Daniela Inojosa is a long time feminist and founder of Tinta Violeta, a women’s organization focused on culture, communication, and research. Tinta Violeta also promotes support networks against machista violence and accompanies victims. In this interview, Inojosa talks about the need to adjust Venezuela’s legislation in relation to gender issues. She also addresses the crisis of machista violence in the Latin American nation.
It is obvious that there have been advances in the feminist struggle during the Bolivarian Process, but there are also many pending tasks. In the context of the National Assembly campaign, you have talked about the need to “harmonize” Venezuela’s legislation from the perspective of gender. This would include updating the Penal Code – which is a truly anachronistic document – and altering laws such as the LOPNA [law for the protection of minors] and the Law for the Rights of Women to a Life Free of Violence. Can you tell us about this?
Most Venezuelan laws don’t have a perspective that promotes gender equality. This includes the Civil Code, the Criminal Code, and the Commercial Code. There are many very old laws.
Some date back to the 20s, 30s, and 40s and they aim to protect the rights of men with property. Some of these laws have been reformed, but the reforms are no longer sufficient for the present. I would add something else: the problem is not only that these laws don’t have a perspective that promotes gender equality. They also include anachronistic principles, including articles that treat a man’s “honor” as a social value.
To give you an example, the articles that criminalize abortion in the Penal Code allow for a few mitigating circumstances, including that of a man helping a woman to abort because his “honor” is on the line!
Also, there are misogynistic clauses in the LOPNA, although they may not be evident to the naked eye. For example, having consensual sex with a 12-year-old girl is not against the law, even if the man has a relationship of power over her. In other words, if she says the sex was consensual, the man will not be charged with rape.
Additionally, the two systems – the LOPNA and the Law for the Rights of Women to a Life Free of Violence – pull in different directions: they do not harmonize with each other. More than 80 percent of the cases of machista violence involve children. It is common in these situations that aggressors try to take custody of the children or threaten to use the LOPNA to “re-victimize” the victim. Basically, the laws form two distinct systems that do not speak with each other, and this generates vicarious violence. This system makes it possible for people to use the fact that there are children involved to continue harassing a woman. It's not that the aggressors want to have custody of the children, but rather that they know that this is a way to continue hurting their victims.
There is another problem with the system: officials understand machista violence as a situation that occurs within the family, and many laws reinforce this interpretation by placing the emphasis on the protection of private property rather than life. For instance, in the law regulating home rentals, if the tenant is a woman with children – and who is being harassed, bullied, or threatened by a landlord – the system puts the priority on the landlord's right to property.
It is obvious that our laws do not have a perspective promoting gender equality. In fact, I would say that most Venezuelan laws are not yet written from a revolutionary, humanist, and feminist viewpoint.
Although in the legal infrastructure the most backward laws [the Civil Code, the Criminal Code, the Commercial Code] are beneath the organic laws, the fact that they are very longstanding codes means that they are internalized within the system.
All this means that it is an urgent task to revolutionize the judicial system.
Here is one interesting fact: at the global level, the judicial sphere in which the most money is moved is the mercantile one. In Venezuela, on the contrary, it is in the criminal sphere. Why is that? We have a very bureaucratic system that lends itself to all kinds of “arrangements.” Additionally, when someone faces a trial, that person faces three different courts: the preliminary proceedings court, then the trial court, and the enforcement court. Three courts in one single trial! All of this is cumbersome and opens the way for corruption.
Confinement during the pandemic has been accompanied by a rapid increase in gender violence because it locks up victims with their aggressors. In Venezuela, femicides have increased by 67 percent. Simultaneously, the Covid crisis has led to a problematic hold on many judicial procedures. What can you tell us about this feminist emergency?
This is, in part, a matter of education and awareness. A public campaign is necessary, and the state has not allocated resources for it.
In our society, machista violence is not considered a social crime. It is not socially criminalized. At the root of this problem is a lack of awareness. That being so, feminist organizations are making an enormous effort to promote education in the communities. However, without a large scale, state-supported campaign criminalizing male violence, it will be very difficult to achieve real change.
State functionaries need education, and that is a pending task. However, if society does not move this issue from the private sphere to the public sphere, and if a man who exercises machista violence is not understood as a social problem, then we won’t be able to overcome the crisis. Without a mass campaign, the problem will only continue to grow.
In Venezuela, when a child is beaten by a parent, people don't get involved because it’s considered a private problem. The same thing happens with violence against women.
I should add that our society doesn’t understand that violence against women is also violence against children. That blindspot goes from the barrio to police officers, judges and the state.
As it turns out, in this catastrophic [legal] vacuum, judges act according to their religious beliefs, which works to consolidate the machista logic of the system. Most religious interpretations view the family as a private sphere where the man is the hierarch. Patriarchal and misogynist dynamics are alive and well.
As for the shutdown in the judicial sector, it does generate problems, but it is not the most important concern at the moment. Our main concern is that cases of machista violence have increased dramatically, and this is due in part to the lack of training and preparation given to police officers and civil servants, particularly those in charge of receiving complaints.
In addition to the horrifying growth in machista violence that happens when women are locked up with their aggressors, we are also very concerned about the growing numbers of cases of sexual violence against children and teenagers.
