The feminist struggle in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

 

03.09.2020

Emma Rinaudo-Dome

 

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis places women in a highly vulnerable position. This country, for a long time the richest in Latin America, is undergoing an economic, political and social crisis that impacts the lives of its citizens at all levels. Mainly headed by women, households are bearing the brunt of this crisis and its shortages, forcing many Venezuelans to flee their country.

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis places women in a highly vulnerable position. This country, for a long time the richest in Latin America, is undergoing an economic, political and social crisis that impacts the lives of its citizens at all levels. Mainly headed by women, households are bearing the brunt of this crisis and its shortages, forcing many Venezuelans to flee their country.1]Established in 1999.

I/ A failing health system, aggravated by the crisis, which limits women’s recourse in terms of pregnancy

“The woman is not the victim of any mysterious fatality: one should not conclude that her ovaries condemn her to live eternally on her knees. “(Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe, 1949). The Venezuelan crisis, however, imprisons women in their own bodies, in the duty of being a mother, which has become today more of a burden than a gift of nature.

“The woman is not the victim of any mysterious fatality: one should not conclude that her ovaries condemn her to live eternally on her knees. “(Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe, 1949). The Venezuelan crisis, however, imprisons women in their own bodies, in the duty of being a mother, which has become today more of a burden than a gift of nature.2]Mabel Sarmiento, « A la mujer venezolana la crisis la golpea dos veces », 2020, cronica uno, available at : https://cronica.uno/a-la-mujer-venezolana-la-crisis-la-golpea-dos-veces/, analyzing the impacts of this crisis in terms of gender appears to be of paramount importance. “They [women] are generally the ones who wait in long queues at the supermarket, who endure the failing health system when their loved ones get sick, and who mourn the deaths of their children at the hands of the police, while surviving the grim statistics that afflict them.”3]Laura Vidal, « Au Venezuela, les femmes font les frais de la crise », 2018, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2018/09/14/228692/. The reason is that there is such shortages that women often spend days in front of supermarkets before they can bring home enough food to feed their families. Sometimes forced to sleep on the street to get a number for access to food, with no guarantee that the aliment will arrive. The risks of malnutrition are then considerable and place the population, especially women and children, in great distress. According to UN estimates, “seven million people – 25% of the population – are in need of humanitarian aid. In a country that imports up to 75% of its food, it is becoming less and less available and affordable. In 2018, 3.7 million people were malnourished, a number that is estimated to have tripled in five years.” Pregnant women are all the more fragile, since 48.5% of them are said to suffer from nutritional deficiencies 4]Noelani Kirschner, « Au Venezuela, femmes et familles pâtissent du chaos créé par Maduro », 2019, Share America, available at : https://share.america.gov/fr/au-venezuela-femmes-et-familles-patissent-du-chaos-cree-par-maduro/.

Moreover, water and electricity in homes and hospitals are often cut off. Medicines, contraceptives, diapers and many other products are also missing. The population then seeks to obtain these goods on the black market, the only alternative, in order to live. Survival is perhaps the key word for Venezuelans, especially for women. Due to the lack of medical equipment and structures that can accommodate patients, most pregnant women cannot be treated or even received. Women are thus the main victims of this failing system due to the lack of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and the danger of giving birth in Venezuela today. According to the contraceptive shortage index, 15 out of 100 women obtain contraceptive pills in pharmacy, not to mention the shortage of condoms on the market, which can cost the equivalent of four minimum wages 5]Génesis Carrero Soto, « Cuando la crisis daña el cuerpo de las madres », 2019, Salud con lupa, available at : https://saludconlupa.com/series/venezuela-un-pais-en-busca-de-alivio/cuando-la-crisis-dana-el-cuerpo-de-las-madres/. The Ministry of People’s Power for Health even acknowledges that infant mortality has increased by 30.12% since 2016, with 11,466 deaths of children aged 0 to 1, and maternal mortality by 65% 6]Paula Doria, « Los hijos del exodo », Semana, available at : https://especiales.semana.com/los-hijos-del-exodo/.

Therefore, out of 100,000 pregnant Venezuelan women, 400 die because of the terrible sanitary conditions in hospitals, unattended complications and infections after delivery 7]Génesis Carrero Soto, « Cuando la crisis daña el cuerpo de las madres », 2019, Salud con lupa, available at : https://saludconlupa.com/series/venezuela-un-pais-en-busca-de-alivio/cuando-la-crisis-dana-el-cuerpo-de-las-madres/. The least affluent women are the most affected since they cannot afford to pay for food, examinations, surgical equipment or medication during hospitalization. To escape these condition, many of them flee the country and try to give birth in neighboring countries, such as Colombia, Peru or Chile. According to a report8]Jesuit Refugee Service and Catholic University of Tachira, Report on urban mobility 2018., 56.3% of those who decided to emigrate did so because of the “lack of medicines for treatment”.

