Justice for Massiel: Nicaragua’s Path to Gender Equality

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On July 19th, in the early hours of the morning, in our very own Batahola Norte, Luis Andy García Rivera shot his partner, Massiel Carolina Serrano Benavides. She was rushed to the hospital where she remained for 36 hours until her family took her off life support, after hearing the news that she was in a permanent vegetative state. She is survived by her mother, siblings, 2 children, and many other family members and friends.

When I arrived here last month and read the newspaper article, I was shocked that something like this could happen in a neighborhood I believe to be ‘safe.’ But Massiel’s death is a painful reminder to this community that domestic violence and femicide, “the killing of females by males because they are females,” can occur in every socioeconomic class and in every neighborhood.

On Tuesday, October 8th, the court began hearing testimony in the prosecution of Massiel’s partner, Luis. I was able to accompany a group of community workers from the Center who organize against domestic violence to go and support the family of Massiel, who waited to give their testimonies.

Her death comes at a time of major change in the country, as last year Nicaragua passed law 779, the “Holistic Law Against Violence Against Women,” which is seen as a historic step forward in protecting women who have experienced violence. Beyond just domestic violence, the law seeks to protect women experiencing violence in the work place as well.  Women’s rights advocate Maria Teresa Blandon comments that,

“The scope of the law also represents great step forward. In addition to including interpersonal relationships, inter-familiar relations—including couples and those relations developed in the community—it also addresses the interaction between women and government officials when it comes to women’s access to justice.

Identifying femicide as the most extreme form of violence that men perpetrate against women as part of unequal relationship of power represents another significant step forward with this law because it establishes the adaptation of specific measures to prevent, investigate, and punish femicide, as part of the policies of citizen security. In doing this, the State recognizes that gender violence is a continuum which must be dealt with in a timely manner before it leads to the assassination of women.”

But as soon as the law passed, it saw resistance from religious and men’s groups claiming that the law supports the break-up of the family and is discriminatory against men. These groups lobbied and eventually were successful in causing the Supreme Court to review and amend the law, requiring that the law allow mediation for instances where the penalty for the abuser is less than 5 years. This means that the woman would have to sit across the table from her abuser and could lead to the charges being dropped.

Yesterday, October 22nd, brought the last day of the trial, and I went with a few workers from the Center once again to the courthouse. Her family seemed nervous as they held large framed photographs of Massiel, and a niece showed me photos of Massiel’s two young children, the daughter just recently having celebrated her birthday without her mother. Finally, in the evening around 8 o’clock, the verdict came back: guilty. All her niece said was ‘Gracias a Dios,’ meaning Thank God. Somehow after hearing the verdict I didn’t feel much better. Now his children (with another woman) have to live without their father, and Massiel’s children have to live without a mother. His sentencing is next week and at least hopefully he won’t be able to hurt anybody else for the foreseeable future.

There is no great solution in the aftermath of her murder, no punishment that can make things alright again. Nicaragua saw 85 reported femicides in 2012, and there have already been 60 femicides from January to August of this year. But with laws like 779, Nicaragua is making considerable progress in seeking to find structural and cultural solutions to an issue that many other societies are choosing not to confront. The resilient and resourceful women’s organizations here are doing more than their part to ensure that Nicaraguan women will find justice in the face of domestic violence. And as we yelled out in front of the courthouse yesterday: NICARAGUA, NO TE QUEDES CALLADA, PORQUE MUERTA Y ENTERRADA, NO SE HACE NADA! Nicaragua, don’t stay silent, because being dead and buried doesn’t do you any good!

-Erika C.

Additional reading on 779:

http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2012/03/comments-on-the-integral-law-against-violence-against-women/2720

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/sep/27/nicaraguan-law-reforms-women-face-abusers

http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/central-america-nicaragua-domestic-sexual-abuse-women-children-feminist-movement   

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