DaVinci Codes, there was already some history that was building conscience in these women’s minds. According to Jamileth, “We wanted to make the name ‘witch’ something positive, because people always relate it to something bad. The bus drivers call the bus stop at the corner of the Women’s Center, which is at the entrance to town, the witches’ stop. They think they’re offending us. But it doesn’t bother us. On the contrary, we defend being witches in the name of the thousands of women accused of being witches and killed during the Inquisition in order to bury all their knowledge of medicines and other arts.”

An idea born of a tragedy

Women’s Word radio was born of a tragedy and a dream, Jamileth explains. “We began to think about the radio station after Hurricane Mitch. Every tragedy teaches something. During Mitch a bridge collapsed and Paiwas was cut off. It was then that we said we needed to have a means of communication.” The idea grew into a must when they added their dream of using radio to multiply the workshops that the Women’s Center had been organizing for years.

“The Women’s Center was started by seven ‘crazy women’ who organized themselves around the silent epidemic of cervical-uterine cancer,” recalls Jamileth. “In our communities women didn’t know about Pap smears and didn’t know that we have to take good care of our vulva and vagina. That first clinic was the starting point of a broader process, which we took further with the workshops. With the radio station we could go even further and be with women all day: in their kitchen, their homes, at any hour. We could be with those who don’t go out because they have little children, with those who didn’t come here because they were embarrassed, with those who didn’t attend our workshops because their husbands wouldn’t give them permission. Today we know that some of them take the radio to the river so they can listen while they wash clothes.”

Once there was a witch who guessed everything...

There was no local radio station in Bocana de Paiwas. Today there’s only the one the women created. People listen to some national radio stations and the signals of only two of the seven national television channels reach that far.

One of the most popular programs for years in Nicaragua, including Bocana de Paiwas, has been La Paloma Mensajera (The Messenger Pigeon), the creation of the songwriter and actor Otto de la Rocha, who mixes popular songs and double-meanings with picaresque and even vulgar sexual comments. “We said, if this guy has this machista program, we can have a feminist program that educates. There’s nothing positive about this machismo. Why shouldn’t the witches do a program? That was how The Messenger Witch was born. The witch would point out to women, to everyone, the bad things that happen, but with humor, because people like it when things are told as jokes; we take it in better. We did it the way we always do—by consulting women. Shortly after starting the program, a woman from the community of Sikia proposed during a workshop that the same witch denounce men who mistreat us. We liked the idea, and we did it.”

At that time there was a children’s cartoon program on television with a very popular character who was a witch who foretold everything with her “crystal ball.” The “messenger witch” decided to take this character to the radio, putting a local voice to this fantasy. She used the witch to tell premonitions, to predict, denounce and confront violence against women. Women began to send messages to the radio station telling the witch about the violence they endured at the hands of the men in their homes, and these weren’t anonymous accusations. They named names. On the following mornings, the witch “divined” what was happening in those homes with her “ball.” It was a bold and original proposal, very defiant.

With a flying broomstick and an inspiring laugh

Violence against women is of truly epidemic proportions in Nicaragua. Is there more violence now than before or is that more women are now daring to speak? If there’s more now, is the neoliberal “development” model, which has caused such high unemployment, triggered violence by men displaced from their role as family providers, or do other reasons weigh on them more? If women are speaking out more, how much is society listening to them? While the debate about the epidemic goes on and avenues for confronting it are proposed, the women of Bocana de Paiwas decided to test the vaccine of social and moral sanctions.

At the microphones, Jamileth Chavarría appears transformed into an 86-year-old witch, whose audience celebrates her birthday every year. Surrounded by pots and pans, chickens, cows, donkeys—whose presence is produced by a variety of sound effects—she greets the women and shares her thoughts with the people. The most noticeable sound is the broom: “like a rocket—swooooosh!” The witch flies over the Paiwas communities and beyond. She has a broom with brakes, like a car’s, and when she wants to stay in a community to “see” what is happening there, she stops. Another sound effect. Then she begins to speak and to foretell....

