The way Bianca Jagger looks at you makes you catch your breath. She comes through the door of one of the impressive rooms at the Comunidad de Madrid headquarters and everything is in harmony: the white sofas and tables match her immaculate suit of jacket, trousers, shirt and even white socks. Only her stick, which is black and white, breaks the purity. Walking slowly, with smooth movements, everything about her radiates elegance and calm. Until she looks at you; that takes your breath away.
She looks at her notes and the questions she is going to be asked, reflects for a few moments and then fires off her answers. This defender of the rights of women, indigenous peoples, children and prisoners sentenced to death has been in Madrid to take part in the Santander WomenNOW summit, the event organised by SUR in English’s media group, Vocento. An impressive array of well-known personalities participated, and Bianca Jagger hopes it will become a benchmark in promoting equality between men and women.
–What was it that you saw and experienced which led you to become such a strong defender of human rights?
–I was born in Nicaragua and spent my childhood and adolescence under the oppressive and brutal dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. That was the first experience that made me aware of what it was like to live under oppression. Then my mother separated from my father. She had no training in anything, but she found herself alone with three children and had to go to work, and I saw the discrimination she suffered: for being a woman, for being divorced and for having to work. That showed me at first hand what discrimination against women meant. That is where my commitment to human rights, and especially women’s rights, came from.
–The fight for women’s rights is much more visible now than when you started. What has changed?
–There have been advances. I was surprised to see how many women protested in Madrid on 8 March, but there is still a long way to go. When you look at the statistics from the World Economic Forum, for example, you realise how many years it will take to close the pay gap between men and women. Also when you look at the numbers of women in power. Today only 17 women are heads of state. It is very evident that there is a glass ceiling.
–The call for women’s rights has become stronger. Is that also the case for the other causes you defend, like prisoners who have been given death sentences and indigenous peoples?
–At my foundation for the defence of human rights we defend all vulnerable groups: children, indigenous peoples, those sentenced to death and women, because women are still a vulnerable group. I also defend rights where there are war crimes, crimes against humanity. I have defended rights in countries like Myanmar, I was in Bosnia documenting the mass rapes of women during the war. I am also a European Union goodwill ambassador for the abolition of the death penalty.
–Are there any causes that you believe need defending especially urgently?
–I see how human rights are violated in my country by the murderous tyrant Daniel Ortega and how important it is to defend those. Right now defending Nicaragua is very urgent. Ortega has assassinated more than 500 people since April 2018, there are more than 3,000 injured, more than 600 political prisoners, over 70,000 refugees in Costa Rica, and hundreds of people have disappeared. He continues to abduct young people and anyone who opposes him. The press is being persecuted, more than 60 journalists have had to flee. They have committed crimes against humanity in my country.
–How do you see the world in which you live in terms of politics, education and the environment?
–Very much under threat, especially with regard to climate change. We have had the hottest February since they first began registering the temperatures. We have seen that the Paris Accord was not enough to stop the rising temperatures and maintain the increase around 1.5 degrees. They reached an agreement but it turned out to be cheating. Natural disasters, which are a direct consequence of climate change, are occurring everywhere. We have seen them in countries in Europe, in the USA. This isn’t just a threat to poor countries. I don’t believe enough is being done to prevent these disasters. Young people and children are more aware than adults, like those who have marched in different countries around the world following the example of Greta Thunberg, the girl who is an activist against climate change. We are letting them down, betraying the new generations, our children and grandchildren.
–Do you think it is necessary to defend those young people as well, these new generations who suffer from job insecurity which prevents them developing?
–Young people are suffering from that, just as women do. We live in a world with huge inequality where there is an enormous gap, and one which is increasing, between the richest and the poorest. It is unjust and has serious consequences.
–You grew up under one dictatorship and now you talk about another. Why do you think your country has spent decades without moving forward?
–It makes me so sad. I feel betrayed. WhenI was young, in 1979, I believed that revolution was going to be the democratic solution for Nicaragua, that it was going to bring justice, respect for human rights, that we were going to have free elections. Daniel Ortega is worse than Somoza and has dismantled all the legal institutions. He uses political prisoners as human negotiating tools. People have to realise that what Ortega has is a regime, and he does not represent the left.
–You wouldn’t describe it as a left-wing tyranny?
–We are talking of criminals on the left and the right, but in this case this government and its policies are in fact neo-liberal. They favour the richest and the private sector.
–What is your opinion of human rights in Spain?
–Spain is a democratic country and it respects human rights, but I hope we will see a female prime minister and that women will stop the attempts to revoke the abortion law.