In a climate where women’s rights organizations are rapidly subsiding in poverty-stricken Nicaragua, young but roaring feminist Maria Fernanda Pineda Calero is leading youth in the fight for reproductive rights.
When Pineda Calero, 16, isn’t at school, playing soccer or reading books by Mexican feminist writer Marcela Lagarde, the nicaragüense is teaching girls about their sexual, reproductive and citizenship rights. She is the teenage coordinator for the feminist youth nonprofit Women Constructors of Condega, where she heads Born to Fly, a program orchestrating workshops across Condega, a rural community in the Esteli region of Nicaragua.
Pineda Calero participated in the Born to Fly program when she was 12 years old, describing the workshops as life-changing.
"I received a sexist education at home … The woman's role is to wash, iron, cook, and have the role of caregiver," Pineda Calero told Vice. "At school, we're taught to [be subordinate] from the seating arrangements, with whom we walk in recess, how to play, how to act — in physical education, if exercises require strength they don't let us girls do them."
Through her workshops, Pineda Calero wants other nicaragüenses to have the same feminist awakening she received, particularly around their sexual and reproductive rights and health.
In Nicaragua, abortion is banned in all circumstances, including pregnancies that resulted from rape and those that put a parent's life in danger. The situation becomes even more daunting when considering that 88 percent of the country's 6,069 sexual violence cases in 2013 involved young girls. It’s no surprise then that Nicaragua has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America, with 28 percent of girls giving birth before they’re 18 years old.
"Sexual health is important for women's empowerment, as women should be free to decide on our bodies, and women should not let men manipulate, control, or subject us," Pineda Calero said. "As women, we should agree on this. All women should agree that we want to control our minds, bodies, and reproductive system since knowledge that empowers us also makes us free."
Unfortunately, the lawmakers in her country do not agree. In fact, Nicaragua has in recent years weakened its protections for women and girls. In 2013, for instance, the country altered Law 779, which makes violence against women a crime, now allowing state attorneys to recommend face-to-face mediation between victims and their abusers. But an Amnesty International Submission to the UN proves that mediations like this are deadly. More recently, riot police blocked an International Women's Day march in the country.
Despite the barriers set up against her, however, Pineda Calero is determined to continue educating and training young girls in her community.
"Thanks to feminism, and [the] courageous women who gave their lives in the fight for gender equality … today I understand that as a woman I have a right to political participation, to work, to study, to decide on my body and my life, to build my identity independently and without impositions from any man or formal institutions that dominated society in the past — like the church — or who still dominate today, like the state," Pineda Calero said, a message she shares with others.