We asked Jamileth to reproduce some of her morning talks, to see what she says and how she says it. Her messages always begin with and are accompanied by a sharp and knowing cackle. “That inspires me; I need something that grabs me. I use that cackle to get started; I forget who I am and begin to be the witch.”

I’m watching you, Tony, shape up...
I see you in my ball, Pancracio...”

“Hee hee hee.... Today in my crystal ball I see someone... He isn’t a politician... This one is another kind of aggressor. His name is... Pedro Pérez... It’s PP the batterer... Look at that, and the woman has seven children... You, Pedro, what do you feel, what is it that makes you beat this woman? Hey creep, we women are human beings; we have rights! You have to change your ways. What’re you teaching your children for their future? To beat people up too? No, man, you’ve got to pull yourself together, you’ve got to think... And you, girl, don’t stay trapped in that, because you aren’t alone... Look for the feminist girls of the Women’s Center....

“Hee hee hee... Moving on through my magic ball I see Tony... Let’s see, Tony, what happened yesterday? Hmm? You’re there, I see you there… Look, Tony, until recently they told us that we shouldn’t get involved in a couple’s problems, that it was a private thing, but not anymore, Tony, not anymore... On several occasions this man has hit his wife and his little girl... That’s awful, you shit! Look, you can see their bruises... And don’t you come to me with lies, because I can see those blows in my ball, Tony... And it’s lucky I’m seeing them and you, too, Tony. I’m going to be watching to see if you mend your ways...

“Hee hee hee... I’m putting my hands on the ball and I see you, Pancracio... What a savage; here’s a man who says he loves his mother yet look at that, he’s just finished beating up Cipriana, the mother of his own children... It doesn’t make you look good, Pancracio... Don’t you know that we now have Law 230 that punishes this kind of violence? Don’t you know that violence is no longer a private thing? So stop that foolishness. If not, I’ll demand that the police, who are just a block away, keep an eye on this jerk who’s hitting his woman every day. He’s beating her up!”

The witch speaks of PP, Tony and Pancracio, gives details, scolds them, warns them, moves from one house to the other, from one district to the next. Jamileth knows almost all these men personally, but when she talks about them she forgets that and becomes only the divining and judging witch. She also plays songs that make women think. And she plays popular, chauvinistic ranchero songs on the air so she can criticize the lyrics’ disrespect to women.

Zero violence in the street, at home... and in bed!”

The witch is also a sex educator. “This is very necessary,” explains Jamileth. “Many men come home drunk and demand to have sex and if the woman isn’t prepared or doesn’t want to, he ends up raping her! We also take all this on because our central campaign is: zero violence in the street, at home, and in bed!”

“Hee hee hee… Good morning, friends, how did your day begin? I love being with you! I’m stoking the fire and am feeling very chatty today.... Today we had a wonderful rain. Did you feel it? I’m almost falling asleep on my flying broomstick.... Tell me, how did last night go, women? How did they treat you? Did you have a real orgasm or did you fake it? Did they please you or did they push you around? Well, think about it, because it’s really important that you want it and get pleasure from it. Today is May 30 and we’re all dressed up because it’s Mother’s Day... But, are we celebrating only what the church wants, what the politicians want, what the men want?... What are we celebrating? Because we women should celebrate other things, we should claim the right to grow, to learn, to develop, to exercise our rights in the street, in the home… and in bed! Hee hee hee...”

From there the witch begins to explain some aspects of feminine sexuality, a theme that is always present in her morning show. Sex education also appears in the radio station’s other programs, which broadcast brief announcements with phrases that “stick.” These days the slogan is “Protection Yes, Pressure No.”

Sex education for Paiwas’ youth

Twenty-year-old Nereida was a mother at 15 and has been working with the Women’s Center for five years, educating other young people, directing a dance and theater group and supporting women and youth who have suffered physical and sexual violence. She proudly proclaims that “we’ve been so important in the municipality that the girls are starting to change the way they think.” They insist on sex education in the program Mentes Desnudas (Naked Minds), geared to young people. One of the chants is “Dating without Violence.” The listeners send letters to the station with their questions on menstruation, birth control, penis size, condoms....

