Opinion and Analysis: Gender and Sexuality
Interview with Gioconda Mota: The Fight for Abortion in Venezuela
According to results from the latest poll by GIS XXI, titled ‘Sociology of preferences’, 87% of those consulted, 2000 people, are against teenage abortion.
These results became the basis of an article published in Diario Panorama (footnote 2) against the legalisation of free and voluntary abortion. The article collects a range of opinions through information networks and “representatives’ elected by the people.
Through the National System of Public Media, (SNMP) Venezuelan women are made visible through campaigns such as ‘To the heat of faith’, while the fight for their right to health and to life receives less space on the screen.
Although it is fair to say that a campaign was recently begun towards the prevention of teenage pregnancy, that doesn’t mean that they support the legalisation of free and voluntary abortion, just the opposite, some distinguished spokespeople operate against this socialist struggle.
For Gioconda Mota (footnote 1), teacher and director of the only feminist program broadcast on the SNMP, the question raised by the GIS XXI survey was aimed at what is most sensitive in society.
“There is an important situation in the country regarding this issue because we are one of the nations in the region with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy.”
Moto believes that in a certain way, the survey “forces people into a certain position - do you think this problem is solved by abortion?’ And obviously the answer was no”.
But free and voluntary abortion is least common amongst teenagers, something proven by studies carried out in the Mexican capital where abortion is legal.
“For those of us who promote its legalisation, abortion is NOT a contraceptive method,” said Giocanda Mota, explaining that the possibility of unwanted pregnancies is huge and that “they are going to keep occurring”.
“Unwanted pregnancies aren’t just a product of rapes, but also of the irresponsible use of contraceptives, the correct use of contraceptive methods, as well as from situations of interfamily sexual abuse. More than 90% of rapes occur within the family, something that no one talks about.”
The fight for the legalisation of abortion is a “topic for the global agenda for feminists, and Venezuela doesn’t escape this debate”. There are various considerations around the discussion over legalisation of abortion in the country of the Bolivarian revolution.
From the National Assembly, (AN) rightwing legislators Miguel Pizarro (Podemos party) and Dinorah Figuera (Primero Justicia party) declared their rejection of abortion to Panorama, and their intention to find out about and fully punish the allegedly illegal Safe Information Abortion Line (0426 1169496). That isn’t surprising.
The really surprising thing is that two legislators from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Henry Ventura and Zulay Martinez, agreed ideologically with Podemos and Primero Justicia in condemning feminist struggles for the right to decide about our bodies and prevent maternal deaths as a result of unsafe abortions, citing abortion as unethical, immoral, and illegal. Secret abortions have increased to 30% of the cases of maternal mortality in Venezuela.
Why do they attack the Skirts in Revolution collective and the Safe Information Abortion Line?
The thing is it’s not about feminists talking, intellectualising, reflecting, proposing things to various institutions or marching, but rather it’s about a group of brave women carrying out concrete activities to confront a problem that the state isn’t addressing.
That’s why there is a systemic attack, because it’s not discourse, it’s not reflection, it’s not a flag with a fist on it in front of some place, it’s about action that has consequences in reality.
The Skirts in Revolution collective is the collective which began the Safe Information Abortion Line. The line is a South American program, not just in Venezuela. In Argentina, the program is so strong that they are currently leading the discussion about abortion in the Chamber of Deputies. It also exists in Ecuador and Peru, among other countries.
What is the purpose of the Safe Information Abortion Line?
The line is oriented towards demystifying medication and medical action. Why? Because one of the arguments that one of the PSUV legislators put forward in his declarations to the Panorama newspaper was that of the “irresponsibility” of the people who operate the phone lines at the helpline, saying that they medicate without a license.
Feminists fight against the use of excessive medication, and the line doesn’t call on people to practice abortion, the line promotes specific information about the use of Misoprostol as a medication that enables voluntary and freely executed abortion.
Furthermore, this information is completely public, that one can find on the website of the World Health Organisation (footnote 3), and on other sites on the internet. What the ministry for health should be addressing is access to Misoprostol.
A black market has been generated around Misoprostol, businesses for the sale of this medication.
The line promotes public information and free access and is legally protected by the constitutional right to information. No person who calls the line is told if they should abort or not, all they are given is the correct information. Why?