Through this disastrous health situation, in 2019, 4 million Venezuelans had to leave their country, 1.3 million of them left to Colombia, main destination for pregnant women. According to the Colombian Ministry of Health, in Caracas, approximately 200 deliveries are assisted each month 9]Paula Doria, « Los hijos del exodo », Semana, available at : https://especiales.semana.com/los-hijos-del-exodo/.However, since the country does not grant nationality by land, it is managing a significant number of stateless children, further increasing the vulnerability of mothers and their newborns to theft, violence and forced adoptions. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of Venezuelan women trafficked to South America and Europe even quadrupled 10]Laura Vidal, « Au Venezuela, les femmes font les frais de la crise », 2018, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2018/09/14/228692/. Moreover, the fragile health systems and labor markets of neighboring countries hosting this wave of migration do nothing to improve the situation of women. In Colombia, migrant women are often marginalized, subject to prejudice and abuse. “Thus, while many accuse Venezuelans men of “stealing” local jobs and engaging in crime, women are often considered prostitutes” 11]Idem..

II. The feminist struggle and legal applications in terms of gender

Feminist movements are calling for improvements. They are even gaining momentum as a result of the neglect of gendered politics. Despite the political divisions that separate the country between “anti” and “pro” Maduro, women seem to be united and ready to denounce a politico-social system in which they are wronged 12]Xili Duran, « Le mouvement féministe vénézuélien prend de l’ampleur face à l’incurie des politiques », 2020, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2020/03/30/247258/. Indeed, in a country where the family is matricentered – the mother has the absolute responsibility to maintain life and all that it involves – it is becoming necessary to integrate the gender-based approach into politics.

The women’s right to vote was obtained in 1945, but it was the constitutional reform, instituted by Hugo Chavez in 1999, that achieved a significant step towards gender equality between with an inclusive language that made women visible as citizens with rights and duties 13]Marielis Fuentes, « Reflexiones sobre el feminismo en Venezuela », 2019, Revista marea, available at :  https://revistamarea.com/2019/05/23/reflexiones-sobre-el-feminismo-en-venezuela/. This constitutional construction is central because it allowed numerous advances for women in successive labor laws14]Interview of Gioconda Mota, « Les droits des femmes dans la révolution bolivarienne: avancées et défis », 2015, Venezuela Infos, available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/les-droits-des-femmes-dans-la-revolution-bolivarienne-avancees-et-defis-par-gioconda-mota-alba-tv/ , including the recognition of unpaid domestic work as such with social guarantees like other jobs, the recognition of the protection of maternity and the family, and the signing of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 15]Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, available at : http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/fconvention.htm. One of the most significant conquests in the domain is the “Organic Law of Work and Workers,” in 2012, in which concrete objectives have been set, and later on achieved, such as: the extension of post-natal leave, the prohibition of dismissal for parents, or for the first time, the issue of sexual abuse at work 16]Interview of Gioconda Mota, « Les droits des femmes dans la révolution bolivarienne: avancées et défis », 2015, Venezuela Infos, available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/les-droits-des-femmes-dans-la-revolution-bolivarienne-avancees-et-defis-par-gioconda-mota-alba-tv/.

In 2006, missions, such as Madres del barrio, were created to assist single mothers in great psychological and social distress. Through a monthly payment for domestic and unpaid care activities, the mission wishes to encourage literacy, empowerment and political organization of women at the grassroots level. During the Bolivarian years, many missions to reduce poverty, unemployment and women’s precariousness were set up. As a result, between 2005 and 2006, the poverty rate decreased from 37.1% to 30.2%, and the rate of extreme poverty from 15.9% to 9.9%. However, despite the government’s substantial efforts to place various gender issues on the political agenda, patriarchal bias still influences the decisions and positions in some cases 17]Marielis Fuentes, « Reflexiones sobre el feminismo en Venezuela », 2019, Revista marea, available at :  https://revistamarea.com/2019/05/23/reflexiones-sobre-el-feminismo-en-venezuela/.