As an organization, we accompany victims of machista violence, and of those, at least 25 percent involve sexual violence. In this regard, one of our concerns is the growing sexual violence against children. We are talking about children as young as three or four years old. This, too, has to do with the lockdown. When an aggressor is confined, he turns all his violent potential against his family. Incest cases are also growing.
Tinta Violeta promotes an array of anti-patriarchal initiatives. At the core of your work is the fight against machista violence. Tell us about how the organization accompanies victims, and the stories you discover along the way.
Since 2018 we have been promoting the Mayell Hernández Volunteer Program as a collaborative initiative with several feminist organizations. We were the ones who promoted the training part of the program, but it is an ample initiative with diverse actors. We are now emphasizing promoting a network for accompanying victims in working-class sectors.
The first thing we do is to work with women in situations of violence. Second, we give training in what we call “care routes.” This involves providing tools so that victims of violence know how to report an aggression, explaining to them where the institutions to introduce a complaint are, and what their rights are, and what the procedures are. This is directed at young women who have roots in barrio communities.
We also give training so that victims and the community can identify signs of violence, its different expressions, and how to act when the first signs appear.
We are working with the folks from El otro beta [youth organization that works in the barrios] and women from Tejiendo Mujeres [a feminist collective]. We are working very hard to build a network that can effectively act against machista violence. However, for this network to be efficient, machista violence must be understood as a social threat not as something confined to the household.
One of the most urgent issues for the Venezuelan feminist movement is the de-criminalization of abortion. Along with Paraguay, Venezuela has the most backward legislation in this regard in the continent. What can you tell us about this struggle?
This has always been an important issue in the feminist struggle in Venezuela, and it is an uphill battle. Additionally, our society is increasingly trapped by religious fundamentalism. Just ten years ago, 80 percent of the population declared itself Catholic, but the influence of the Church in everyday life was limited. Now the growth of evangelical churches comes with a much more conservative interpretation of women’s position in society, which makes our struggle even harder.
As feminists, we struggle for autonomy over our bodies. We fight for abortion to be free and safe and, of course, it has to be recognized as a woman’s choice. Motherhood must be a conscious decision.
However, for us, it would be a great success if Venezuela introduced legislation following the the UN and World Health Organization guidelines.
According to current Venezuelan legislation, the only reason for an abortion is the imminent danger to the woman’s life. But, for example, abortion is not allowed in cases where the mental or physical health of the woman are in danger, nor in the case of rape.
If a 12-year-old girl is pregnant due to incest rape, she must carry the pregnancy to term, even if she is not biologically ready to do so! Additionally, an adult woman who has been raped must carry the pregnancy to term: this is a process of re-victimization for the woman, who is forced to remember the rape for nine months.
This is a tragic reality, a very painful one all around.
Additionally, even when the fetus will not survive, the woman also has to carry the pregnancy to term so that then, after nine months, she will see her child die at birth. All this goes against women's human rights.
Of course, women with money can have a clandestine but secure abortion in Venezuela. However, poor women are forced into unsafe abortions that put their physical integrity and even their lives at risk.
This speaks volumes about the terrible inequality within Venezuelan society.
We also believe that there are other causes that should be taken into consideration, especially in the context of the current crisis. This includes poverty. There are many women with kids already who are in a situation of extreme poverty and cannot support one more child. They should be able to have an abortion.
We also propose to introduce the right for pregnancy termination for minors even in the case of a consensual relationship. For a minor, a pregnancy most likely means the interruption of her education, placing her in defenseless situation. The pregnancy can also damage her physical integrity. Additionally, babies born to minors are usually not as well cared for.
Some claim that our society is not ready for these changes, but is that so? It is necessary to open the debate. Of course, our final goal is to legalize access to abortion until the twelfth week. For now, however, we advocate for legalizing abortion on the classic grounds that are recognized by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the entire multilateral system.
Finally, let’s talk about the popular feminist movement, which has been growing, slowly overcoming sectarian attitudes, and opening paths to working collectively.
Working collectively presents many challenges, but they are challenges that will be overcome through the common struggle.
Political polarization is an enormous challenge for the feminist movement. The truth is that these [divisive] issues – for example, if we are with the government or not, if we are liberal or socialist feminists – are secondary in the struggle: our fight is for women's human rights and against patriarchal power. These are issues that go beyond Venezuela’s political polarization. Nonetheless, this is a huge challenge!
An ample feminist space to dislodge the patriarchal and misogynist system is slowly developing. We are on the right track. Since 2018 we have been building bridges. Sometimes the contradictions are big, and we are not able to resolve them, but there are times when we come together.
As we build a more ample bloc, another challenge that we must overcome internalized patriarchal practices. The interest in putting one struggle over another derives from the individualistic principles that our society imposes. We have to learn to be humble and accompany all struggles. It is important to overcome values imposed by the patriarchal, capitalist society. That, in turn, will help us to create bonds while strengthening the feminist struggle.
We have moved forward in this direction, but it continues to be a challenge.
As feminists, we must understand that power with a capital “P” is not our interest, so it shouldn’t become a stumbling block in our collective construction. This is a slow process, but we are advancing!