“Women listen to all these messages about sexuality,” says a satisfied Jamileth, “and so do all the men. We even know about men who put the radio in the corral so they can listen when they’re milking the cows. For so long it was bad to talk about sexuality; it wasn’t allowed. They listen to it because people like what’s not allowed. But this isn’t bad; it’s education. You go to other media, and what’s on? All the gory details of a murder, news about the rape of a child explaining all about what they did to her... This kind of information is like a school for rapists and murderers. What we do is always educational and positive.”

At 6 in the morning the witch retires to her cave in the Esquirín hills, in fact an archaeological site where a very curious anthropomorphous figure was found. People say they see drawings of dinosaurs on its back. Is it true? Did dinosaurs walk in Nicaragua’s navel? Will we know someday? Meanwhile, all Bocana de Paiwas already knows that the cave and the surrounding areas are magic places, the habitat of witches.

The toughest case for the witch,
and for Bocana de Paiwas

Jamileth says the witch is harder or easier depending on the case, the abuse, the level of violence. The most difficult case they’ve ever taken on happened this year, when the director of a middle school linked to the Catholic church, a popular man in town who had just launched his mayoral candidacy on the FSLN ticket and is coach of the school’s baseball team, got one of his 13-year-old students pregnant. Women’s Word committed itself completely to the case, which went as far as the courts. The Women’s Center gave the girl its full support.

“It wasn’t easy for me. Denis was a friend of mine,” Jamileth said sadly, “but with that, I denounced him and the witch talked about the case. Denouncing him put me between a rock and a hard place. Because, who’s your priority? We have to have principles and not weaken. You have to denounce whoever it is with equal belligerence, even if he’s your friend, and setting aside his power.

“The sad part, the surprising part was that when we denounced him virtually everyone came down on us. The majority of the people in town, in the church, the school, closed ranks to protect him. Even the girl’s friends! They blamed her. The girl and her mother went through a period where they only went out of the house at night because people pointed at the girl and said vulgar things. One of the things we did to confront this was to get the young women from the Women’s Center to accompany the girl through the streets, with their heads held high. That’s how they protected her. That first stage of the impact is passing now. Clearly, we couldn’t interrupt the pregnancy because she was already five months along or even a little further when we found out. The girl first said she wanted to strangle the child when it was born, so we told her that we’d put it up for adoption. Then she wanted to keep it. She’s now given birth and is surrounded by godmothers.”

Some men change, others get worse
and the authorities let us down

What impact, what results, do these denunciations have? “There’s a little of everything,” acknowledges Jamileth, “and going down this path hasn’t been easy. We’ve seen several effects: men who change, men who increase their aggression once they’ve been denounced, husbands who cut down on the abuse, and we suspect that other husbands have put a muzzle on their women so they don’t make a fuss and get them denounced. We’ve seen that the number of charges in the witch’s mailbox has gone down and that there are more in the courts or the district attorney’s office. The sad thing is that the district attorney isn’t any good. Why make a denouncement, if in the end the authorities don’t do anything?

“We’ve seen changes in some men. One even came to speak to me and told me that what the witch had seen in her ball was true, that he had mistreated his woman, had been wrong and was going to change and treat her differently. He was so ashamed of what he’d done that he separated from her. And I’ve seen that he gives her child support.

“We’re happy when men tell us that the denunciations have given them the opportunity to reflect and think about their life. That’s why we do it; we’re not trying to destroy anything or denigrate the man by making the charge. That’s not our plan. Our idea is to build. Other men come here and tell us, “Yeah, I beat her up.” They think that if they recognize it, the charge will be taken back. But it has already been made and we never just leave it to the radio. We let the authorities know that a woman is suffering violence in such and such a place. And in some cases they take measures for the woman’s safety. Of course, if the law were applied, our impact on the radio would be greater, but the authorities—the judges, the police, the district attorney—don’t respond as they should. The attorney is supposed to come to town twice a month but he doesn’t come even once.

