Throughout the history of Nicaragua it was afflicted by a series of conflicts, civil wars, revolutions, and foreign interventions. Nicaraguan women always drawn into these conflicts as collaborators, combatants, and victims.
Many Nicaraguan women actively participated in the early Sandinista struggle. While these women played an essential role, their tasks can be defined as collaborators. They served as spies, messengers and nurses. Sandino called their actions heroic and admitted that many had died.
While some women joined the guerrilla bands, most remained at home. The women who stayed at home played an essential support role. To keep their families alive, they had to do their own daily work as well as that of their missing men. When the Sandino supportors passed through an area, they were supposed to provide them with food, which meant even more work.
By the 1970s many women became active members of the FSLN and were integrated into guerrilla warfare. More than 30 percent of the armed combatants were women. The first women joined in the mid-1960s and by 1979 there were thousands of women guerrillas. A few of these women became officers of FSLN units.
Many more women were collaborators. They actively supported the guerrillas by providing food, medicines, and safe houses, hiding weapons, and carrying messages. These activities were also very dangerous and many of these female supporters of the FSLN were tortured and murdered by the regime.
In July 1979 the Somoza regime was overthrown and a new government led by the FSLN was created. Most women were demobilized but many took civilian positions within the new government. But as the Sandinista Popular Army was created, many women stayed in the military. In 1980 about 6 percent of the officers and 40 percent of the soldiers were women.
After 1980, Nicaraguan women were again drawn into war. While some joined or were forced into the contras, most supported the new revolutionary government. This time, the FSLN tried to keep women in noncombat and support roles. While men were sent to the front lines, women’s battalions were formed within the militia to help protect the cities. Thus the male FSLN leaders returned to Sandino’s vision of women as collaborators and as mothers who could give their sons to the struggle.
Nicaraguan women had been transformed and empowered by the decades of war. Their contributions to the fight against invaders and dictators cannot be denied. With the Nicaraguan people exhausted by years of war, the FSLN lost the 1990 presidential election. The fighting finally ended when the contras signed a ceasefire with the new U.S.-backed president, Violeta Chamorro, the first woman president in Nicaragua’s history.