Because people who sell the pills on the black market are providing incorrect information and the state isn’t doing anything about it. That contributes to the fact that deaths and the damage to women’s reproductive organs are being accentuated by incorrect, erroneous, and false information. Women are going to continue terminating unwanted pregnancies.
What happens to women who practice in unsafe, secret, and unhealthy abortions?
Almost 30% of maternal mortality in this country is because of unsafe abortions. It’s an issue for the state, an issue of politics, of public health.
The article [in Panorama] says that those who attend the phone lines aren’t experts, is that true?
One doesn’t have to be a doctor to know about the use of Misoprostol, one only has to use the internet.
Instead of taking the medication according to the recommendations of the criminal who profits from selling Misoprostol and who isn’t interested in anyone’s health, if you go to the page of the WHO the necessary and correct information about the use of the pill is right there.
That information, freely accessible and public, is the same information that the women on the helpline are giving out. So what happens is a process of democratisation of the information.
Is the use of Misoprostal dangerous, as the [Panorama] article states?
There isn’t such a level of risk. Obviously, if there is some kind of clinical complication, the institutions should attend to the women as in any other medical case.
It’s important to demystify surgical abortion as a complex procedure. A hospital procedure is often much more complex than an abortion. [Translator’s note: In Venezuelan culture, taking the morning after pill is considered an abortion as well].
What it’s about is a moral campaign and effective information against abortion, which is believed to be a very complicated medical and traumatic process, when it really isn’t.
Why do the representatives of the ‘socialist’ majority of the AN condemn these struggles, if they say they are aligned with revolutionary feminism?
The heart of the problem is religion. It is a religious and moral debate. A supposed defence of life is put up as a central argument; however those who use that defence don’t then take charge of the people who are born as a result of unwanted pregnancies.
Because if one believes that the churches or those organisations who promote the ‘right to life’ are going to take on the unwanted pregnancies, then they should raise, educate, give affection and love to all those people who are born as a result of an unwanted pregnancy.
Furthermore, it has to be considered that unwanted pregnancy is occurring, and it will continue happening for a range of reasons. Pregnancy isn’t always the result of a decision.
Why are the ‘socialist’ majority in the assembly still not discussing the legalisation of abortion, when states such as Argentina which don’t label themselves as revolutionaries, are already discussing a legal project for legalisation?
I want to bring the example of Cuba to the table; intellectual mother and companion of the Venezuelan revolutionary process, where abortion has been legal since 1965 (footnote 4). Not only is it legal on the island, but in Cuba there is zero maternal mortality for secret and unsafe abortions.
In this sense, its totally incomprehensible for a revolution which calls itself socialist, humanist, and feminist - because it’s not just President Hugo Chavez who calls himself that, but also PSUV documents which characterise this political movement as feminist, at least in writing they haven’t abandoned these struggles.
It really says a lot that proposals like this aren’t politically well received by these sectors of the party. And it’s not just the fight for the right to abortion, but also in the legal arena where we are also at the vanguard of reforming the Work Law for the extension of post-natal leave, with universal social security for female workers (footnote 5).
Another element that isn’t guaranteed is political equality, the fight to make the 50/50 proportions for popularly elected positions real still hasn’t been won. Because it’s true that we are the majority in the communal councils and in other things, but we aren’t the decision makers.
Only 17% of the AN are women. The majority of middle positions in public administration and private companies are occupied by men. The rationale of masculine representation continues.
Further, we also support the legal recognition of the union between people of the same sex so they can enjoy rights such as social security, identity, and inheritance.
There have to be cultural changes, but they should be accompanied by positive legal action and public policies that help these changes to be sped up.
What happens in the AN is that they mix religious and moral rules with the passing of truly revolutionary laws, which ends up characterising any transformative analysis of rights from the socialist point of view. That’s why we say there’s no socialism without feminism.
In conclusion, what happens in the AN is that that they end up raising religious flags, because there’s no other explanation. That stops proposals like ours.
But the institutions who apply the Law for a Life Free of Violence, and the creation of the ministry for women’s issues aren’t in charge of taking the lead on Venezuelan women’s rights?
There have been a lot of advances. Concrete and tangible advances like the law passed in 2007. An incredibly impressive law, very well conceptualised, that elaborates nineteen types of violence against women, which were previously unrecognised.