“There’s no one to complain to. There’s a police station in Bocana de Paiwas, but the chief is in another district. It isn’t true that the most effective thing is to file charges with the police. A cow is more important to the police than a woman. We’ve had cases of a raped child, of a beaten woman who go to the police, but the police pay no attention; first they’ll go after the guy who rustled a cow. The raped woman is waiting there and they don’t attend to her. Or they tell her to bring a medical statement. But the woman bathed before going to the doctor, because she felt dirty for what she lived through, so she lost the evidence. If there’s no evidence, there’s no statement, and with no statement they don’t pay her any mind. Because of all these experiences, we consider the authorities useless.”

Is the countryside more machista?
What can be done about impunity?

In Nicaragua, men’s violence against women is considered “natural.” There’s a generalized social tolerance that can be proven. The roots of an accepted religion uncritically legitimize a male God, as well as the superiority of men and their abuses of power. The cultural result is superstition and archaic thinking, revealed in the enormous impunity with which men’s violence against women is entrenched everywhere.

Does Jamileth believe that machista violence is greater in the rural areas than in the city? “I don’t feel that it is; I think it’s the same. Machismo is more disguised in the city. What happens is that women of a certain social level, who have internalized their submissiveness, don’t make denunciations. In this aspect, rural women are freer. I really believe that machismo rules equally in the countryside and in the city.”

And what does the witch think about the many violent acts that end in impunity? “Impunity is the law in Nicaragua; it’s institutionalized. It’s seen clearly in the corruption cases. The same thing happens with machista violence. What is our responsibility? What’s left for us to do? Moral sanction is what has been most effective for us: make the crimes public on the radio and say clearly that this man and that man aren’t good.”

The witches’ road is dangerous and risky. “We feel afraid,” Jamileth confesses. “There are always reprisals, from throwing beer bottles at the Women’s Center on the nights when the men are out drinking, to even shooting at us.... One time a man hired another to kill me and another woman. We hid away the first few days, but then we decided to make that public too. These dangers have taught us to be stronger, to say things, to stand up to them. Now people know what we’re like and that we won’t be silent. We’ve earned recognition and respect by being that way. As soon as we know something we make it public. It’s the only way: the word, the strength of the word.”

Workshops for men, too?

The question comes up naturally: Do you work with the men, too? Haven’t you thought about “masculinity workshops?” Jamileth doesn’t hesitate in responding, “There are always peasant women in our training sessions with the same question, women who want us to give workshops to educate the men, so they will change and not mistreat them so much. We tell them that we already work with the men through the radio. We tell them that changing ourselves will create a need for change among the men and the community as a whole. We tell them that first we have to change ourselves, educate ourselves, take on new ideas, develop our independence, build our self-esteem.

“We have to rebuild ourselves because everywhere we look we find pieces of women. We’re whole women physically, but we’ve been broken into pieces: we have a history of abortion, of rape we’ve suffered and don’t speak of; we have the stories of our sad childhoods that were difficult because of poverty.... First we have to rebuild ourselves in order to join together those pieces of woman that we are today.”

“So the rivers don’t go quiet
and the towns don’t die”

The women of Bocana de Paiwas and their Women’s Word radio station don’t just work on planting the seeds of feminism in the consciousness of women and men. They are clear that feminism isn’t just a proposal for resolving “women’s” problems, but rather those of all society; that it’s an ethical and humanistic proposal and an integral policy. Understanding this, the women have also organized and led the resistance by the people of Bocana de Paiwas to the Copalar mega-project, which is backed by the Inter-American Development Bank and by a consortium of transnational corporations.

