Exigimos respeto a los derechos humanos de las mujeres. “We demand respect for the human rights of women”, reads the colorful mural across the street from the largest supermarket in the city. Estelí, Nicaragua is a vibrant, bustling city with deep revolutionary roots. Estelí was an important city and the site of heavy fighting during the Sandinista Revolution. Where one finds profound war scars, one also finds great art. Every Esteliano is an artist of some kind, whether they be a muralist, musician, painter, poet, or crafter. When strolling around the city, it is rare to come across a blank wall. Professional and amateur muralists have claimed outside space as their canvas.
Much can be learned about the history, strengths, and weaknesses of a city by observing its murals and graffiti. Estelí is no exception. Portraits of revolutionary leaders and national heroes line the streets that welcome travelers into town. Large murals dedicated to the sacred tobacco plant, together with the occasional pungent whiff of drying tobacco, draw hints to one of the largest industries in the country. Recently, there has been another reoccurring theme appearing in murals around the city: gender equality, a taboo topic for a country well-known for its patriarchal social system. Estelí is the third largest city in Nicaragua, which creates space for “liberal” ideas, such as gender equality. As a Community Health Education volunteer who has been living in Estelí since June 2016, I have witnessed and heard testimonies of high rates of sexual and physical abuse of girls and women, particularly in rural communities bordering the municipality. Over the past several years, there has been a growing population of local women and allies who are speaking out against abuse and gender inequality and using art as their voice.
What is a muralist doing when she paints the image of a woman holding a sign that says, We demand respect for the human rights of women, on the wall across the street from the largest supermarket in the city? She is making a statement. Sisters, here you are welcome. Here, you are valued. Here, we do not tolerate violence against women.
What is a muralist doing when he paints the gender symbols representing the masculine and the feminine, intertwined together with the moon and stars, on the outside wall of a maternity home? He is starting a conversation. The masculine and the feminine are the yin and yang that create balance in the world. The stars alone leave a gazer in a state of wonder. The moon on its fullest nights brings light where darkness should be. But together? They create a phenomenon. Together, the masculine and feminine create harmony. Looking at these two symbols painted on the wall, I also find myself asking the question, what about those of us that do not identify with either symbol? From there, another conversation arises.
Who is a painter speaking to when she creates a painting in honor of the Women’s March? She is speaking to herself. She is showing herself that she values expressing solidarity for women’s rights as the most important use of her time in that moment. She is digging up the injustices that she has suffered, and those that her sisters have suffered, and she is planting them in a painting.
When words fall short or cannot be found, there we discover voice through art.
– Christina Nevistic
Peace Corps Nicaragua HE 67
GAD Committee Co-Chair