Venezuela’s Maduro Vows Equal Gender Representation for Parliament on International Women’s Day

A series of other measures put forward by Venezuela’s National Women’s Congress were also approved by the president, who called for a debate on legalising same-sex marriage and abortion. 

By Rachael Boothroyd

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2500 women from throughout Venezuela attended Sunday's congress, debating heated issues ranging from same-sex marriage to abortion. (Credit: Venezuelan Women's Congress).
2500 women from throughout Venezuela attended Sunday's congress, debating heated issues ranging from same-sex marriage to abortion. (Credit: Venezuelan Women's Congress).
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Caracas, March 9th 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, has approved a series of initiatives put forward by the country’s feminist movement aimed at politically and economically empowering women in the South American nation. 

In a move hailed by women’s movements as “historic,” the president announced that from 2015 onwards, at least 50% of legislators elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly should be women. 

“You have all approved the proposal that the next National Assembly should have a parity of composition, 50% men and 50% women, and I agree with that, that’s how it must be. We should empower women more and more,” stated Maduro from a presidential act in Caracas on Sunday

The announcement was made in anticipation of elections for the legislative body, which will take place later this year. 

It is still unclear as to whether the country’s opposition will be obliged to adopt equal representation in its nominations, but the president confirmed that the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is currently in preparations to ensure that the 50% quota is reflected in its primary elections. 

The move reflects a general tendency within organisations allied to the Bolivarian revolution, and particularly the communal councils, which are often principally run and led by women. 

The president’s announcements were met with vocal adulation by the thousands of women who had gathered at Sunday’s presidential act in commemoration of International Women’s Day. Many had taken part in the country’s National Women’s Congress, which also came to a close earlier the same day. 

“It was excellent, we worked and debated for three days on all of the proposals,  to create a kind of just feminism, a country of socialist revolutionaries, and a better Venezuela and world,” said Marie Moncada, a member of the Mothers of the Barrio mission cum social movement in Cojedes. 

Over 50 proposals were put forward to the president by women’s groups at the congress following days of debate on a number of different issues, including the construction of a feminist state, sexist violence and sexual and reproductive rights. 

Over 2500 women activists participated in the congress, which included delegations of rural women workers, workers, mothers of the barrio, young women, women from the country’s people’s militia, women combatants, indigenous women, students, sportswomen, women artists and craftswomen all attended the event. 

UNAMUJER Created, Women to Tackle the Bourgeoisie

Two of the most significant proposals to emerge from the congress which were subsequently approved by the president on Sunday include the creation of a new National Union of Women (UNAMUJER) to defend women’s rights and the transfer of control over the “production, distribution and importation” of “essential items for women and the family” to the new UNAMUJER and the Presidential Women’s Commission. 

“I believe that you are precisely who can bring the parasitic practices of the oligarchic bourgeoisie under control,” declared the president to the women present. 

Maduro went on to task the Minister for Women, Andreina Tarazon, with creating a team of female economists and administrators in order to take charge of the country’s supplies of sanitary towels and diapers. He also gave orders to a series of ministers to come up with a “production plan” for items deemed necessary for women. 

“I give you Ministers, Marco Torres, Jose David Cabello, Isabel Delgado, Andreina Tarazon… I give you 72 hours to present to me a production plan which will guarantee women the items that they need to live,” he stated. 

Despite the historical burden that women have carried in term of domestic care, many feminist activists greeted the move with optimism. 

“Look, here the economic war has been launching a frontal assault for the past two years… The production of childcare and personal care items are in the hands of the transnationals, the same as baby milk formula… Because of this, women have started to produce, for example reusable diapers which they sew themselves…"

“I think what our comrade president is saying that we are going to foster these initiatives and at the same time, we are advancing towards the construction of a new national production model… I think it’s a positive thing,” Maira Perez of the Feminist Spider Network, told Venezuelanalysis. 

The Congress

2015 was the third year running that the National Women’s Congress has been held. For Anyoeli Villegas, a member of national collective the “School of People’s Feminism,” this year’s congress was a much more positive event than preceding years. 

“I felt that this year was much more working class, there was lots more representation from ordinary women, and not just middle and upper class women after a legislator position”. 

Villegas attributes the increased participation to growing consciousness and organisation surrounding women’s issues amongst the social bases of the revolution, as well as to the work being done by the new Minister for Women, Tarazon, who at just 26 years of age is the youngest politician to have taken up the role. 

“She’s young, but she has surrounded herself with a good team of real feminists, like Rebeca Madriz [Vice-president for Gender Equality]”. 

“She’s doing positive work,” stated Villegas. 

Abortion: Let’s have the debate

Villegas was not the only activist to interpret the congress as a signal of a growing mass movement for women’s rights in the country. Sunday was also the first time that President Maduro publicly called for an open debate on the issue of legalising abortion, in direct response to demands from activists. 

The termination of a pregnancy is prohibited by Venezuelan law in the predominantly Catholic country with the exception of life threatening situations. It carries a potential jail sentence of between 6 months to 2 years. Despite this, at least 10.4% of Venezuelan women are thought to have undergone an illegal abortion according to a study by obstetrician, Rogelio Perez D’Gregorio, although some estimates place the number much higher. 

“I know that you have lots of proposals, some of them are controversial. I call on you for the controversial issues, we shouldn’t be afraid of any issue, they should all be debated - maternity protection, teenage pregnancy, abortion, same-sex marriage, they all must be debated,” declared Maduro.

Despite widespread opposition to abortion, many feminist activists took the president’s call as a radical recognition of women’s demands. 

“When I heard the president say that, I was just thrilled…That he wasn’t afraid to debate the issue of abortion, for us, this is a huge achievement. In fact, it’s difficult for us to believe it!” said Perez. 

“In 2007 Chavez named feminism, and in 2009 he publicly declared himself a feminist. The same thing is happening with Maduro but much more quickly… He himself said it when the Women’s Presidential Commission was inaugurated, he said, 'I confess that I am ignorant on the issue of sexual and reproductive rights, and I am asking for your help.' Today we saw that that was sincere, he has considered the proposals of our compañeras and has reflected on them…This is a demonstration that the government listens to us as a people, as women,” added Perez. 

In a county where the third main cause of death for pregnant women is home induced abortions, Perez is hoping for that the debate on legalising terminations will take place sooner rather than later, in spite of the existence of more conservative elements within the Venezuelan feminist movement itself. 

“There were 36 different working groups at the conference, and this issue (of abortion) came up at every table. It was heated, at one point some groups event started chanting “no to abortion” but we stood our ground and gave our arguments,” explained Villegas, who also volunteers at the Information Network for Safe Abortion. 

While no concrete date for the debate has been set, activists such as Melitza Agani view Sunday’s announcements as a further step for the growing women’s rights movement that has taken root and which continues to develop within the Bolivarian  Revolution. 

“Finally we have been taken into account, thanks to President Chavez, we women are on the rise, we can defend ourselves, before we were stepped on by our husbands but now we study, we work, there are  even women ministers,” explained activist Agani. 

The more than 50 different proposals put forward at the congress will be debated on April 8th in a meeting between the president and the Presidential Women’s Council. 

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