This gigantic project for producing hydroelectric energy, was conceived 40 years ago. In the seventies, while Somoza was still in power, the project was shelved for technical reasons and because of the insurrection against the dictatorship. The Sandinista government wanted to start it up again, but the war in the eighties made that impossible. Today it’s included in the grand objectives of Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), which is fading from view. Its defenders and backers—led by President Bolaños in Nicaragua—argue that it would provide energy independence for our country, which currently gets 83% of its energy from petroleum and its derivatives, which are increasingly costly. It’s calculated that Copalar would produce twice the energy that Nicaragua uses today.

Those who reject this mega-project do so because such colossal hydroelectric dams have had negative effects in other Latin American countries and in the world. They are also in solidarity with other people who oppose them. For example, there is a people’s movement “against the dams” in Panama whose slogan is: “So the rivers don’t go quiet and the towns don’t die.” With a similar idea, the women of Bocana de Paiwas oppose this project so that the Rio Grande de Matagalpa and their paradise, Bocana de Paiwas, aren’t wiped off the map.

On receiving the One World prize in London, Jamileth Chavarría explained its importance “at a moment when our community is facing the threat of disappearing once construction starts on the hydroelectric plant. This project, called COPALAR-PPP, was never discussed with the people of Paiwas and will destroy our identity and lifestyle, only to assure profits for international and national corporations that just sack and destroy the natural resources of the South’s countries, leaving nothing in exchange for their people or their environment.

Resisting the Copalar mega-project

The Copalar project would change Nicaragua’s map. It involves flooding part of the Rio Grande de Matagalpa watershed, which includes 21 of the rivers that feed it and the surrounding valleys. Half the municipality would disappear, including its seat. According to the original design, the water dammed for the hydroelectric plant would cover an area equivalent to half of Managua’s Lake Xolotlan, whose surface is some 1,050 square kilometers. The main dam would be almost a kilometer wide and 200 meters high. According to its supporters, the project would affect 5,000 people, counting only those who would have to be evacuated and resettled. But in Bocana de Paiwas, they multiply the calculation by six: 30,000 people would lose their habitat.

The women of Paiwas began to organize themselves and the people in opposition to the project in 2005. They are staging a permanent mobilization: information, protests, chants and banners in the streets. They have planned two forums with people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who saw their lives destroyed by similar projects.

The women also targeted the legislators, who will have to vote the project up or down. In May 2006, President Bolaños sent a bill to the National Assembly on the Copalar project, whose infrastructure is calculated at nearly US$300 million. President Bolaños and Mexico’s President Fox called Copalar “the business of the century.” In Bocana de Paiwas the women, indignant and decisive, want to know who the beneficiaries of that business will be. They are determined to block it.

“Our roots and our dead will disappear”

“We’ve been to the Assembly,” says Jamileth, “looking for legislators. They say they don’t know anything about the project. But we are convinced that they do and that there are a lot of interests behind this that will mean benefits for them. They don’t want us to know that. They don’t want to help us get information. They don’t inform organized people. Representative Jarquín Anaya sits on the Assembly’s Infrastructure Commission. When he spoke with us, the only thing he wanted was to convince us how marvelous the dam will be. He’s interested in the dam, not in Paiwas. He isn’t interested in development for our people.”

In Bocana de Paiwas there’s a Commission against the Dam, with broad participation from all sectors of the population. The women have been organizing groups of women and men in all the communities of all three municipalities that will be affected by the damming—Río Blanco, Matiguás and Paiwas—so they’ll join the resistance.

Solid and assured, Jamileth affirms that they may all get killed, but they won’t abandon their lands. “Building that plant means burying us, because they will bury the roots of our history, our identity. They’ll erase the lands where we’ve made our lives. And they’ll erase our dead, whom we still love. Are we going to go throw flowers on that lake they’re going to make? Besides, we know that it has already been shown on a worldwide level that these gigantic hydroelectric plants are damaging and that the so-called development they promise isn’t to benefit the poor but the transnationals. To permit this plant is to permit our death and the sacking of our country.”

Coverage, impact, rules...

