She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Violeta Vanesa Delgado Sarmiento was born in the municipality of Diriomo, in Nicaragua. Her father was Nicaraguan and her mother Honduran, from the village of Olancho, in the East of the country. Olancho is a village of “pistoleros” (gunmen), of men with guns and machetes; fierce, brave people. It is the birthplace of many insurgents and guerrillas. Her father is from Diriomo, a land of witches and enchanters…..When asked, “Do you have more of the witches or of the fighters in you?” Violeta laughs “I have both. They are combined in me“.
She remembers: “The richest part of my childhood, while I was living in my village, was the sensation of freedom. I felt that I could go in and out of the houses of different people as I wished. This community feeling you have when you live in a village doesn’t limit you to within the four walls of your own home. You take your lunch at Juanita’s place, and then you visit Mrs. Teresita, and all the children play among the trees… I think that this feeling of being part of something marked me for the rest of my life” …
She says: “There is no path laid ahead, the path is laid down while you walk–this is my motto. It is from a verse written by Antonio Machado”.
Violeta Vanesa Delgado Sarmiento – Nicaragua
She works for Women’s Network against Violence.
Why then did the daughter of a conservative office worker, from a lower middle-class, semi-urban family, leave her comfortable environment to be part of the collective, which raised its voice to denounce the inequalities and the violence against women? “I think that the example of the women of my family, who have always been engaged in the search for justice, left its mark on me ever since I was young”. Violeta challenged her family and began a life committed to improving the quality of life of the Nicaraguan people. That was the beginning of her devoted and tireless struggle to defend women’s human rights.
In 1980, during the Sandinist Popular Revolution, Violeta, then 11 years old, accompanied her mother who worked as a member of the Crusade for National Literacy. They went to a community, not far from Diriomo, where they lived for four months with a peasant family in a two-room ranch. “We ate and slept with them, sharing their lives, dreams and illusions.” Later on, she participated in the activities planned by the Sandinist Youth Organization, taking part mainly in activities such as the harvest of coffee beans and cotton, and in the campaign for better health.
When, in 1992, she went to University she was an outstanding student and therefore she was elected as the President of her Faculty. She participated actively and led the fight to raise the budget for the universities in 6 %.
In 1993, she created, together with other female young leaders, the Commission of Young Women for the Council of the Nicaraguan Youth. Later on, she became part of the National Commission for Beijing. “That was my first experience with women older than me. I was convinced that the integral participation of women of all ages was possible. In 1994, my companions demonstrated their confidence in me by electing me as Executive Secretary of the organization Women’s Network against Violence, founded two years before that. At that time I was only 24 years old!”
Together with other human rights workers, both men and women, she worked for a greater political role for women, a role that would increase their status, a role that would help them to be considered first class citizens with the same rights as men. Her work contributed greatly to raising the profile of women’s rights in the political scene and made a significant contribution to the recognition and prevention of domestic and sexual violence.
Women are also victims of another kind of “violence”, one that does not leave signs on their faces to being examined by a pathologist. It is the institutionalized violence that Violeta experienced in the year 2000, when she went, as a member of an official delegation representing 150 women’s organizations, to New York: “The politics of exclusion practiced by president Arnoldo Alemán removed me from the official delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations for the Beijing + 5. His purpose was probably to avoid the denunciations I would present concerning the retrograde steps that had been taken in my country in the struggle for the recognition of the violence against women, and the growing changes and substitutions of civil organizations in the political scene.”
From the beginning, the Alemán administration tried to turn women into insignificant beings, considering them as automatons, with neither thoughts nor feelings, until turning them into simple executors of the political power. During his mandate, Alemán tried to deprive thousands of Nicaraguan women of their most basic rights, allowing them no opportunity to develop their intelligence and skills, and depriving them from making a contribution to society. It was also a dangerous backward movement in the struggle for the eradication of violence against women.
In Violet’s life two things were decisive to determine her fight against domestic violence:
The first was in 2001, when she gave her unconditional support to Zoilamérica Narváez who denounced Daniel Ortega. Zoilamérica declared that from the time when she was 11 years old, and when Ortega was President of the country, she was systematically raped by him. Taking advantage of his political position and his position as the husband of her mother, Rosario Murillo, he forced her into silence.
Zoilamérica’s mother spoke out against Violeta and her organization (The Women’s Network against Violence) describing them as “prejudiced ladies of certain intoxicated organizations”.
Violet remembers “Rosario Murillo’s declarations had a strong impact on me. She knows nothing of the work of the organization, Women’s Network against Violence. Her statement was an insult to an organization supported by 130 women’s groups and to 45 attention centers for victims of all kinds of mistreatments. Some of these spaces have more than a decade of experience with sexual abuse. In 2001, alone, we treated 45 thousand victims that, from all over the country, asked for our support”.
