While in Caracas, Venezuela, in January 2020 for the First International Encounter Against Imperialism, Fire This Time had the honour to sit down with Venezuelan revolutionary Carolys Perez to discuss the gains and the challenges facing women in Venezuela today. As a young Afro-Venezuelan woman and the Vice Minister for the Social Protection of Women's Rights of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Carolys is a leader in the struggle for women’s rights in Venezuela, as well as the in the fight against U.S. imperialism.
Fire This Time: Thank you for your time and your work as a revolutionary Venezuelan woman. Since the beginning, women's rights have been a focus of the Bolivarian revolution. What are the main achievements of women since Chávez was first elected in 1998?
Carolys Pérez: Well, since Chávez was elected, the women's movement in Venezuela has undergone significant changes and many achievements.
However, before I begin, I have to say something that is not necessarily related to the common struggle of feminism worldwide. Among other things, Chávez raised the ability for women to self-organize. Chávez loved us with two hearts, with three hearts, and told us that we could take the reins towards transforming society and that for that, it was necessary for us to organize ourselves as women.
Because of this, from the beginning women took on the organization of people's power as leaders of the Urban Land Committees, first through the “mesas técnicas de agua,” [community-based organizations formed at the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution that were dedicated to improving the availability of clean and potable water], as one tool to strengthen the work that women born and living in the most impoverished areas were already doing naturally.
On the other hand, the women's movement underwent significant changes when Chávez declared himself a feminist. Ours is the first revolution worldwide that has declared itself feminist from its first day, from its first President.
From this starting point, we built a legal system that now is considered one of the most advanced in the world, if not the most advanced, which classifies 21 forms of violence against women. This has allowed us to create prosecutors and courts specialized in the care of victims of violence against women. At the same time, the ability to report violence against women has also increased because we recognize our rights and the forms of violence that are imposed against us. This increase in reporting has naturally developed in Venezuelan society. I would say that in general, in all societies, because when women identify the violence, they denounce it, and there is a dedication to seeking justice. Violence against women is recognized and is in our constitution, which reminds me to invite you to read it.
In our constitution, work in the home (or housework) is paid. The work of housewives is treated the same as a working day. As work done in the household is necessary work. It is, among other things, a way to include women in the social security system. Work at home is work that is done with love and for love, but it is a working day that is now recognized in the Venezuelan social system.
As well, since Comandante Chávez assumed the Presidency and the Bolivarian revolution began with him – and now continues with President Maduro – we have become visible. We are no longer afraid of putting ourselves out there, for example, in exercising our participation or being leaders in various spaces or institutions, because we recognize ourselves in others. You also should know that since the revolution, we have come to understand our strength and potential. Therefore, institutional developments have also been accompanied by social development and the participation of our representatives.
FTT: Under imperialist attack, blockades, and sanctions, women suffer disproportionately due to their central role as caregivers and organizers in the family and society. What is the impact on women of the war and blockade led by the United States against Venezuela?
CP: Since the beginning of the attacks on the Bolivarian revolution by imperialists, sanctions, unilateral coercive measures by the United States, have had a direct impact on and been directed towards women.
Numerous, I would say, assaults have been carried out to make it impossible to access medicines, food, and items for our hygiene. These aggressions have been directed against women because the Venezuelan woman is a bastion, as I was saying, a fundamental pillar in the popular organization of society. Because of this, we have also been the target of forms of counter-revolutionary political violence, such as: attempts to criminalize community leaders and brutal murders which have been carried by paramilitary gangs or people on the payroll of criminal gangs. Some social leaders have been condemned in public squares or meeting places in communities, as an example to the rest of women not to mobilize.
Now, why have women become a target for this form of political violence?
We have various forms of social organization here in the revolution, for example, the communal councils. In the communal councils, more than 60% of the leaders are women. Additionally, regarding the party, in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which brings together almost 10 percent of the country's population, we have base organizations, which are the Hugo Chávez Battle Units [UBCh, by the acronym in Spanish]. There, 80% of the leaders are women.
As a result of the war and its impact on the food production and distribution system, we have organized the Local Supply and Production Committees, CLAP, which now provide a supply chain based on popular production. Women run 72% of the CLAP's headquarters - so the organization of CLAP rests on the shoulders of women.
Now, a new process of organization is taking place in Venezuela through the development of socio-political action networks. These networks facilitate social mapping, community by community, street by street, and house by house. Once the social composition of each of these streets has been completed, an assembly is held and people on the street choose their leadership. So far, 279,800 streets have been organized in this way in our country, perhaps a little more, and 80 percent of the elected leaders are women.
So, it is no coincidence that the impact of the war is felt by women, because women lead community organization, the care of children, and additionally, the political resistance against imperialism.
