By Jackie Coleman
MANAGUA — Increased participation of women in the FSLN was a focal point of discussions before the party's recent extraordinary congress. One woman delegate, Lucy Gonzalez Picado, told Green Left, "There is no other party in the country that raises the banner of the poor". Among the poorest in Nicaragua are women. The majority of households are headed by women. It is they who are most marginalised by the government's neo-liberal cuts to social services, by unemployment and by lack of adequate housing.
Prior to the congress a cross-current group calling itself the "Self-convened" was formed by women delegates. It proposed the introduction of a quota for the participation of women in leadership structures. Speaking to the proposal, one member of the group told the congress that the FSLN "cannot legitimately call itself the party of the poor if it continues to marginalise 50% of the Nicaraguan population".
The "Self-convened" called for an immediate quota of 40%, to be increased eventually to 50%. The congress approved the introduction of a quota and set it at 30%. This was a significant move forward, given that of the 566 delegates eligible to participate, only 96 were women.
In the subsequent election of delegates to the Sandinista Assembly (the highest organ of the party between congresses) the quota was in force. In some regions such as Leon, however, its application was not necessary because more than 30% of the delegates elected outright were women.
Also new was the election of half the assembly members by delegates from their own regions and half nationally. Previously, all members had been elected nationally. This change will give the regions greater representation and will help the FSLN prioritise work in the countryside.
The congress also voted to increase the party's National Directorate to 15 members. Of those elected, five were women, again without the necessity of applying the quota. The five women are Monica Boltadano, Dora Maria Tellez, Benigna Mendiola, Mirna Cunningham and Dorothea Wilson.
Cunningham and Wilson are members of two of the ethnic minorities of Nicaragua's Atlantic coast. Before her election to the National Directorate, Wilson told Green Left that she hoped "to see the FSLN finish the congress cohesive and united and able to initiate a national development project especially for women and for the inhabitants of the Atlantic coast with their many different ethnicities, cultures and languages".
Youth is another sector of the population increasingly marginalised through unemployment and lack of access to education. Violence and the use of drugs like crack are becoming more prevalent as youth feel themselves excluded and without voice. The Sandinista Youth organisation (JS) proposed to congress a quota of 10% for youth in the party's leadership structures.
Speaking to the proposal, Larry Astorga of the JS reminded delegates that the Sandinistas had lowered the national voting age in the 1980s to 16 in recognition of the role played by youth in the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. He said that youth must be made to feel included if the FSLN is to continue to be a vanguard party.
Lidia Ines Meynor Estrada, congress delegate and president of the Association of Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs, supported this view. A mother who lost three sons fighting for the revolution, she told Green Left, "The FSLN must prepare new people for the future because our future is in the youth, and the only hope the people of Nicaragua have is the FSLN".
The proposal was approved by delegates to be applied at the next congress. The decision reflected a consciousness among participants that of the 566 eligible delegates only 31 were aged 25 or under. (Despite the fact that the FSLN has historically had a very strong social base amongst youth, the youngest delegate was 22 years old.)
As the party prepares for the 1996 national elections, the youth quota may play an important part in reviving the party's youth base. As Larry Astorga reminded delegates, between now and 1996 more than 300,000 young Nicaraguans will reach the voting age of 16.
The increased democratisation of the FSLN was a very positive outcome of the congress. As Daniel Ortega had foreshadowed in his opening address, it began the process of rebuilding a party with "strengthened leadership in the bases ... which will be returning to the people [through] the vital integration of youth and women".