Venezuelan Women International Women Share Experiences at Solidarity Conference

Women from all over the world met in Caracas to exchange their countries’ experiences and ideas in the fight for gender equality. They affirmed that without peace and solidarity it is impossible to construct a new world in which men and women are truly equal.

“Solidarity amongst nations, amongst people is fundamental. When the people of the world advance, everyone advances.  When a country is defeated, we all take a step back.” – Carmen Morente, Granada Spain. 

On Friday, April 15th, women from across the world met in Caracas to take part in “the Women’s Movement and its Important Role in the Revolutionary Process” discussion table as part of the Third Global Encounter in Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution. 

While a few of the speakers focused on women’s struggles for equality within their countries, the majority placed women’s struggles within a larger picture, recognizing that peace, as defined by Yarira Kuper, member of the Federation of Cuban Women, can not be limited to the absence of conflict.

Solidarity was also a running theme in the conference.  The Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations with North America, Mari Pili Hernández, spoke of Venezuela as an example for the world in terms of solidarity and tangible process for women’s rights, referring to her country as “a threat of a good example.”  “Venezuela is a threat of a good example.  We are in part a good example because we have not copied anyone’s revolution and because we do not force our revolutionary model on any country. We have found our own path.”

According to the Vice-Minister, a Revolution is part logic, part politics, and part sensitivity. She asked the audience, “if you don’t feel the revolution, how are you going to defend it, or live it?” 

Hernandez affirmed that solidarity is a fundamental component of the Bolivarian Revolution: “The people in the United States cannot understand how Venezuela can use petroleum as a form of solidarity.  The United States is a country where everything has a price.  It is inconceivable that Venezuela would trade petroleum for doctors, meat, food, or professors.”

She wound up her presentation noting that Venezuela has excellent relations will of all the countries in the world except the United States because this country does not give Venezuela the one thing that it asks for, that any country deserves: respect.

Lorena Peña, a Congresswomen from El Salvador, spoke of the situation of women in her country.  She noted that even though women are a majority, (52% of the population in El Salvador is female), they show the lowest indexes on education, healthcare and salaries.  Peña described employment “opportunities” for women, affirming that they are concentrated in the maquiladoras (sweatshops), or working as maids or prostitutes and that on average women earn 30% less than men. 

“With statistics like these,” affirmed Peña, “we can no longer speak of discrimination against women, we must speak of systematic discrimination of women, of the system that promotes discrimination against women: neoliberalism.  This system thrives on exploiting the most vulnerable sectors of the population. In order to combat this system, we have to unite feminism and Marxism.”

Peña then spoke of the armed conflict in her country.  “20% of the officers of the FMLN were women.  We believed that when we defeated the dictatorship, the people, both men and women, would rise up, that gender equality would follow freedom.  It did not turn out like that.  As a result, we realized that women are also discriminated against within the left.  Yet the answer does not lie in renouncing the left, but instead reinventing it.  We need to incorporate women into civil society and integrate a gender vision into the proposals of each organization.”

Peña then described the steps that women took to correct this. “The movement Mujeres 94 (Women 94), composed of feminists of the Left, came up with a platform for the Presidential elections of 1994 based on the right to have control over our bodies, equal opportunities for pay, and 50/50 in political representation in public office. The FMLN adopted all of these proposals and in 1996, we achieved that they incorporated a gender policy within the party’s platform.  For example, now we must have the percentage of females in leadership positions correspond to the percentage of female enrollment in the FMLN, with the stipulation that it can never be lower than 35%. In other words, we reformed our institution.”

The Congresswoman then acknowledged the inadequacies within this progress and presented her view on how to address them. “We believe that the FMLN has supported women. However, we have many shortcomings; we are still lacking.  For example, when the gender policies were approved, they were not studied thoroughly, and therefore they were never uniformly applied. In order to tackle inequality between men and women we need to take the following measures.  We must increase female participation in government, install quotas in political parties, NGOs and education entities.  We need to generate consciousness regarding the importance of self-determination and reevaluate the economic and social value of domestic work and reproductive role of women.  And we need to realize that women suffer more from neoliberalism and therefore we must link the fight against neoliberalism with the fight of women.” 

Carmen Morente, a member of the Simón Bolívar Solidarity Platform of Spain, opened her presentation by affirming, “solidarity amongst nations, amongst people is fundamental, “when the people of the world advance, everyone advances.  When a country is defeated, we all take a step back.”

Morente argued that we must fight against working within the framework of “political correctness.”  Political correctness, she explained, advocates leaving the troops in Iraq, supporting the overthrow of a democratically elected President in Venezuela.  “We are internationalists.  And our obligations as internationalists lie with renouncing the corrupt media and the imperialist policies that undermine the sovereignty of a nation such as Venezuela. Our obligation as internationalists is to make sure that the Venezuelan process continues to create consciousness and continues to mature.” She concluded by affirming that “only with the coordinated fight between all the people of the world is another world possible.”

At the beginning of Yarira Kuper’s presentation, she announced that would not be speaking of her country, Cuba, but instead would reflect on poverty and inequality in the world. “During the last fifty years, humanity has progressed in science sand technology yet these advances do not ensure peace, do not ensure the future of humanity.”

