By Tyler Strider
The Role of Female Combatants in the Nicaraguan Revolution and Counter Revolutionary War by Bruno Baltodano, Martha L Cottam and Martín Meráz García.
FSW’s Bruno Baltodano, professor of political science, explores the role of women as soldiers of revolutionary change in a 2019 book co-authored with two colleagues from the University of Washington.
The book focuses on women’s role the Nicaraguan Revolution, from 1959 to 1979, and the counterrevolution, the Contra War, from 1980 to 1991. The revolution was fought by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional against the Somoza family dictatorship, who ruled Nicaragua from 1936 to 1979. The revolutionaries set up their own government after their victory, but were immediately challenged by a violent, U.S. government-funded pushback.
The book is based on years of research and interviews with 85 female revolutionary and counterrevolutionary soldiers.
Gladys Baez, the first female guerilla fighter for the Nicaraguan revolution, endured opposition within her own ranks, because other revolutionaries questioned her abilities to fight alongside men.
“There were some who expected me to leave,” Baez stated in the book. “Many of the comrades still weren’t used to a woman in the column… When Carlos [founder of the revolutionary group] gave the ultimatum, some comrades looked at me as if to say ‘go on, leave.’ But I reminded myself that I’d come to stay and they had no right to intimidate me.”
Any member who left the resistance faced the death penalty, ensuring that no one deserted.
“Some did acknowledge that physical strength and endurance might have been different [for women] but they could do everything that their male counterparts could do in battle,” said Baez.
As time passed, more women joined the cause. Even child soldiers were drafted.
“Their identity as women had not yet formed largely because they had been recruited or forced into the fighting as child soldiers, some as young as nine.” Baez recalled that the “way to survive the brutality of war [was] by joining the group that would protect them, teach them skills, and provide them with the tools needed for survival during the conflict.”
Revolutionaries forced disassociation from family and friends on both boys and girls to make them emotionally stronger in combat, in case they ever encountered friends or family in the war zone.
After this push, women on both fronts gained the respect to be viewed as equals, to rise to leadership positions and to do the same work as men. They shifted from cooking, cleaning and “morale raising” (prostitution) to fighting, strategizing and commanding soldiers.
“Women continued to play important roles in the growing organization. But in terms of their participation in military training, they were treated as equals.”