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Sunday, 22nd April 2018

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Venezuela & International Women’s Day: Women at the heart of social progress

Happy International Women’s Day 2012! Today Student Broad Left would like to celebrate the achievements of Venezuelan women who have played in a leading role in transforming their country over the past decade with inspiring results. Viva women of Venezuela! Contact vscwomenforvenezuela@yahoo.co.uk for more information on how your can build links and solidarity with Venezuelan women and also join the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign online at www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk.

Women at the heart of social progress

In recent years, the position of women in Venezuela has been transformed. In championing social justice for all Venezuelans, the country’s progressive government has introduced policies to lift women out of poverty and create equality.

When Chavez was first elected President in 1998 44% of households were in poverty; by 2011 this had fallen to 27%. These figures mean that Venezuela is one of the few countries on target to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of poverty reduction on or before 2015. Before the introduction of redistributive policies, women were disproportionately affected by the high levels of poverty. Now, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) have confirmed Venezuela as the least unequal country in Latin America. Venezuela has the lowest gender inequality index in Latin America and its Human Development Index (HDI) is above the regional average. Since 1998, government social spending has increased by at least 314% per person in real terms.

Today, millions benefit from government run social projects known as missions, which are helping women in their advance to equality. Some of these programmes target the most vulnerable, such as Mission Madres del Barrio (‘Mothers of the Neighbourhood’) which addresses the extreme poverty faced by women working in or from home whilst caring for children, who now receive a basic wage from the government. Such policies reflect the groundbreaking Article 88 of the new constitution which recognises women’s unwaged work as economically productive with entitlement to social security. As well as financial support, these women receive education and training. Over 225,000 women have benefited since the Madres Del Barrio was launched in 2006, with 83,484 women participating in its organising committees.

Your solidarity needed!

It is vitally important in the run-up to the Presidential elections in October 2012 that we continue to spread the truth about the enormous social gains made in Venezuela. Despite massive popular support and democratic mandate, as evidenced by winning 14 out of 15 national votes since 1998, Venezuela’s progressive government is still under constant attack from the former ruling elite; their allies in the international media continue to propagate disinformation in an attempt to isolate the Venezuelan government internationally and prevent the truth about social progress from reaching a wider audience. Additionally, the US administration are already pouring millions of dollars into the election. All who support women’s rights, equality and justice should show their solidarity with the advances in democracy and social progress in Venezuela and speak out against US intervention and media misrepresentation by joining the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.

Women leading progressive change: exclusive interview with Venezuelan women’s movement leaders

The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign recently invited Benita Fionel and Juana Garcia from Inamujer (Venezuelan National Women’s Institute) and the Ministry for Women to Britain to tell people here about the massive gains for women in Venezuela and their work. Below is an extract of their interview conducted by Stephanie Pearce of Women for Venezuela.

What are your roles at Inamujer?
B: When a commission is formed within Inamujer or the ministry I coordinate them e.g. environment or culture.
J: I am the Assistant to the President of the Ministry of Gender and Inamujer, for Politics and International Affairs, I also coordinate the office of attention to social/economic cases, which identifies people in difficult situations, specific cases, in which there is a social debt to pay. Inamujer is one of the three institutions associated with the Ministry of Gender and Equality, the others being mission ‘Madres del Barrio’ and Banmujer.

What do you consider to be the biggest single difference to your life since Chavez became President?
J: Now we have opportunities to participate in daily life, in the affairs of the country. We feel part of the creation and construction of the country.
B: The 1998 constitution has given us many benefits, from the preamble to the end. I feel good about the change and I feel more taken into account, I have more responsibilities, and commitment to the fight.
J: But our (Venezuelan women’s) struggle didn’t start with Chavez, we have been fighting for change for a long time.

How are {your daughters’} lives different to yours at that age?
J: Their lives are totally different: we didn’t have the same opportunities to study. I had to leave school early, at 15 in order to work, as my parents couldn’t afford to pay fees. Later I did go back to study. This isn’t happening with our youth now. Parents can now help their children, with help from the missions.
B: The missions have guaranteed that everyone can benefit from the revolutionary processes at work in Venezuela. Now one can study, there are opportunities. Before {President Chavez was elected} university was for the rich. Mission Sucre is a social programme that provides university education; and at another level 1.5 million people have gained literacy through a social programme called Mission Robinson.
J: In the past if you studied it was after many sacrifices. Girls were persecuted and maltreated by police.