Kuper, a member of the Federation of Cuban Women, noted that neoliberalism impedes that nations establish true peace.  Due to this economic model, she affirmed, everyday 70,000 people fall into poverty and 35,000 children die of starvation and preventable diseases.  Kuper recognized that poverty has a “woman’s face” – that women earn up to 60% less than their male counterparts, that they are forced to take jobs in the maquiladoras, where they work sixteen hour days, and that AIDS and illiteracy disproportionately plague women.  “This model considers that only one thing in the world has value:  money…we need to fight for peace, a peace that is not defined by the lack of a military conflict but instead is based on the elimination of poverty and underdevelopment. The poor of the world need justice and this justice can be accomplished if the resources that are dedicated to war are redirected.” she affirmed. 

Kuper concluded by stating that in this fight for peace women have a significant role due to their sensitivity, creativity and determination and the importance they allot to solidarity. “The world must reflect on the role of women in organizations that promote change,” she stated.

Liia Ishehai, representative of the International Democratic Federation of Women of Palestine, questioned what it means to be a Palestinian woman, noting that many women across the world ask themselves this question.  She noted that in the case of  Palestinian women, that they represent the struggle, the history and the revolution of Palestine. 

Ishehai affirmed that the fight of women in “occupied territories” is very different from the fight of women in a nation, noting that the fight of women in Palestine has taken on a special significance because they are targeted.  Many women in the audience, the majority of which were Latin American, began to cry as Ishehai described the repression that Palestinian women face from the Israeli army. 

“An ex-Israeli Minister said that he could not sleep at night knowing that a Palestinian child would be born the next day…the Israeli army kills fetuses, launches poison bombs of gas. The conditions in refugee camps are sub-humane. In Israeli prisons they are worse. Pregnant women give birth in arm and leg shackles, after which they are denied post-natal care.  Their children are prison babies, serving the same sentence as their mothers, which in the majority of cases the women have not been informed as to what they are being accused of.  While in prison, their fingernails and teeth are pulled out, they are burned, raped and tortured.”

She then noted that it is much more difficult to understand what is going on as an outsider and to share, as an insider with the rest of the world in Palestine because, “as an occupied territory, our media faces many obstacles.” According to Ishehai, these are some of the things that Western governments need to speak of when they speak of Arabic women.

“This is a people who need solidarity.  Cuba is one of the few nations in the world that offers itself up in solidarity with Palestine.  Every year, thousands of Palestinian students receive scholarships to study in Cuba…A better world is possible if we all work together in solidarity.  One of the heartwarming gestures of solidarity that Palestine has received took place here in Venezuela, in the Teresa Careño Theater, on the 13th of April, when everyone rose and in one voice affirmed that Palestine will prevail.”

Lara Herrera, of the Association of Colombian Women, described life in Colombia as a woman over the part ten years. She spoke of the 10,000 disappeared Colombians in the past decade, of the “Justice and Peace” law, condemned by international human rights groups, that has absolved members of paramilitary groups of human rights abuses and the law of impunity, signed by the Colombian government that prevents US soldiers from being prosecuted for crimes during their time in Colombia.  Herrera then recognized and thanked Venezuela for its efforts to work in solidarity with the Colombian people. 

Nora Castañeda, President of the Women’s Development Bank began her presentation questioning the theme of the conference: “learn from the world and share of ourselves.”  She reaffirmed, as the new Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 establishes, the value of the Indigenous and African worlds.  “It is very important to take into account the African and Indigenous worlds, as well as the world of women, in constructing this still very young Bolivarian Revolution.  The germs of the past resist death and try to revert back to what we call the 4th Republic.”

According to Castañeda, the new socialism of the 21st century that Venezuela is constructing incorporates the views of these marginalized worlds, and recognizing that “unless we learn from our brothers, we will have the same fate as Chile and many African nations.” 

“We can not apply the same rules to those who are disadvantaged as we do to those who are at an advantage.” – Leticia Montes; Mexico.

Emma Ortega of Ecuador and Leticia Montes of Mexico, shared statistics of unemployment and female representation in politics (or rather, lack there of).  Ortega stressed the importance of incorporating men into the fight for gender equality.

Tibisay Lucena, member of the Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, recounted the history of Venezuela women, noting that although women made impressive headway during the 4th Republic, still more impressive is the Indigenous society in Venezuela before the Conquista, when men and women shared, worked and participated in society as equals.  Lucena noted that Venezuelan women have recently won their most impressive battle yet, with the approval of a gender sensitive Constitution that makes women visible. “Our Constitution,” she affirmed, “is based on equality, and for that reason we are not asking for a quotas of 20 or 30 or 40%, but instead for equality. We have won the battle, but we have yet to win the war…there won’t be equality in the world until women are taken into account at the same level as men are.”

“Here in Venezuela, it is not only the government that governs but the government and the people,” stated María León, President of National Institute for Women in Venezuela (INAMUJER), adding, “and we, as the people, must assume our responsibility and fulfill our duties.”  According to León, the Venezuelan people have yet to assimilate what they have achieved.  “We don’t have to conquer equality; we already have it.  But we must exercise it.”  María León wrapped up the Women’s Political Participation discussion table by stating that, “we are a majority.  But we will not see change in the world until we unite.”

Many other women from the Southern Cone to Europe partook in the conference, both as speakers and participants.  The women spent Saturday morning and afternoon consolidating their ideas and writing a proposal of action for Venezuelan women in order to deepen the Bolivarian Revolution and bring women a step closer to equality.