Setting up women’s committees in the communal councils

Thanks to J for suggesting we go to IMMFA (Merida Institute for Women and the Family)to see what the folks there are up to. Apparently they were pretty cool when they were first set up then there was a new ‘team' and they started to just focus on domestic violence, and now there's a new team again and some of the original team and they are getting more into the structural side of things, the active side of things.

Atthe moment the big thing is setting up women's committees in the communal councils. We both said that we wanted to set up one in our communal council-and a woman gave us the information and documentation necessary, which we can then take back to the councils for them to discuss (finally my communal councilin Belen is starting to meet- there's a meeting on Saturday, lets see how it goes..).

The women's committees should, according to the woman at IMMFA, organise workshops on self esteem, and have a social focus, create consciousness and ideology, not just be anti-violence. At least 5 women are needed to form the committee, which then elects a spokesperson, who becomes the committee's link to IMMFA. But the committees are also supported by Banmujer (Women's bank) and Mothers of the Barrio. Committee members must be "committed to the revolution and have human sensibility," – that is, care about the community they're involved in.

This is interesting, because mostly the communal councils have been quite apolitical- dominated by opposition or by Chavista but mostly organising things like local fairs and street lighting and stuff, and I guess the fact that the Chavistas control the ministries, is a way to inject politics into them.

IMMFA also offered to send people to the councils to help with the setting up of the committees. The procedure is roughly- convoke an assembly (which needs 20% of the community to attend in order for it to be legit-attendance should be taken), someone from IMMFA can address it and talk about the law of women and about the purpose of the committees because "the women need to know why the committee is necessary", and I guess from there, elect the committee.

IMMFA is also in the process of making a new women's shelter- good, there are very few of those.

I asked the women we talked to what socialism was for her (hehe my cheeky method for trying to gauge where a person or institution "is at" politically) and she said "it's equality, quality of life."

Later we talked to the president, and I asked her all sorts of bizarre questions (why is ‘family' in the title of the institution, how do you feel about gay rights etc') trying to put my finger on what was ‘not radical enough' about the organisation for me.

On gay rights, she was clear that there should be no discrimination and that gay people shouldn't be excluded but she made some weird comments about some of them being a bit wild and undisciplined in their sexual behaviour or unfaithful or something like that, which is a silly stereotype and has nothing to do with being gay or straight, and really promiscuity, if there's no deception, is really not that bad a thing. It's just taste. Basically though she said it all came down to culture, which to me is possibly true- just like sexism- but also a bit too wishy washy and dismissive. ‘Culture' can so often be an excuse not to challenge things, kind of like saying ‘look that's how we are'.

Oh well the law on equality should be passed soon, that will be awesome, lets see what affect that has. It deals with gay rights, right to marriage (wow) and there's also the Law about the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence which has some pretty full on stuff about violence against women- 18 months to 6 years in prison for ‘psychological violence' and a whole gammit of other classifications of violence.

As to the family part of the title, she said that was to "prevent aggressive minds" – the aggression that is passed on through generations and so on, rather than women's so called main role in society being the family. Good.

She was also pretty cool on the whole beauty contest stuff, saying she was against it as it didn't treat women has thinkers.

Lastly, she said that all the ‘first' ladies of all the mayors were going to get together to do some campaigning and organise municipal based committees. Again, better than nothing, but it's a bit strange, choosing people based on who they are married to, assuming that they are political because their husband is.