Venezuela is a beautiful land with 26 million habitants, around 49.6% of which are women, half the population. Looking at the situation of these women we see the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 100% of women have suffered gender violence, whether its expression be psychological, physical, or above all cultural, and who have given up to a fateful rise in the number of deaths thus caused. Around 5 women are killed weekly in gender related violence[i].
With regards to labour relations, the National Institute of Statistics declares that 23% of women of working age have spent at least the last 2 years looking for work. Domestic work, though recognised as such in article 88 of the Constitution, is rarely if ever viewed as productive labour. Of the entire workforce only 31.9% are women as such domestic work isn’t counted, an inequality exacerbated by its tendency to fall particularly heavily on working class women. Of those with work 63.8% receive an income of less than 500 Bolivares per month ($260 at the official exchange rate, $120 at the unofficial rate). Confinement of women to the home results in an effective feminization of poverty. International poverty rates find women comprising 70% of those living in such conditions, our reality fails to escape the global norm.
The oppression of women isn’t a product of one single government in particular, nor one single country, a common core to the many different currents of feminist thought is that the oppression of and discrimination against women is universal. As such, we cannot hope that via one government, or one isolated battle, the culture of patriarchy, far older than that of capitalism, will be defeated.
In the majority of cases women suffer from a plurality of discriminations for reasons of sex and gender, class, ethnicity, and identity among others. In the case of Venezuela women are entrapped within an imaginary and semi mythological concept of "beauty" - as talked of by Naomi Wolf - a product of marketising beauty contests, fixated on image and its exportation. This is the shape of the global suffering of women in global systems of patriarchy and capitalism, symbolic violence with an import stamp.
Standing against this brief and perhaps pessimistic analysis are recently implemented government policies, which though insufficient do perhaps bring the refuge of equality closer. I am referring to the proclaimed successes of the Bolivarian process, specifically the reality of women fighting for their rights within this process.
The significant participation of women in the Constituent Assembly brought concrete results: the adoption of non sexist language in the subsequently formed Constitution (pdf), the aforementioned article 88 which recognises work in the home as productive activity, the emergence of institutions dedicated to designing policies to meet the needs of women, such as the National Insitute of the Women (INAMUJER by its Spanish acronym), the Women’s Bank (BANMUJER), a Ministry of state for women’s matters, and Mission Mothers of the Slum (Mision Madres del Barrio) which despite criticism (pdf) at least gives substance to a policy aimed at confronting flagrant gender inequality. Legal conquests have also aimed for the heavens: the Law of Equal Opportunities, the Law in Contra to Violence Against Women and the Family which was then substituted for the even more progressive organic Law for a Life Free from Violence, and the refuges created for the victims of domestic abuse.
These victories are important and indisputable yet do not mean that the war for women’s liberation has been won. As Livia Vargas in the magazine "A Full Voice" (sic) explains, "Yes, its true that with capitalism women have succeeded in gaining certain democratic and progressive rights, like the right to vote, to divorce, and to work outside the home - though this last be more about economic realities than a step to liberation, yet forms of domination and exploitation seem to endure and seem unlikely to be overcome without the overcoming of capitalism itself...Today we see that in no capitalist country have women succeeded against the multidimensional working day imposed under it. The liberation of women from domestic slavery can only be seen as a cost from the capitalist perspective, and neither the state nor the private sector is ready to bear them."
We could say that capitalism takes the added value from the patriarchal system and that therefore the principal gendered violence is that which occurs within the class system, the division imposed is not only social but gendered. As such legal and formal battles will never be enough from a structural perspective, whereby material impossibilities impede real equality of rights, maintaining injustice and inequity. The question is not only of men hitting women, but the blows inflicted by a culture of misogyny, exploitation and oppression.
UCV, Editor of the magazine Feminista Matea
Translated by Carolina John and George Gabriel
[i] Statistics released in the Venezuelan daily, Vea on the 2nd of September