It’s even a law that serves as a tool for women for their own knowledge, because sometimes women are victims of violence and we don’t even know it, as its physical violence that is understood by the majority.
The ministry is an important achievement because it promotes a gender focus in the other [national] executive institutions.
Are those the only advances that are necessary?
They aren’t the only ones, that is why a range of points make up the agenda for our struggle. As Lenin said, “Equality before the law isn’t equality in life”.
The law is an instrument and it represents huge progress. But the problem isn’t the law; the problem lies in the administration of justice.
Abstract concepts don’t implement justice, rather men and women who apply judicial tools do.
If we are part of a patriarchal system and we have a sexist culture, the interpretation of the law and its application is going to be erroneous.
Scarcely 10% of the cases of gender violence reported by women make it to court, but the point isn’t just about punishment. From our point of view, significant progress has been made with the passing of the law, but there is still a hold up in the application of justice.
It’s true that they have created courts that specialise in gender, as well as police bodies, and that’s an important advancement as a country, but we still have a huge problem of violence and it is internalised in men and women.
The concerning thing is that this is a country which still hasn’t even carried out an initial, mass public opinion campaign on the issue. One has to act on violence, not just through the law but through the creation of awareness.
What do you have to tell us about articles 430, 431, and 432 of the Venezuelan Penal Code (CPV) that condemns people who have aborted to prison?
In article 76 of the constitution (footnote 6) the family has the right to decide how many kids to have and not have.
Feminists like Maria Leon [a PSUV legislator in the AN] have proposed that in light of the constitution the CPV is unconstitutional. Unfortunately we’re justifying the crime because we aren’t promoting abortion, we promote public access to information that is approved by an international institution.
One has to understand, politically, and this is important, that abortion is always a difficult decision for women. Society has a lot of responsibility for devaluing women, for real knowledge about us and our capacity to decide.
An abortion is never an easy decision to take, it’s never a light one, so much so that you put your own life at risk.
Those who supposedly defend life itself don’t think about life?
That’s right. We don’t promote abortion from the point of view of killing kids, it’s an issue of defending life, the life of women.
It’s not the promotion of a crime, abortions occur and will continue occurring. And that’s the problem that the state isn’t addressing. Abortions aren’t going to stop happening because some shameful, old fashioned law that we have condemns them.
The CPV, just as it condemns abortion, also establishes larger penalties for women, in cases of adultery. We’re talking about a shameful law.
Those who should rethink justifying the law are those who promote the fact that women keep dying due to the practice of secret abortion, because the action that the state takes doesn’t end up stopping the practice.
Are women the owners of their bodies?
In this country it’s illegal for a husband to authorise his wife to tie her tubes, but there are hospitals and clinics that won’t do so without asking the husband first.
It is those forms of control that continue to operate culturally, that tell a woman “you’re not free to decide about yourself”. Not just regarding abortion, but beyond that, to the most intimate things. If we talk about sexuality, the lack of control a woman has over her own body when its dominated by another is seen more clearly.
So you are no longer the owner of your own orgasms, nor the right to feel pleasure because there’s this whole system that operates through the masculine subject under a permanent scheme of domination and control.
As feminists we insist that our struggle isn’t against men, but against the system that makes men and women act in a certain way.
The existence of punishment constitutes one more element of societal control over women’s lives and bodies.
Those who know how many children we do or don’t want to bring into the world, how many children we are capable of bringing up, of maintaining, are us, women, and those who have the capacity to decide about what happens to our bodies is us, not the state, nor the husband, nor god, nor the priest.
The topic of abortion is part of all women’s historical struggle, not just Venezuelan’s. We’re not asking that abortion be legalised under any conditions, we’re talking about week 12 as the limit for being able to abort.
But the state, and principally the religious institutions are completely opposed to this struggle.
Yes, but those who raise the flag against abortion aren’t assuming any kind of responsibility. The religious institutions and the state aren’t the ones who later take on the responsibility for the birth of unwanted children. Its women who take it on, and furthermore as a form of punishment. Because as you have unwanted children your possibilities of development decrease.
There’s no harmony between those who raise the flags against abortion and the actions they carry out for it. For religions, women have always been impure, evil, witches, liars, inferior beings, among other characterisations of these institutions towards the female sex.