Are attitudes changing to gender in Venezuela changing as quickly as laws?
J: It’s easier to change law than attitudes. It is a cultural question, machismo has deep roots, we are still discriminated against for being women. But the President understands the role and importance of women. Men and women need to understand why we are fighting.

What do you think there is left to do? What is next for women in Venezuela?
J: We need to consolidate the role of women in the revolution, further engaging and empowering them in the changes that are happening.
B: There remains a social debt to be paid to women. Women have had to be at home with the children, now we need to truly share these responsibilities. A lot has been done in the last 10 years, but a lot remains to be done in changing sensibilities.

Advancing women’s representation

The Venezuelan Ministry for Women, created by this government for the first time in Venezuela’s history in 2008, is tasked with ensuring there is an awareness of inequalities and the perspectives of women are incorporated into all levels of public decision-making. It oversees the work of Venezuela’s National Institute for Women (Inamujer), the mission ‘Madres Del Barrio’, and the financial institution ‘Banmujer’.

Women’s Minister Maria Leon is not the only woman occupying a seat of power in Venezuela. For example, the Indigenous Peoples Ministry is led by Nicia Maldonado, an indigenous woman from the Amazan region, heading a team of seven vice ministers, of whom a further three are women. The government has also introduced mechanisms to ensure more women candidates in national elections. Women are leading Venezuela’s growing democracy at a local level where they comprise up to 90% of those participating in community councils. These are bodies made up of 200-400 households in each neighbourhood, which set local budgets and projects with significant government funding.

Banmujer – the Women’s Development Bank

Banmujer, Venezuela’s Bank, is the only state development bank in the world that lends almost exclusively to women. Created in 2001 to tackle poverty and social exclusion, Banmujer has helped some 2.5 million women through offering low interest loans to set up small enterprises and cooperatives. Over half a million jobs have been directly or indirectly created as a result of the Bank’s work. Banmujer’s work goes far beyond simple financial investment by providing a wide range of information and advice on both financial and non-financial matters, and enabling women’s self-organisation in the community, working with social movements, trade unions and other progressive groups. Banmujer has to this end provided workshops on business administration, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and community organisation to over 170,000 people. Its projects include specific support for women in prisons and women with AIDS/HIV.

Tackling poverty and inequality

Venezuela’s 1999 Law on Equal Opportunities for Women Calls for the equal and indiscriminate participation of women in all sectors of society.

Since it was passed, progressive policies have meant that women’s participation in the workforce has increased by over 20%. In addition, according to figures published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Venezuela not only has South America’s smallest wage gap based on gender but the third smallest in the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela is also well on track towards another of the Millennium Development Goals: achieving gender parity in school enrolment. The push for gender equality goes beyond the level of primary or secondary education with women accounting for an astounding 70% of new students enrolling at Venezuelan universities.

INAMUJER in action

Inamujer is changing the way the laws are developed and implemented. One powerful example of this is the ‘Law for Women to a Life free from Violence’ which asserts women’s right to live free from the threat and reality of sexual harassment and domestic violence. Amnesty International and many others have recognised that this represents ‘a positive step’ towards women’s liberation in Venezuela.

Specially trained prosecution officers have been assigned specifically to deal with gendered violence. Classes have been run to train police and legal personnel of crimes related to violence against women by Inamujer and others. Issues such as domestic violence prevention have been growing in importance since 2005 when the government stated, following a campaign by Inamujer, that the Finance Minister should take gender equality into consideration when setting public budgets. While other countries have organised budgets in this way at regional and municipal levels, Venezuela is the first example of such a policy on a national scale.

Women for Venezuela!

Women for Venezuela has organised a number of initiatives over the past year. Contact vscwomenforvenezuela@yahoo.co.uk for information on future activities.

Join the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign today online at www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk.

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