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CRSV: Nicaragua

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the conflict

The Nicaraguan Revolution was a movement in opposition to the Somoza Dictatorship, from the 1960s to the 1990s (Baracco 2005). The conflict was a culmination of colonial rule, several years of dictatorial rule, and a proxy war during the Cold War. The revolution was led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), to overthrow the dictatorship, in 1978-1979 (Baracco 2005; Blanco 2012). Following this, the FSLN made attempts to govern Nicaragua until 1990. This was followed by the Contra War between the FSLN backed by the Soviet Union and the Contras backed by the United States between 1981 and 1990. Taking place at the height of the Cold War, Nicaragua was in the throes of a proxy war with the intervention of the United States and the Soviet Union (Morley 2002). A Peace process was initiated in 1988 with the Sapoá Accords. The Contra War ended after the Tela Accord was signed in 1989, which culminated in the demobilization of the FSLN and Contra Armies. This was followed by elections, which led to a new wave of political leadership comprising anti-FSLN parties.

Prevalence of Sexual violence

Women were involved in the conflict as combatants in Nicaragua. They constituted 30% of the FSLN’s guerrilla forces, and 7 to 15% of the Contra’s military forces (Kampwirth 2001). Sexual violence and assault was a significant component of the conflict in Nicaragua, particularly targeting indigenous communities (Ward 2002). The Asociación Nicaragüense Pro-Derechos Humanos documented more than 14 cases of women being kidnapped, sexually abused, or raped by the Contras (Kampwirth 2001). Data suggests that sexual violence became an endemic feature of post-conflict Nicaragua, with the return of men from war and a weak economy and raging unemployment (RefWorld n.d.). Women were also vulnerable to domestic violence in this time (Ellsberg et al. 2000). Kampwirth (2007) noted that out of 45 women who participated in armed groups, the contra women spoke about violence against women during their guerrilla experiences – but no Sandinista women spoke about similar issues.

Basis of the use of Sexual Violence

While some data show that indigenous women were especially targeted with sexual abuse and assault (Ward 2002), it is not clear whether it was part of a systemic campaign. However, there is reason to believe that sexual violence and rape were opportunistically carried out as even as women from all social classes joined the FSLN to overthrow dictatorial rule, women’s interests were subordinated to the universal struggle. In the process, gender oppressive behavior from male activists went unaddressed (Murillo Paredes 2021).


  1. Baracco, Luciano (2005). Nicaragua: The Imagining of a Nation – From Nineteenth-Century Liberals to Twentieth-Century Sandinistas. New York, NY: Algora Publishing.

  2. María Dolores Ferrero Blanco (2012). La Nicaragua de los Somoza : 1936–1979. Managua: Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica de la Universidad Centroamericana; Huelva : Universidad de Huelva.

  3. Morris H. Morley (2002). Washington, Somoza and the Sandinistas: Stage and Regime in US Policy toward Nicaragua 1969–1981.

  4. Kampwirth, K. (2001) “Women in the Armed Struggles in Nicaragua: Sandinistas and Contras Compared” in Radical Women in Latin America: Left and Right, Gonzáles, V. and Kampwirth, K. eds., Pennsylvania State University Press, 79-80.

  5. Ward, J. (2002) If not now, when? Addressing Gender-based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced, and Post-conflict Settings: A Global Overview, New York, RHRC.

  6. RefWorld (n.d.) Country Profiles from Latin America Colombia Guatemala Nicaragua.

  7. Ellsberg, M., Peña, R., Herrera, A., Liljestrand, J., & Winkvist, A. (2000). Candies in hell: women’s experiences of violence in Nicaragua. Social science & medicine, 51(11), 1595-1610.

  8. Murillo Paredes, Viena, "Gender Oppression in Sandinismo and Resistance Strategies of Women Activists in Nicaragua" (2021). Undergraduate Student Research Festivals. 17.

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