What is the role of the Feminist Spider in seeking the legalisation of abortion?
The Spider is a collective that involves various movements. And though we are recently formed, our struggles are part of the historical struggles of Venezuelan women. We grouped into commissions, one of which is dedicated to the issue of making abortion a free choice and voluntary.
This issue is part of our central agenda. We don’t take it on half heartedly or disguised, it’s direct.
Where is feminism at in Venezuela?
There is a re-awakening of the revolutionary left feminist movement. That’s because there has been a process of creating collectives, of broadening others, of including the subject of gender in various movements such as the Campesino Front and the Inhabitants Movement, and now they have a feminist wing.
That means that the issue has been getting stronger and developing spaces of articulation like the Feminist Spider.
It’s important to recognise that dailies like Ciudad Caracas and the Correo del Orinoco [pro Chavez newspapers] dedicate column space to the development of the subject. But these changes are slow and permanently at odds.
We confront the primary form of oppression in society which is when oppression occurs between the sexes, in which the world has many skeletons in its closet.
There’s still a lot to do, but there’s been a broadening of spaces for struggle and advances in the visibility of the struggle. We’re not hidden.
What makes you a feminist?
All of us have been victims, directly or indirectly, of violence against women, and those are important beatings that really transform the process of empowering women.
When one starts to resist everything that culturally doesn’t allow you to be free, that doesn’t allow you to decide for yourself, and you don’t just start to see it but start to act against it, then you are feminist, whether or not you call yourself that.
Because feminism is nothing other than fighting a system of oppression, there’s no socialism without feminism.
When you call yourself feminist and you express it and practice it in your life, surely they tell you are radical, and that today, in the Bolivarian revolution isn’t accepted.
I’m radical. Feminism is radical, because radical is truly revolutionary. The things that need changing have to be changed at their roots, for example, patriarchy.
Because when we talk about transforming the capitalist system we’re not talking about touching it up, but changing it into something else.
When they tell me I’m radical I feel good about myself. If they told me I was a “shade of grey” I’d start to cry.
Being radical in discourse and in practice means understanding the process. We have tolerated millennia of patriarchy, of misogyny, we barely have hundreds of years of capitalism, but centuries and centuries of patriarchy.
I don’t think that with our current actions we’ll totally change that reality, but to understand that it is a process doesn’t mean not acting, not talking, it doesn’t mean shutting up.
The authors of this article have not authorised private or right wing media to reproduce this article.
- Gioconda Mota is a teacher, feminist, and socialist, director of the TV program ‘The fallopian challenge ‘ and national coordinator of the Feminist Spider.
- The AN requests an investigation into safe abortions in Panorama: http://www.panorama.com.ve/10-11-2011/por-impre.htm
- Abortion without risks, to read more on mifepristone and misoprostol, page 36: whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2003/9275324824_spa.pdf
- Aborted society, miracle in waiting- statistics about abortion in Venezuela and Latin America: http://indiracarpio.blogspot.com/2011/06/sociedad-abortada-milagro-en-espera.html
- Article 88 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela says that work in the home generates added value, wealth, and social wellbeing, and that the social security of the housewife should be guaranteed. Since we’ve had the constitution until now there hasn’t been any legal advances that allow this article to be put into practice. That means that housewives continue to be unprotected by the social security system and are all unpaid workers, because all women are workers, many of us paid and all of us unpaid.
Article 88: “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. Homemakers are entitled to Social Security in accordance with law.”
- Article 76 of the constitution: “Motherhood and fatherhood are fully protected, whatever the marital status of the mother or father. Couples have the right to decide freely and responsibly how many children* they wish to conceive, and are entitled to access to the information and means necessary to guarantee the exercise of this right. The State guarantees overall assistance and protection for motherhood, in general, from the moment of conception, throughout pregnancy, delivery and the puerperal period, and guarantees full family planning services based on ethical and scientific values. The father and mother have the shared and inescapable obligation of raising, training, educating, maintaining and caring for their children*, and the latter have the duty to provide care when the former are unable to do so by themselves. The necessary and proper measures to guarantee the enforceability of the obligation to provide alimony shall be established by law.”
Translated by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com.