To this is added the economic crisis of 2013, which increasingly aggravates the precariousness of women while reducing the amount of aid implemented under Chavez 18]From 1999 to 2013.. Violence, the health crisis and shortages are all elements that are rekindling feminist struggles today. The accused are the too strict laws for women regarding abortion, the lack of health structures, ineffective protective laws or health programs that do not work. Among the pending issues on the feminist agenda, the decriminalization of abortion remains the priotiy. Under the 2000 Penal Code, abortion, understood as the voluntary termination of pregnancy, is punishable, except in cases of threat to a woman’s health, and can result in imprisonment from six months to two years. However, with the lack of contraceptive supplies due to shortages, women are more prone to become pregnant and, sometimes, abandon their newborns due to the lack of means to provide for their needs.

So, to the priority for gender equality before the crisis, the decriminalization of abortion as a health priority is added, knowing that it remains physically impracticable due to the lack of hospital equipment. To resolve the conditions of childbirth, and to respond to ten years of feminist fights, on July 11, 2017 the government voted the “humanized birth plan” to ensure respect of future mothers’ wishes during birth, regardless of social class. A funding enveloppe of 12,000 million Bolivar was approved by President Nicolas Maduro for the implementation of this program to improve women’s knowledge of pregnancy 19]Michele de Melo, « Venezuela comemora dois anos do plano nacional de parto humanizado », 2019, Brasil de fato, available at : https://www.brasildefato.com.br/especiais/venezuela-comemora-dois-anos-do-plano-nacional-de-parto-humanizado ; Translation available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2019/08/12/le-venezuela-celebre-deux-ans-de-son-programme-dhumanisation-de-laccouchement/. This plan is praised by the cause and is considered a step forward. However, the situation in the country’s hospitals does not seem to have changed since infant and maternal mortality is still very high.

The issue of gender-based violence must also be addressed. The most significant advance is the Organic Law for Women’s Right to a Life Free of Violence (2007) acknoledging 19 forms of violence, including feminicide in 2014. This also allows progress in public administration on these issues such as the training of judicial officials or the creation of specialized courts. However, the lack of official figures on the situation of women’s rights in terms of violence, maternal mortality, and fertility slowed improvements.

As a result, most of the indicators submitted are produced by feminist associations and do not allow for precise research on the real impact of the laws. Feminists even denounce a lack of preventive actions against feminicides and prosecution of aggressors. “Among the 554 murders of women recognized as such in the last two years, there have been only 119 convictions. On paper, Venezuela has adequate legislation to combat gender-based violence, but the budgets allocated are not known and there are not enough police officers. » 20]Xili Duran, « Le mouvement féministe vénézuélien prend de l’ampleur face à l’incurie des politiques », 2020, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2020/03/30/247258/. Despite a government that presents itself as feminist, the institutions remain impotent.

III. Participatory democracy, a hope for women’s inclusion ? 

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, spurred on by Hugo Chavez’s two terms in office, has placed participatory democracy at the foundation of its policies. Built on the idea of a decentralized federal state, the constitution of the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” seeks to promote politics in all strata of society. The communities are then made co-responsible for their own development 21]Jessica Brandler-Weinreb. Participation, politization and gender relations : social change in the popular milieu (Venezuela, 2002-2012). Sociology. IHEAL-CREDA Université Paris III Nouvelle Sorbonne, 2015, available at : https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-01317674/file/These_Brandler_Jessica_2015.pdf and the progressive politicization of the population will put forward a new actor: women.

This participatory policy, which values local affairs and the register of daily life, will mainly open the way for women from working class backgrounds. Often marginalized in the feminist struggle, the possibility for them to defend their demands according to their experiences will make the inclusion of gender issues in politics evolve. Moreover, the particularity of Venezuelan matrifocal society, which places women at the heart of social life and at the top of the family, will allow them to become the main actors in participatory politics 22]Idem.. They could use their supreme legitimacy as “mothers” to make their voices heard. In this way, women will use motherhood, the main reason for their vulnerability in the crisis, to impose their demands. “Through the “political motherhood”, these women are instrumentalizing the social and family power that they hold and transform it into a resource that legitimizes their political action. In a context where it is no longer space but activity that is considered political, motherhood allows women from the working classes to become individualized political subjects. » 23]Jessica Brandler-Weinreb. Participation, politization and gender relations : social change in the popular milieu (Venezuela, 2002-2012). Sociology. IHEAL-CREDA Université Paris III Nouvelle Sorbonne, 2015, available at : https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-01317674/file/These_Brandler_Jessica_2015.pdf. Consequently, women are no longer reduced to the private sphere and to their place in the home and have begun to occupy different roles in public life. They gradually conquered public life while remaining solely responsible for the private sphere 24]Interview of Gioconda Mota, « Les droits des femmes dans la révolution bolivarienne: avancées et défis », 2015, Venezuela Infos, available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/les-droits-des-femmes-dans-la-revolution-bolivarienne-avancees-et-defis-par-gioconda-mota-alba-tv/.