Numbers show the reach of these women’s words. Bocana de Paiwas, the municipal seat, has 3,500 residents. There are 51,000 people in the municipality as a whole, which has 32 rural districts. In its 14 years of life, the Women’s Center has trained 32 women as community organizers, who supervise another 10 organizers in each district. They have also formed a communications network of 15 young people, who supervise another 10 in each community. The radio signal covers some 80 kilometers, reaching Matiguás, Río Blanco, Siuna, El Tortuguero, La Cruz del Río Grande and Camoapa. Sometimes it can even be heard in Bonanza.

There’s no lack of financial problems, as Jamileth explains. “The radio station doesn’t have political party or religious ends. We don’t want anything to do with the corrupt politicians’ filthiness. We know that religion has traditionally shut out women. So there’s the problem, because the churches and the political parties are the ones who pay more. We don’t give them space to say whatever they want.... We want everyone to participate on the radio, because that’s what political pluralism is about, but we want to play by our own rules. If a party wants to buy air time, knowing that a lot of people listen, we start saying the rosary of rules that they have to respect and tell them that if they disrespect them they won’t be given air time again. We can’t allow them to use our own microphones to throw away the work we do.”

Obstacles, pressures, strategies....

Bocana de Paiwas is a bastion of Alemán’s PLC. Many people displaced by the war in the eighties joined that party. The Catholic Church and the evangelical churches have a strong presence and never stop pressuring. Many of the religious people focus their criticism on the radio program’s open education about interrupting a pregnancy. They even say in their revival meetings: “Don’t listen to that radio because it’s a sin.” They’ve been dodging those obstacles because people listen to the radio and that gives them power. The power of words.

“An effective strategy for us,” says Jamileth, satisfied, “has been to broadcast baseball games. That’s where the purest machismo is: that’s where all the men go. They leave their houses cleaned up, well-dressed, with their pistols ,and the women stay at home. We bring the signal from the playing field with a simple setup we adapted to our radio equipment. It comes out a little noisy, but since people want to know how the game is going and the women want to know how their men are doing, the whole town listens. The sports announcers do the transmission, but between innings we get the controls, so Women’s Word does announcements against violence, in favor of abortion—all of our messages. The whole town listens to us.”

“I was a feminist even before I said the word”

Bocana de Paiwas’ messenger witch has a guardian angel. A female angel, of course. When we asked Jamileth how long she’d been a feminist, how she became one, where she found that inspiring feminist energy she used to inspire other women, she got emotional.

“I believe it was my mom. She taught me so much. Carmen Mendieta was her name. She’s my angel. My mother wasn’t a traditional woman. She was the first woman in Bocana de Paiwas to hold out a banner insisting on women’s rights, the first to say the word demand. She was a member of AMNLAE, the association of Sandinista women. We were seven children and we stayed alone in the house because she was always going to meetings; she participated in everything. She told us that we had to stay alone so much because it was time to organize, time for women to be strong. To help her we all made the tortillas, my brothers as well as my sisters. We learned not only to cook but to survive and take care of each other. It was learning by living. She was killed in an ambush in 1987 during the war. She was 36 years old, and I was 15. I believe they would have killed her anyway because of the way she was. I learned from her.

“I think I was a feminist before I ever said the word. Ever since I was little I felt rebellious, but I didn’t know what that was called. Then I became a teacher. I never got along with my boss because he wanted to lay down the rules and that didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t go to the university to learn feminism, but it became a necessity built from my own life and the needs of other women. To find myself afterwards with the Women’s Center was like freeing this bird I had inside me. I could fly. This organization is the light of my life.”

July 2006: 27th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. The revolution stayed alive in women’s organizations like this one in Bocana de Paiwas, which today flower all over our land. The part that lives is that dream of transformation for which so many women like Carmen Mendieta gave their lives, that light that so many women like her daughter Jamileth use to learn to see life, to think and to build another Nicaragua, another world.

María López Vigil is editor in chief of envío.

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