A few weeks ago, the World Economic Forum released a report naming Nicaragua sixth in gender equality using economic, political, education- and health-based criteria.
I’ve been in Nicaragua for two and a half months and this struck me as absolutely shocking. Every morning I dread leaving my hostel because of the catcalls that I know I’ll receive on the street—not just from old drunk men or immature adolescents, but also from cops—the men who are supposed to protect me. It’s deeply affecting my mood and my energy, and I’m experiencing a fraction of the sexism that women in Nicaragua face.
Street harassment is only one manifestation of the male-dominated society that prevails in Nicaragua. Many women cannot get access to the healthcare that they need. Young girls are discouraged from playing with boys and instead are helping their mothers with cooking and cleaning. There is a high incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse committed by fathers and uncles that is being ignored by neighbors because that’s the way it’s always been. The president of the country is accused of raping his adopted daughter.
How might a Nicaraguan woman feel upon hearing that her country is sixth in gender equality?
I think that the list that the World Economic Forum released is dangerous and uninformed. I realize that much of the data may have been based on improvements, but that’s no excuse for ignoring the daily, lived reality of women in a decidedly male-dominated country and heralding statistics to call that country gender-equal. Labeling Nicaragua as such is excusing the transgressions that are committed against women every day and on every level in Nicaragua. Because the World Economic Forum is respected, male Nicaraguan leaders can use this as fuel to dismiss the concerns of Nicaraguan women, and that’s just not acceptable.
I read the article just as I was beginning my independent study project and decided to incorporate it into my list of interview questions. When I asked some of the women I have been working with about the statistic, they unanimously answered that it is completely false—Nicaragua should not in any way be lauded as a country with a high level of gender equality. One woman responded, “How can a country be equal if I am a woman and I don’t feel safe?”
Some of you might react to this post with worry. “Lindsey’s writing about how Nicaragua is a difficult place for women, yet she’s there.” The reality is that the United States is not faring much better than Nicaragua. In the United States:
- Every 2 minutes, someone is sexually assaulted.
- 65% of women have experienced street harassment.
- Rape is the most unreported crime.
- A “boys will be boys” mentality prevails in raising young children.
- A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.
I’m not trying to make a case that the United States is better or worse than Nicaragua at gender-equality (for what it’s worth, WEF rates the US as number 20 on the list). I’m simply trying to call attention to the gender-based inequities that fill our world. Gender based violence kills 1 in 3 women worldwide, so why don’t we do something about it? This project is me doing something in tribute to women’s resilience and a world with fewer catcalls and more justice.