Before the Revolution

Women's Rights and Right-Wing Politics in Nicaragua, 18211979

By (author) Victoria González-Rivera

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 September 2011

Length of book:

256 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271048710

Those who survived the brutal dictatorship of the Somoza family have tended to portray the rise of the women’s movement and feminist activism as part of the overall story of the anti-Somoza resistance. But this depiction of heroic struggle obscures a much more complicated history. As Victoria González-Rivera reveals in this book, some Nicaraguan women expressed early interest in eliminating the tyranny of male domination, and this interest grew into full-fledged campaigns for female suffrage and access to education by the 1880s. By the 1920s a feminist movement had emerged among urban, middle-class women, and it lasted for two more decades until it was eclipsed in the 1950s by a nonfeminist movement of mainly Catholic, urban, middle-class and working-class women who supported the liberal, populist, patron-clientelistic regime of the Somozas in return for the right to vote and various economic, educational, and political opportunities. Counterintuitively, it was actually the Somozas who encouraged women's participation in the public sphere (as long as they remained loyal Somocistas). Their opponents, the Sandinistas and Conservatives, often appealed to women through their maternal identity. What emerges from this fine-grained analysis is a picture of a much more complex political landscape than that portrayed by the simplifying myths of current Nicaraguan historiography, and we can now see why and how the Somoza dictatorship did not endure by dint of fear and compulsion alone.

“This book is a pioneering study of the development of a vibrant feminist movement in Nicaragua during the early twentieth century, as well as of the role of a later generation of women who gave conditional support to the Somoza regime in exchange for suffrage and increased political, educational, and economic opportunities. It also offers an original analysis of sexual politics under the dictatorship and the forging of resilient right-wing clientelistic identities and traditions.”

—Frances Kinloch Tijerino, Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica (IHNCA-UCA)