UN Women’s Conference in Geneva Highlights Venezuela’s Efforts Toward Gender Equality

On Tuesday, at the 59th United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, Switzerland, chairperson Nicole Ameline praised Venezuela’s efforts and success in increasing gender equality.

Santa Elena de Uairen, October 22nd, 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)- On Tuesday, at the 59th United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, Switzerland, chairperson Nicole Ameline praised Venezuela’s efforts and success in increasing gender equality. 
The head of the Venezuelan delegation, Andreina Tarazon, said that her presentation of the Caribbean country’s recent progress in the field was equally well-received by other committee members. 
“One of them said she wished her country had a even quarter of the policies that promotes women’s rights in Venezuela,” recounted Tarazon, who is also the director of Venezuela’s Women and Gender Equality Ministry, created in 2009 to address the same issue that the CEDAW takes on internationally.
Representatives of Venezuela’s Supreme Court Commission for Justice in Gender Equality, the ministry for the Protection of Women’s Rights, and the national public defender for women’s rights made up the delegation, along with the Venezuelan ambassador in Geneva.
Women in Government
According to 2013 data, 48 percent of positions employed by the Venezuelan state are currently occupied by women. Comparatively, only 16 percent of public office positions in the United States are held by women.
However, both US and Venezuelan women are underrepresented in their respective house assemblies, both occupying only about 18 percentage of those seats, ranking 95th and 100th globally.
Outside the assembly walls, Venezuelan women have made a much bigger impact. Four of the ten entities that most received developmental funding this year are headed by women – namely the ministries of education, health, social security and higher education. The country’s defense ministry is also led since 2012, by Admiral in Chief Carmen Teresa Meléndez.
Tarazon noted that 55 percent of grassroots government, such as communes and communal councils, is led by women. Among the presidential councils, a unique representational mechanism, 486 women’s organizations actively participate nationwide.
The Equal Rights minister also pointed out a 68 percent increase of female mayors in the most recent municipal elections, and insists parity is on the rise.
“We still have a ways to go,” she said, before the 50-50 ratio is achieved, but constitutional Article 21 and the currently debated Article 57 of the Equal Rights Law are important legislative tools to reach that balance.
Women still seem to be underrepresented in the leading political parties, making up 23 percent of governing socialist party PSUV, and a mere 12 percent of the oppositional alliance the Democratic Unity Roundtable.
Protective Laws
The Natural Law to a Woman’s Right to a Violence-Free Life, promulgated in 2007, defines 19 forms of violence against women, including psychological, media, and obstetrical violence, and “places Venezuela in the legislative vanguard,” noted Tarazon.
Activists work to enforce the law and educate women about their rights, and 43 public prosecutors stationed throughout the country are in charge of receiving claims and handing cases of discriminatory violence against women.
A number of social missions, such as Neighborhood Mothers and Children of Venezuela, give aid to women in extreme poverty, single mothers, and pregnant women. 
Venezuela also has the third longest paid maternity leave in the world after Canada and Norway. The 2012 Labor Law gives women a total of 26 weeks (about six months) of leave, and men are also entitled to two weeks paid paternity leave. The law also requires employers to provide new mothers with job security and facilities for child care and nursing.
There is also the federal bank, Banmujer, meant to promote women’s economic empowerment through loans, financial literacy training and free services to low-income women. Since its foundation in 2001, Banmujer has issued over 145,000 micro-credits, according to official data.
In September of last year President Nicolas Maduro approved 200 million bolivars (US$5 million) as an initial grant for the National Fund for the Productive Development of Women, in a ceremony during which Uruguayan author and guest speaker Eduardo Galeano congratulated the leader in continuing in the feminist tradition of Hugo Chavez.