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Opinion and Analysis: Gender and Sexuality | Indigenous and Afro-Venezuelans

Afrodescendant Group of Venezuela’s National Institute of Women Make Contact with Remote Community

Caracas, 24th May 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Outsiders rarely visit Quebrada Fo Fa, an Afrodescendant community some 30 kilometers of unpaved road away from the main highway between Caracas and the better known coastal towns of Barlovento. On May 22, staff from the Afrodescendant Group of the National Institute of Women (INAMUJER), based in Caracas,  travelled to Quebrada Fo Fa  to establish ties with community members there. “This place becomes totally inaccessible when the river floods,” remarked Gilsela Leon, 27 year old lawyer and Coordinator of the Afrodescendant Group of INAMUJER.

In order to reach the school house that serves the community’s students from primary through high school, the van carrying the Afrodescendant staff had to rumble back and forth across the almost-dry river bed several times. Leon and Yeisenia Soto, INAMUJER technical assistant for Afrodecendant women, an INAMUJER archivist and venezuelanalysis.com reporter, brought a van full of nine cartons of books to help establish a community library at the school. The books had been donated by the state bookstore, Libreria del Sur, and the Ministry of Culture.  “Because of the heritage of structural racism, raising the educational level of the community is a way of empowering them.” Soto explained.

Some 40 students, mostly in the high school grades, teachers and several mothers holding small children in their laps, filled the classroom, eagerly waiting for the program to begin. Only a group of four or five boys remained to the side, huddled around a Caimana laptop. It was one of 4 million laptops distributed free to Venezuela’s school children since 2008. This remote schoolhouse had a wifi connection and the boys were actively involved in a Facebook chat. When VA.com asked a young woman, Adriana, standing nearby if she was interested in computers, she smiled broadly and nodded.  

 

Students and parents at Quebrada Fo Fa School, photo by Arlene Eisen

Meanwhile, INAMUJER staff arranged the cartons in a row and opened the lids to check their contents. There were no titles by or about Afrovenezuelan authors, history, culture or contemporary issues. The collection was eclectic, including everything from dictionaries and poetry to classic Eurocentric novels and 2010 astrology calendars. Leon quickly removed the calendars before community members had a chance to rummage through the collection.

 See photo in right column: From left to right: Yeisenia Soto, Gisela León and school staff.

VA.com asked Leon and Soto, both Afrodescendant women who had expressed a strong commitment to the empowerment of Afrodescendant Venezuelans, “How do these books relate to raising the consciousness of Afrovenezuelan women?” Soto responded, “Reading a broad selection of literature can open people’s minds and make them more aware of what they’re missing, so they will demand texts that are more relevant to their lives. Besides, books by Afrovenezuelans are rare and we only have access to those books that are donated.”

Both the INAMUJER staff and school personnel urged the students to read and to make to sure to return the books to the library. They also asked the students to volunteer to form a library committee to sort through and catalog the books. Three or four students raised their hands. Adriana is one of the school’s star students whose achievements were rewarded by being the first to be called to choose a book. She politely took one, but later returned it to the box. VA.com later asked her what type of books she likes. She answered without hesitation, “Mathematics.” She plans to study economics at one of the free public universities.

From Book Distribution to Women’s Rights

The larger purpose of the visit was to begin a dialog with the women of Quebrada Fo Fa about their needs and aspirations and how INAMUJER might work with the women there to achieve them. Soto was also doing double duty as acCensus taker. Apparently, this community, which is often flooded, where people subsist largely by households raising chickens, pigs and harvesting bananas, had not been included in the most recent national census of 2011.

Leon explained to VA.com that her interpretation of Venezuela’s Organic Law on the Rights of Women to a Life Free of Violence “is not only about preventing and treating domestic violence and rape. It is also about intervening in racist violence.” At this stage, the program coordinator continued, “our priority is to conduct in depth conversations about the principal problems of the community; about problems of juvenile delinquency, about how to increase the political participation of Afrovenenzuelan women; how to secure paid work and their views on recognized women’s issues like domestic violence and reproductive rights. Based on these discussions, we shall develop our programs and make recommendations to other ministries.”

At least some women from the community have a history of political mobilization. In the July of 2012, an eleven year-old girl from the sector that includes El Cogollal and Quebrada Fo Fa was raped and murdered. After a month, impatient with the lack of action on the part of authorities, some 100 women made the long journey to Caracas and descended on the Ministry for Public Health and the Family. They demanded that the culprit be found and imprisoned to prevent future violence against women.