An interview by Rachael Boothroyd with feminist activist Meglimar Melero from the Insumisas Collective and the Feminist Spider network discussing the feminist movement in Venezuela today.
Can you tell us something about your collective, Insumisas and the Feminist Spider?
MM: The Feminist Spider is a communal space for discussion in which numerous collectives and social movements participate. We at Insumisas are participating as a collective within that space in different ways. The Spider is still not what you could describe as a feminist movement with militants just yet.
For instance, we at Insumisas carry out numerous events in Carabobo state, we participate in Mission Sucre with our student-comrades, with comrades from the communities, comrades who are organized in the communal councils. Basically what we are trying to do is carry out a type of political education with respect to feminism and socialism through the women’s organization processes in the communal councils, that’s to say, using whatever methods possible to promote and build gender equality and justice committees.
Venezuela celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8. Can you comment on the significance of the day and why it is important in Venezuela?
MM: I think it’s necessary to re-conceptualize International Women’s Day from the important perspective of being a working class woman. We need to win the day back from capitalism, which has tried to commercialize it. It’s now a day about buying flowers and saying, “Oh, look how great women are”. I think that we have to rescue its educational meaning, its message of struggle and rebellion, its concept of participation and organization, basically its revolutionary character, no?
On March 8 we celebrated the day (in Venezuela) and the atmosphere of enthusiasm was tangible, really militant. It seemed to me, being in the epicenter of the march with all the other women, from Mission Madres del Barrio and other working women from all over the country, you could really feel the spirit of the politically organized woman, the woman who is participating in the community, the woman who really believes in this revolutionary process.
In short, I think the day is really important on a global level for working class women, and it’s important to give the day its original character back, which is that of class struggle. Because historically, this day started to be commemorated because of working class women’s struggles, from their labor demands.
Can you comment a little bit about the politics of the Bolivarian government with respect to women? Have you noticed a change in terms of this government’s policies and those of previous governments?
MM: It is thanks to the revolutionary process that women’s participation is even taken into account, obviously we are grateful to the revolutionary process, because as women, we have greater participation and greater opportunities, not just in terms of our role but also in practice, because we have all those instances of popular power and participation.
The revolution has generated the spaces for us women to organize, and to respond to, debate and reflect over our reality within capitalist society, in which we are still living, no? I think that the communal councils have gender equality, as well as other spaces such as the governmental federal committees, the party, and in the recognition that social movements can generate policy. All of these are tools for participation in which women are recognized and which try to drive forward the participation of women.
What would you say to the feminists in other countries who criticize Venezuelan feminism for being too class orientated, as opposed to focusing on issues specific to women?
MM: I think it’s really about carrying out a historic revision of feminism. What has happened to feminism as a global movement?
I think that women from other places in the world, especially the West, should reflect at length about what has happened to the Marxist-feminist proposal, socialist-feminism; what has happened to those proposals in their respective countries? Because let’s say that we have had some currents which have broken away and have stayed within the arena of simply making liberal demands. They don’t organize towards the transformation or the surmounting of exploitation or the patriarchy, viewed as the complimentary functional system to capitalism.
Feminism has suffered from, just like the global left, ideological deviations that can’t be hidden. I think, what we are trying to do in Venezuela is to recover all of that material and those feminist proposals, Marxist-feminism with class consciousness. Because without feminism, socialism can’t exist, and without socialism, true feminism cannot exist.
Venezuela is famed for its beauty competitions. As a feminist collective do you have a position with respect to this?
MM: The culture of the media has had a really profound effect on society, and obviously there is a culture, not just in Venezuela but in other countries in Latin America and Europe, which seeks to market women’s bodies. It converts women into an object that is bought and sold, it dehumanizes women completely, it turns them into merchandise.
I think, in this sense, the struggle should be about opening more spaces in the media which reflect how diverse we are as women, in every sense, and that we become more aware. That’s a successful political strategy because (in Venezuela) there is alternative media, which little by little is starting to promote the fact that another type of woman exists, a woman who builds things, creates things and has things to contribute. Not the stereotypical woman that is sold by capitalism.
The Feminist Spider has been organizing workshops from a gender perspective for the new Labor Law which is due to be passed by the government in May of this year. What are the principal proposals that have been developed through these workshops?
MM: We as socialist feminists, with respect to the discussions surrounding the new labor law, are worried and concerned over the issue of women and the work environment. We are conscious that we as women have particular conditions in our work environment, whether we are on a salaried wage or working as part of the informal economy, which is made up of a lot of women.
Those are the kind of issues that we have been discussing at the workshops. We have tried to orientate the discussion towards how to regulate our working environments and what we can do for the huge mass of women inside the informal economy, such as women selling products in a catalogue, street-sellers, hairdressers, etc. This is all indirect work.
Our main preoccupation is how to regulate and guarantee labor rights for the female working population. Because our work also goes above and beyond the working day, our work also includes the intellectual and productive work that women carry out at home. We have a lot of challenges, above all because a lot of responsibilities fall onto the shoulders of women, a lot of social responsibilities.
It’s important to point out that these responsibilities aren’t just women’s responsibilities, but they are in fact social responsibilities; looking after children, the sick, the old, education. These are responsibilities that historically have fallen upon each one of us as women. We have to create, evaluate and socialize the concept of these tasks as social responsibilities, so that these areas become collective spaces of work and education. That is basically the focal point of our proposals towards the new labor law.