How have sanctions had an impact?
Of course, when you cannot access the medicine that you need, when you cannot find food and you have a small child, it becomes a desperate situation. This desperation has increased intra-family violence because frustration often lashes out against what it considers the weakest element. Women and children have become the object of frustration in a macho society and have experienced violence because of this. So, there is a significant impact, but there is also a high capacity for resistance based on the consciousness of women and what we have been through to create this consciousness.
Let me also give you other information. Venezuela has the fifth-highest level of university enrollment in the world. 72% of the university population, between 72 and 80 percent, are women. Women are studying and training to be able to fill all the roles that society has opened for them.
Of course, the war has an impact. Women experience it in everyday life, not by chance, because the popular organization of the revolution resides in us.
FTT: One of the achievements of women in Venezuela is the creation of a Women's Ministry. What is the main task and responsibilities of the Women's Ministry, and what are the main challenges of the Ministry right now?
CP: Yes, the Ministry of Popular Power for Women and Gender Equality was created in the revolution. The head of the Ministry is Minister Asia Villegas, who was appointed by President Nicolás Maduro. Together with Asia, we are a group of women with different responsibilities, the first of which is to promote the defense of women's rights.
One of the main challenges we face is the prevention of adolescent pregnancy. We are also challenged with the task to reform the Organic Law of the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence so that other types of violence are included, in addition to the 21 that are included now. Fundamentally we need to incorporate laws against right-wing political violence and laws that strengthen the prevention of femicides and violence against women and that ensure justice for victims and their families.
Because of our level of organization, we have a great movement of defenders of women’s rights in our communities. Also, fundamentally by mainstreaming the idea of gender equality into all state policies, we do not seek at any time the supremacy of women over man, but gender equality. In this way, non-discrimination has also become one of our main struggles.
FTT: The Bolivarian revolutionary process has brought Indigenous rights and the inclusion of Indigenous people in the social, political, and economic front as an important and irreversible process. We see today in Venezuela that tens of thousands of Indigenous people have been educated and have earned prominent positions in Venezuelan society. How would you describe the current status of Indigenous women in Venezuela?
CP: Indigenous peoples and Indigenous women, specifically, are a source of pride. Previously they told you when they were called an Indian, it felt like an insult. We have been working to dismantle the history of Venezuela, the history written by the colonizers, from the perspective of the class that they represented. Through the revolution, we are being taught to rediscover our history and our ancestors through the strength of the Indigenous population.
The Indigenous woman today is, in the first place, a woman who recognizes herself, as I would say, as a gold mine of history, knowledge, and strength for the rest of society. An Indigenous woman is a woman who lives according to her culture, her norms, her laws, which are respected in Venezuela today.
If you examine the constitution of our National Constituent Assembly and other areas, you will see that Indigenous people choose their spokespeople according to their norms because they do not necessarily have to use the direct vote.
Additionally, in large part of the Indigenous population, their family line is matriarchal. Therefore, in Venezuela, we are writing our own feminist theory, while learning from and respecting earlier Indigenous ideas and also inclusive of the Eurocentric vision of feminism. We are raising the flags of struggle that were raised by previous generations. Still, we also recognize that native peoples have a feminism that must be recognized, discovered, and integrated. So, we have talked about writing what we would call Bolivarian feminism, which is nothing but feminism that is drawn from our roots.
Indigenous people in Venezuela have a Ministry for the recognition and care of Indigenous peoples, which is an important gain for Indigenous women, but that is not all. There are Indigenous women in the national leadership of the PSUV; there are Indigenous women in Parliament; there are Indigenous women in the Ministry of Popular Power for Women and Gender Equality.
Through all of these efforts, we have been working to recognize the various aspects of the women's movement to advance a unified platform for women, developing our class consciousness and national consciousness. Because without a homeland, if we lose our homeland, we all lose. Having a consciousness of ones homeland and class consciousness is an advance for the collective construction of gender consciousness and then also to ethnic consciousness. But we are clear that there are different historical moments for the struggle and that the fundamental thing in any of those moments is to be united and to recognize each other. That is part of the sisterhood between women in Venezuela.
FTT: Do you have a message for women in Canada?
CP: Yes, I invite women in Canada to raise the flag of feminism with us. Do not rest. Do not let yourselves be invisible. Do not let yourselves be violated. As we fight for the society that will bring the highest happiness – among other things – write, build, and be motivated by the love that moves us. Looking to the South as an example will make it possible for Canadian society to transform little by little with your own characteristics, your ways of fighting.
I hug you in the name of all Venezuelan women and I invite you to continue fighting, and not to wait on the sidelines.
FTT: Thank you very much for your time.
Follow Alison on Twitter: @alisoncolette
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