In This Review

Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua
Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua
By Cymene Howe
248 pp, Duke University Press Books, 2013
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As a young anthropologist, Howe traveled to Nicaragua to investigate how rights typically codified in the developed world, especially sexual freedoms, might be reformulated in the developing world. “In a puzzling irony,” Howe writes, she observed the Nicaraguan Congress pass a repressive anti-sodomy law in 1992, then overturn it in 2007, all while tightening strict anti-abortion laws that criminalize even interventions to protect the health of a pregnant woman. Thus, it appeared that the Roman Catholic Church, and not other, more contemporary social institutions, remained the most influential transnational moral force in Nicaragua, embraced even by the populist Sandinista president, Daniel Ortega. Howe also examines the role of foreign scholar-activists and nongovernmental organizations that depend on international funding. Their agendas have evolved radically over time, shifting from a focus on Marxist notions of social revolution in the 1960s and 1970s to the advocacy of individual rights and civil-society activism today. Of particular interest is Howe’s reporting on three lesbian discussion groups, one hosted by a European-backed nongovernmental organization, another facilitated by local grass-roots activists, and a third convened in a rural setting. Throughout, Howe keenly observes “intimate pedagogies”: small face-to-face meetings that address deeply personal aspects of people’s lives.