In fact, if we analyze the politics of participation as a politics of experience – as proposed by Jessica Brandler (2015) – we notice that more than a tool to erase gender inequalities or correct the imbalance in the use of time between men and women, this participatory democracy makes visible an entire part of the society that was previously silenced. This participatory policy “makes the invisible visible by politicizing daily life and the set of activities and relationships that make it. The political participation’s  micro-localization leads to an overlapping of duties and roles, which creates a change in the daily life of the country. This phenomenon becomes a mean of confirming the existence of a part of the population that has always remained outside the political system” 25]Jessica Brandler-Weinreb. Participation, politization and gender relations : social change in the popular milieu (Venezuela, 2002-2012). Sociology. IHEAL-CREDA Université Paris III Nouvelle Sorbonne, 2015, available at : https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-01317674/file/These_Brandler_Jessica_2015.pdf». It is truly through this visibility that the inclusion of gender issues in politics and society can and must be achieved over time.

Conclusion

Through the impetus of the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuelan women have gradually made their existence heard and have succeeded in changing their role of “mothers” to actress of the participatory politics.

However, economic, political and social crises undergone by Venezuela since 2013 have placed women in an dangerous vulnerability that requires change. The government – for lack of means and priority for the women’s cause – cannot respond. Therefore, despite multiple legislative victories led by feminist movements, this does not necessarily mean that these have, in reality, become concrete.

References   [ + ]

1. Established in 1999
2. Mabel Sarmiento, « A la mujer venezolana la crisis la golpea dos veces », 2020, cronica uno, available at : https://cronica.uno/a-la-mujer-venezolana-la-crisis-la-golpea-dos-veces/
3, 10. Laura Vidal, « Au Venezuela, les femmes font les frais de la crise », 2018, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2018/09/14/228692/
4. Noelani Kirschner, « Au Venezuela, femmes et familles pâtissent du chaos créé par Maduro », 2019, Share America, available at : https://share.america.gov/fr/au-venezuela-femmes-et-familles-patissent-du-chaos-cree-par-maduro/
5, 7. Génesis Carrero Soto, « Cuando la crisis daña el cuerpo de las madres », 2019, Salud con lupa, available at : https://saludconlupa.com/series/venezuela-un-pais-en-busca-de-alivio/cuando-la-crisis-dana-el-cuerpo-de-las-madres/
6. Paula Doria, « Los hijos del exodo », Semana, available at : https://especiales.semana.com/los-hijos-del-exodo/
8. Jesuit Refugee Service and Catholic University of Tachira, Report on urban mobility 2018.
9. Paula Doria, « Los hijos del exodo », Semana, available at : https://especiales.semana.com/los-hijos-del-exodo/
11, 22. Idem.
12. Xili Duran, « Le mouvement féministe vénézuélien prend de l’ampleur face à l’incurie des politiques », 2020, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2020/03/30/247258/
13, 17. Marielis Fuentes, « Reflexiones sobre el feminismo en Venezuela », 2019, Revista marea, available at :  https://revistamarea.com/2019/05/23/reflexiones-sobre-el-feminismo-en-venezuela/
14. Interview of Gioconda Mota, « Les droits des femmes dans la révolution bolivarienne: avancées et défis », 2015, Venezuela Infos, available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/les-droits-des-femmes-dans-la-revolution-bolivarienne-avancees-et-defis-par-gioconda-mota-alba-tv/
15. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, available at : http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/fconvention.htm
16, 24. Interview of Gioconda Mota, « Les droits des femmes dans la révolution bolivarienne: avancées et défis », 2015, Venezuela Infos, available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/les-droits-des-femmes-dans-la-revolution-bolivarienne-avancees-et-defis-par-gioconda-mota-alba-tv/
18. From 1999 to 2013.
19. Michele de Melo, « Venezuela comemora dois anos do plano nacional de parto humanizado », 2019, Brasil de fato, available at : https://www.brasildefato.com.br/especiais/venezuela-comemora-dois-anos-do-plano-nacional-de-parto-humanizado ; Translation available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2019/08/12/le-venezuela-celebre-deux-ans-de-son-programme-dhumanisation-de-laccouchement/
20. Xili Duran, « Le mouvement féministe vénézuélien prend de l’ampleur face à l’incurie des politiques », 2020, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2020/03/30/247258/
21, 23, 25. Jessica Brandler-Weinreb. Participation, politization and gender relations : social change in the popular milieu (Venezuela, 2002-2012). Sociology. IHEAL-CREDA Université Paris III Nouvelle Sorbonne, 2015, available at : https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-01317674/file/These_Brandler_Jessica_2015.pdf

