“The most significant achievement of women in the revolution is that we now have a central and important position in the revolution, as a collective we are now active participants in society, which has allowed us to win many of the battles we have fought, together with our conscience, organization, productivity, and legacy as women.” These are the words of María León, a leading revolutionary politician and feminist in Venezuela, who was speaking to a meeting of women in Lara State in 2017.
Just over 20 years ago, the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela began with the election of President Hugo Chávez. Since then, the lives of poor, working and oppressed people in Venezuela have been transformed through tremendous gains in nutrition, housing, healthcare, and education. As protagonists within the revolution, women in Venezuela have made great advances.
In their traditional role as mothers and caretakers, women were at the center of the social fabric of Venezuela when the revolution began, but they were also the most disadvantaged. Therefore, women had the most to gain from advances such as social housing (2.8 million homes built), and free healthcare, education (including 6 million free laptops), school lunches, and childcare.
Incorporating women fully into society was one of the first steps taken by President Chávez and the people of Venezuela when they rewrote and then overwhelmingly voted for a new constitution in 1999. This constitution guarantees many rights for women which were previously denied to them – including equal rights and protections under law, while also outlawing discrimination based on “race, sex, creed or social standing.”
There is also an article in the constitution unique to Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolutionary process which recognizes the work of women in the house as work. Article 88 reads, in part, “The State guarantees the equality and equitable treatment of men and women in the exercise of the right to work. The state recognizes work at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth.” – and with this, women who work as homemakers now receive a pension.
The National Institute of Women, Inamujer, was also founded in 1999. This institution continues to be responsible for many aspects of promoting women’s rights in Venezuela. This includes education campaigns about violence and abuse against women, human trafficking, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, among others. Inamujer also runs programs such as: domestic violence shelters; a free domestic violence hotline; “Mother is the Homeland,” a program for women with cancer (which provides psychological support as well as supplies that facilitate a dignified life during treatment and recovery); and also carries out work to strengthen the relationship between the feminist organizations and women in community movements in Venezuela with the revolutionary government.
Since then, women in Venezuela have continued to make gains. Both through leadership and participation in political and social life, as well as the ongoing development of laws and institutions promoting women’s rights. In 2001, a women’s development bank, Banmujer, was founded to further integrate women into the economic life. In 2007 a ground-breaking law was passed called the Law on the Women’s Right to a Life Free from Violence. This law recognizes 19 forms of violence against women and provides for the legal framework for the prosecution of crimes against women. In 2012, the Labor Law was updated to guarantee 6 months maternity leave and breastfeeding rights.
Women in Venezuela are leaders in the Bolivarian revolutionary process, as the heads of communal councils, social organizations, as well as in the government. This includes Delcy Rodriguez, Vice President of Venezuela, Asia Villegas, Minister of Popular Power for Women and Gender Equality, Aloha Núñez, Minister of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples, Blanca Eekhout, Minister of Popular Power for Communes and Social Movements, Erika Farías Peña, Mayor of Caracas and Tibisay Lucena Ramírez, President of the National Electoral Council (one of the five branches of Venezuela’s government).
Another contribution to the gains that women have made in Venezuela has also been through the recognition of the role of women, especially Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous women in Venezuela’s history and struggle for independence. Three of these women, who were part of the struggle against European colonization, are now part of the National Pantheon of Heroes in Caracas: Apacuana, Matea Bolivar and Hipolita Bolivar.
Women in Venezuela have come a long way in the last 20 years, but there are still more battles to be won in their struggle for full rights and equality, including the right to choice. In the last five years, increasing U.S.-led sanctions, threats and intervention in Venezuela has made their fight much more difficult. Sanctions disproportionally impact women, as the center of families and society, and they have created shortages in food, medicines and basic goods, killing an estimated 40,000 people in Venezuela from 2017-2018 alone as reported by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR).
Through blockading Venezuela, the United States and their imperialist allies, including Canada are increasing pressure on women and on all people in Venezuela. These brutal attacks tighten the space that exists for debate and discussion in society, as people in Venezuela must not only increasingly focus on their daily hardships but must also center their efforts on uniting against war. As well, U.S. and imperialist funding and support for Venezuela’s counter-revolutionary opposition has fueled violent street riots, assassinations and attacks on people that are suspected supporters of the government and the Bolivarian revolutionary process.
By creating frustration and tremendous hardship, these callous and murderous governments like that of the United States are hoping to incite the people of Venezuela to overthrow their democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro. However, people in Venezuela, led by women, continue to demonstrate that they are not afraid of the U.S. government or Venezuela’s violent opposition. Through organization, mobilization and participation in all sectors of life, the people of Venezuela continue to defend their revolutionary government, their sovereignty and their self-determination.
As was said by Gladys Requena, an elected member of the National Constituent Assembly, "Trump knows that women in Venezuela are not going to back down, because we know that it is a battle for history, that we will not allow the Yankee boot to own our land because that would strike a blow against women.” (Correro Orinoco)
As people living in the U.S. and Canada, the most important thing that we can do is to stand with Gladys and the women of Venezuela. We must educate, organize and mobilize and demand that the United States and their allies like Canada end the blockade and war against Venezuela.
Follow Alison Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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