Nicaraguan women’s groups say no to the ‘silent epidemic’. With doctors, human rights groups and universities they mobilize in May to fight against maternal mortality. The Danish artist Jens Galschiot’s provocative sculpture In The Name of God will be the cornerstone of the campaign.
They fight for the many pregnant women, who every year die because of carelessness, bad medical care – and because of the country’s total ban against abortion. 49 pregnant women’s lives are every day endangered in Nicaragua, due to the ban against abortion that threats doctors with 8 years in jail, if they – to rescue the mother, hurt the embryo.
Campaign for women’s lives
Behind the campaign stands ‘The strategic alliance for decriminalization of therapeutic abortion’. Therapeutic abortion is the Nicaraguan name for abortion performed to help the mother. The alliance includes
· The Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre (CENIDH)
· Centre for Social Studies and Activities (CEPS)
· The national coordination of NGO’s working with kids and teenagers (CODENI)
· The feminist movement (Movimiento Feminista)
· Catholic Women for the Right to Choose (Mujeres Católicas por el Derecho de Decidir)
· Universities, doctors’ associations and individuals
The central symbol in the campaign is the Danish artist Jens Galschiot’s statue In the name of God, that has been brought to Nicaragua with support from the Central America Committee and International Child Solidarity. Some of the Nicaraguan woman activists saw the statue at World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, and got the idea of bringing it to Nicaragua.
The campaign runs in the weeks before and after the 28. May, the UN day against maternal mortality in Latin America. Maternal mortality has been chosen as central theme of the campaign, also for strategic reasons; because the women’s movement does not have the strength to overtly oppose the propaganda machinery of the Catholic Church, which every day runs TV-commercials proclaiming that ‘Abortion is killing’.
- Here we’re just talking about saving women’s lives; we are very far from talking about women’s reproductive rights, say’s Leonel Arguello, a doctor joining the campaign.
In connection to the campaign there has been set up an observatory for health rights to collect information and statements about women’s health and abortion.
Maternal mortality - a political case
Therapeutic abortion was forbidden after a campaign, which the Catholic Church carried out in September and October 2006, in alliance with several Protestant communities. The majority of Nicaragua’s population is Catholic, and between a fourth and a third are evangelic protestant. The Catholic Church does not only exercise spiritual, but an essential political influence in the country.
Magaly Quintena, from Catholic Women for the Right to Choose, does not think that Jens Galschiot’s crucified and pregnant teenager talks against the Christian message. On the contrary. But with the statue she hopes to challenge the catholic hierarchy’s interpretation of this message, which she sees as an expression of contempt and indifference to women’s lives.
“For me Jens Galschiot’s sculpture is expressing two things”, says Magaly Quintena.
“The one thing is the masculinity and the feministic vision of God. In this world God is only pictured in his masculine vision. This sculpture reminds us of the vision God as a woman.
The other thing is that she reminds us about the tragedy that pregnant women experience in poor countries.”
The campaign against maternal mortality is not only a showdown with the country’s mighty Catholic Church and a huge gathering of protestant denominations. It is also a protest against Nicaragua’s new government, the Sandinista Front, and its president Daniel Ortega. The traditional left wing party, that internationally has allied itself with Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, voted in October together with the liberals and conservatives to forbid therapeutic abortion.
It happened in the middle of the fight up to the presidential election in November 2006. Under earlier elections catholic priests have given severe admonitions from the pulpits all over the country against ‘the godless communists’ of the Sandinista Front. Many see therapeutic abortion as the political price, Daniel Ortega paid to secure that the church this time took a neutral stance, and in some cases literally supported his candidature.