Sandinistas and prostitutas: Reeducation and rehabilitation of prostitutes in revolutionary Nicaragua, 1980-1987
In June 1981, the Sandinista Police conducted a series of arrests of prostitutes throughout Nicaragua. The Sandinistas (or the Frente Sandinista de LiberaciÃ Â³n Nacional, FSLN) triumphed over the previous dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, assuming control over the country in the summer of 1979. The Sandinistas, a revolutionary group influenced by socialist ideology, led a revolution (1979-1990) that sought to change multiple aspects of Nicaraguan society, including the economic role of women. Why did the Sandinistas focus on eradicating prostitution at a time of internal division and international conflict? In March 1982, the FSLN created the Institute of Social Security and Social Welfare (INSSBI) to establish social programs dedicated to aiding those in economic need. The aim of this program (1982-1987) quickly shifted toward reeducating and rehabilitating prostitutes and other economically marginalized women. By rehabilitating those most adversely affected by capitalism, patriarchy, and the Somoza dictatorship, the Sandinistas sought to create a new society.
This study focuses on the role of women in the Nicaraguan revolution by examining the Sandinista’s attempt to integrate prostitutes into a new socialist society. Prostitution offers a way to understand how the Sandinistas tried to alter social and cultural norms in the revolutionary period. This attempt to integrate prostitutes (according to the Sandinistas, the group most economically marginalized by capitalism) into the public allowed the INSSBI project provided financial independence to these women, altering gender-power dynamics in society and giving them the opportunity to have a public voice. The revolutionary government emphasized ideology as a way to correct the faults of the capitalist and patriarchal society under Somoza, which shows the Sandinista focus on gender equality in the formation of the new revolutionary state. With an understanding of the revolutionary government’s attitude toward prostitution, we can begin to understand the complex gender relations and power in late 20th century Nicaragua.