Historically, women have played a key role in revolutionary processes. Without distinction of age or nationality, they have always shown their capacity to implement positive changes from a personal to collective level in society. Women stand out due to their strength and persistence in the face of adversity and their ability to continue forward and surpass all negative circumstances in an act of resilience.

Nicaraguan women are no exception. Many women have been part of the history of change, and we can view Nicaragua’s sociopolitical situation in 2018 as an example. The April uprising triggered brutal persecution, arbitrary deprivation of freedoms, continuous human rights violations, harassment, and psychological, sexual, and patrimonial violence executed by the Ortega and Murillo administration against countless women. This unleashed a high rate of forced displacement of young girls, teenagers, and women under conditions of total vulnerability.

Even though it is true that migration and forced displacement are a constant in the region, scenarios of extreme poverty and violence reinforce the decision to leave one’s native land, fleeing to unknown destinations to save one’s life and that of the family in the case of mothers or women who are the providers in their homes. And while adapting to the receiving country—to its different customs, communication codes, and social, economic, and political structures—many needs arise.

As the Pinoleras Women’s Network, we identified principal needs related to emotional healing. Leaving our country was not a choice, but a response to a repressive context. We have seen the emotional impacts that this had on our lives, the lives of our families, and we needed to return to our essence and discover the new essence that we build day by day in exile. In this context, we have needed to hold each other emotionally, to listen, share advice, recognize each other, and rebuild ourselves to form a feminist and solidarity-based network.

A basic need has been to improve economic conditions to achieve a dignified life. Therefore, women have generated entrepreneurial actions, both individually and collectively, strengthening our capacity for self-sustainability and economic independence.

In these conditions, we have been able to strengthen women’s voices for greater participation, and thus guarantee access to fundamental rights in the receiving community.

The Pinoleras Women’s Network was created in 2020 after identifying vulnerabilities and collective needs in the search to continue forward through sisterhood, implementing an inclusive feminist approach and developing unity among women to work with dignity through self-managed entrepreneurial actions.

Starting that year, we worked on the collective empowerment of all members, carrying out psycho-social support, training, and advocacy work with over 30 participants. We have had a year of experience resisting by supporting ourselves as a group of women. It is worth mentioning that our members include other nationalities such as El Salvador and Argentina.

Alongside self-managed projects for a sustainable life, we see that together we are stronger, developing actions as activists and women human rights defenders, and strengthening a feminist, ecological, and solidarity-based economy. To do this, the Pinoleras Fair was created where all Network members and allied organisations participate in a space for advocacy and for self-managed entrepreneurial activities.

Each fair requires about a month of preparation since we need to activate alliances, prepare the logistics, publicity, and contact the media so that they help us spread the word about the event. On the other hand, we need to organise the material logistics such as chairs, tables, and tents, which are borrowed from allied organisations, and contact the network of artists who accompany us with their artistic skills.

Each woman participating in the fair prepares ahead of time. Not all women have seed capital, so we have tried to strengthen ourselves between women, because without capital there are no sales. To do this we approach other networks that can give us a loan, allowing each woman to go to the fair with her products. Some women have learned new skills in exile with arts and crafts, or they prepare food from our countries.

In the days prior to the fair we barter, a practice used among those of us who founded the Network in which we exchange items of interest, coloured paper, bags for juice, fabrics, tablecloths, and other useful items so that on the day of the fair, our products and spaces are pleasant for us and those who come to visit to us.

A day before, we set up the infrastructure for the fair, cleaning the space, putting up tents and posters. The next day, the women arrive at 6:30 in the morning to set up their own stands and to organise their products.

A lot of people arrive early for a breakfast of coffee with “nacatamal”, like in Nicaragua, and we spend the day there until five in the afternoon when we begin to close and pack everything up. We wait for each woman to head out and arrive safely back home.

We have already had seven Pinoleras Fairs, making it one of the most highly anticipated activities both for the entrepreneurs and for the public that visits the fair since it is also a space for creating collective memory, dignifying the essence of our roots, embracing the flavours of our female ancestors through our foods and the smells of childhood captured in our candies. It allows each woman who resists and persists to feel that she has a small piece of home in her.

The Network has sought for women to be able to get training on many subjects that strengthen the resistance of exiled women. In this quest, we have had valuable allies like Claudia Vargas of Fundación Arias, which has developed  different initiatives, along with other women who help us with different issues ranging from legal advice, photographs, support, and dissemination of our activities.

We have also been strengthened by alliances with women from other spaces, such as the Matagalpa Women’s Network, the Feminist Movement of Nicaragua, Las Venancias, Las Malcriadas, Las Rojas, Volcánicas, Cenderos, Fundación Mujer, and independent Costa Rican activists who accompany us in legal, psycho-social, and mobilisation actions. All of this has the aim of vindicating our rights from the broad diversity that is the Pinoleras Women’s Network.

Also, this Network was successfully created due to the hard work of each member. Each woman has made an incredible contribution through her own capacities, meaning that our efforts have positive results for the Nicaraguan community and also for other nationalities that accompany us and support us.

The diversity and multicultural experience that each woman offers is the secret to continuing to stand firm with dignity in the face of a sexist system that forces us to be displaced from our territories, and  forces us to adapt to a system in which women are “weaker.” Together, however, we have learned that we are stronger than a volcano.

“A woman’s emancipation begins with economic independence.”  Simone de Beauvoir

Red de Mujeres Pinoleras

[Photo: Fransk Martínez]

This article is part of PBI Nicaragua in Costa Rica's publication “Nicaraguan voices in resistance”, a project that unites different voices from Nicaraguan exiled human rights defenders.  It is a tribute to the Nicaraguan organisations and collectives that, from exile, work continuously in the defence of human rights, bringing together the voices and testimonies of those who promote this work through non-violent action and in a culture of peace.