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Articles 

Interview de Gioconda Mota, « Les droits des femmes dans la révolution bolivarienne: avancées et défis », 2015, Venezuela Infos, available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2017/12/24/les-droits-des-femmes-dans-la-revolution-bolivarienne-avancees-et-defis-par-gioconda-mota-alba-tv/ 

José Samaniego, Diego Beltrand, Bernt Aasen, « Refugiados y migrantes de Venezuela: olvidados en medio de la pandemia », 2020, El pais, available at : https://elpais.com/elpais/2020/05/22/planeta_futuro/1590174921_583497.html

Geraldina Colotti, « Au Venezuela, les femmes grandissent politiquement », 2018, Venezuela Infos, available at : https://venezuelainfos.wordpress.com/2018/11/02/au-venezuela-les-femmes-grandissent-politiquement/

Génesis Carrero Soto, « Cuando la crisis daña el cuerpo de las madres », 2019, Salud con lupa, available at: https://saludconlupa.com/series/venezuela-un-pais-en-busca-de-alivio/cuando-la-crisis-dana-el-cuerpo-de-las-madres/

Laura Vidal, « Au Venezuela, les femmes font les frais de la crise », 2018, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2018/09/14/228692/

Mabel Sarmiento, « A la mujer venezolana la crisis la golpea dos veces », 2020, cronica uno, available at : https://cronica.uno/a-la-mujer-venezolana-la-crisis-la-golpea-dos-veces/

 Marielis Fuentes, « Reflexiones sobre el feminismo en Venezuela », 2019, Revista marea, available at :  https://revistamarea.com/2019/05/23/reflexiones-sobre-el-feminismo-en-venezuela/

Michele de Melo, « Venezuela comemora dois anos do plano nacional de parto humanizado », 2019, Brasil de fato, available at : https://www.brasildefato.com.br/especiais/venezuela-comemora-dois-anos-do-plano-nacional-de-parto-humanizado

Nicolas Gallant, « Venezuela : comment le pays en est arrivé là (et comment il pourrait s’en sortir) ? », 2019, Capital, available at : https://www.capital.fr/economie-politique/venezuela-comment-le-pays-en-est-arrive-la-et-comment-il-pourrait-sen-sortir-1325590

Noelani Kirschner, « Au Venezuela, femmes et familles pâtissent du chaos créé par Maduro », 2019, Share America, available at : https://share.america.gov/fr/au-venezuela-femmes-et-familles-patissent-du-chaos-cree-par-maduro/

Paula Doria, « Los hijos del exodo », Semana, disponible sur : https://especiales.semana.com/los-hijos-del-exodo/

Xili Duran, « Le mouvement féministe vénézuélien prend de l’ampleur face à l’incurie des politiques », 2020, Global voices, available at : https://fr.globalvoices.org/2020/03/30/247258/

Thesis

Jessica Brandler-Weinreb. Participation, politisation et rapports de genre : changement social en milieu populaire (Venezuela, 2002-2012). Sociologie. IHEAL-CREDA Université Paris III Nouvelle Sorbonne, 2015. available at : https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-01317674/file/These_Brandler_Jessica_2015.pdf

Journals

Marie GONZALEZ, Cynthia MARTINEZ, « La construcción social de la madre y el padre en tiempos de crisis. », Fronesis v.11 n.1, p82-91, 2004, available at : http://ve.scielo.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S131562682004000100005&lng=es&nrm=iso&tlng=es

Isabelle Mallon, Anne Quéniart, « Les politiques de genre : quel genre de politiques ? », Lien social et politiques, n° 69, 2013, EHESP, available at : https://journals.openedition.org/lectures/12467

Documentaries

Margarita Cadenas, « Femmes du chaos vénézuelien », 2017, available at : https://www.femmesduchaosvenezuelien.com

To cite this article: Emma Rinaudo-Dome, “The feminist struggle in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”, 03.09.2020, Gender in Geopolitics Institute.

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