The second happening that influenced her greatly occurred in 2003, when she supported the cause of Rosita (we avoid her real name for reasons of respect and security), a girl who was raped and made pregnant, at the age of 9. Violeta fought for her and supported her along with the organization Women’s Network against Violence. They helped the girl to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy which would have put at a fatal risk. “Her right to life was a matter of honor”. This case had repercussions, nationally and internationally. Within Nicaragua, the government, the political parties and the Church condemned Women’s Network against Violence, and particularly Violeta.
She knows: “Women who suffer violence have a feeling of emptiness. They live in solitude and without hope. I don’t wish that on anyone. We have the right to be first class citizens, with all the rights. We want to take control of our own lives and bodies. That’s the reason why our organization tries to create a sense of confidence. We want women to feel comfortable and included in this space that the Network offers them. We want them to regain happiness, fulfillment and hope.”
When Violeta began her work in the Network, the problems related to the mistreatment and abuse were seen as normal, they were not socially or culturally censurable. Because of that, “we began to condemn and raise the profile of the issue of domestic violence, considering it to be a serious social problem, a problem that the state should recognize. At the same time, we started to propose attention policies to the government.”
The Network began to undertake national campaigns against violence. “We published a series of booklets, for example, one with the title To live life, is to live without violence. Later on, together with other organizations, we realized the need for a law for the prevention and sanctioning of violence against women. We also developed a project with 30 other organizations to assist surviving women. We achieved a greater social awareness of the gravity of the problem of domestic violence and, parallel to that, more public and non-governmental institutions have committed to paying more attention to the subject.”
Today, Violeta Delgado is the national link of the Civil Coordination. That means that she represents the opinions of 340 civil organizations in face of the National Government. She presents proposals for collective action and generates themes for debates that require governmental action. She is also responsible for monitoring the finances and keeping check of how the politicians use the money that enters Nicaragua as a result of International Aid for the task of reducing poverty. Her biggest strength is her ability to include the different players in the political and social scene, enabling her to facilitate consensus and to create bonds to achieve collective purposes.
The context in which Violeta works is not easy: In a Nicaragua, of more than five million inhabitants, more than 80% live in extreme poverty. The country has suffered from the actions of different politicians and governments. It is a country where poor leadership (“caudillismo”, from “caudillio”, a bossy leader), polarization and personal interests reign. Violence is the order of the day- above all domestic and sexual violence. According to official numbers, 54 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners in 2004.
Violeta’s vision of the future is full of hope: “Although I live in a society where the population was taken to extreme poverty but its governors, where poor leadership and polarization prevails, I have a vision of a future full of peace, where the promises of those of us who are adults will allow the future generations to grow up and be educated in an equal society. In that future we will co-exist in peace in our world. We shall live in our part of the earth without violence.
We will live in an equal society where all of us will have the right to enjoy life and nature, where all of us will have the right to learn, to enjoy the earth and the water. There are men and women living today who already enjoy such conditions, we hope that the State will promote and preserve them”.
In spite of the assaults she has suffered both on her integrity and her reputation, in spite of the condemnation she has received from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, who “excommunicated” her for her public representation and defense of the right of a young girl who wanted to abort a pregnancy, resulting from rape, and in spite of the criticisms made by certain political groups, Violeta continues to fight: “Because I have great faith in humanity and I believe in the huge willingness of the poor people of Nicaragua to change their lives.
That is my reason to continue the struggle, that is what fills me with energy. Because I believe that the people who have the capacity to fight, must fight. I am like a crazy ‘cabrita’ (she-goat) who receives knocks and bruises, a crazy ‘cabra’ from the mountains. In spite of everything, I keep going, with my energy, my dreams and my illusions”. (1000peacewomen).
Delgado Sarmiento, Violeta Vanesa trabaja en Nicaragua para fortalecer un nuevo sujeto político desde las mujeres, con visibilidad en el espacio público y en pro de sus derechos. “Hemos logrado que se promulgue la Ley para Prevenir y Sancionar la Violencia contra las Mujeres; la implementación de un proyecto articulado de atención a mujeres supervivientes de maltratos y, además, que haya un mayor reconocimiento social ante la gravedad de este grave problema en el país”. (cimac noticias).
Violeta Vanessa Delgado Sarmiento es diriomeña de nacimiento, hija de padre nicaragüense y madre hondureña, específicamente olanchana, pueblo de pistoleros, lugar donde surgieron grupos guerrilleros, gente de machete, gente muy brava. Por parte de padre es diriomeña, tierra de brujos y brujas… ¿Tenés más de bruja o de luchona? … (full text).
Noticias en la prensa nicaragüense sobre la persecución política de nueve feministas, 8 febrero 2008;