No Gringos Here

"YOU'RE NOT ONE of those gringo feminists, are you?" the woman sitting at the AMNLAE office's reception desk asked suspiciously. Reyes hurried to explain her comrade's scorn. "Although we feel solidarity with European and North American feminists because machismo is a universal problem, we do not agree with their individualistic, capitalistic methods. They are separatists who do not work cooperatively with men as we do. I also question their sincerity-- we appreciate the telegrams of support sent to us after the revolution. But why didn't they send us money and typewriters? You can't build a movement on telexes."

Other than encouraging women to work and to resist sexism in personal life, there are few similarities between AMNLAE and the North American women's movement. U.S. feminists are generally middle and upper-class professionals, whereas most AMNLAE members hail from the urban poor. According to Reyes, it is the popular sector women who feel more of a personal debt to the revolution, for they had more to gain from it economically.

Another major difference is stands on birth control. For the average North American feminist, contraception and abortion symbolize social emancipation. In Nicaragua, however, "You're not a real woman if you don't have children," one female Sandinist says. Because of the Roman Catholic Church's heavy influence, abortions are only legal (and gratis) when the mother's or unborn child's lives are endangered. Because the FSLN government wants to repopulate Nicaragua (which lost 30,000 people during the war), contraception is not encouraged. Nor is it discouraged--family planning counseling and devices are free to all women, regardless of age or marital status. As with abortions, a woman can only obtain valid contraceptive prescriptions from government clinics.

Government and religious pressure seem to be successful. According to Maritza Flores Vega, a spokesman for the National Ministry of Health, less than 10 per cent of Nicaraguan women use birth control. Why? "Partly because people want children born in 'Free Nicaragua,' and partly because many uneducated women associate contraception with Somoza's forcibly sterilizing thousands of peasant women."

The last major difference between AMNLAE and U.S. women's groups is that the former is not interested in building an international feminist movement. The only exception to AMNLAE's nationalist focus is its moral and financial support of female leftist guerrillas in neighboring E1 Salvador. Reyes notes that "these women are going through a similar process to that which we did. And it is in Nicaragua's interests to help groups fighting to establish other Central American socialist states."