Chavez Swears In New Venezuelan Minister for Women’s Affairs

Life long fighter for women’s rights and former Communist Party member, María León, was sworn in by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as the first minister for the newly created Ministry of Women’s Affairs on Thursday.
Newly appointed Minister of Women's Affairs, Maria Leon with President Hugo Chavez (ABN)

Caracas, April 25, 2008 ( – Life long fighter for women’s rights and former Communist Party member, María León, was sworn in by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as the first minister for the newly created Ministry of Women’s Affairs on Thursday.

Speaking to a congress on “What women propose to the Minister for Women’s Affairs,” representing 300 different women’s organizations from around the country, the new minister said, “The Bolivarian government…has dignified Venezuelan women during these nine years of struggle.”

She pointed to increased participation of women in politics and the state, where women now account for one third of parliament and the heads of the Supreme Court, of the National Assembly, and of the Electoral Council, as well as the Attorney General and the Human Rights Ombudsperson are women.

León indicated that social security and improving social indicators for women in areas such as housing, health and maternity assistance as well as increasing access to science and technology, cultural participation and education would be key priority areas for the new ministry.

Within the women’s congress twelve workshops debated various issues confronting women and made a series of recommendations relating to women and the legal system, political participation, communication policy, the prevention and eradication of violence against women, building international cooperation, and solidarity between women’s movements and the education and empowerment of women.

Proposals were also made around the cultural and economic participation of women, the struggle against poverty, health, housing and women’s participation in municipal affairs.

“There are a lot of proposals that have been developed in order to guarantee the economic stability of women. We also want to create entities that ensure that the media respects the image of women,” the minister said.

“This ministry will work and struggle to continue vindicating the role of women within Venezuelan society” she added and assured that the conclusions of the congress would provide the framework for a plan of action for the Women’s Affairs Ministry until December 2008.

Chavez, who spoke to the congress, sustained that the subjugation of women is one of the biggest abuses that history has known and assured that “without the Venezuelan women there would be no authentic revolution.”

In many instances women provide the driving force behind many of the government’s grassroots social programs of the Bolivarian revolution at eradicating illiteracy, providing universal free primary healthcare and eradicating poverty.

The president also said that control of the social program, ‘Mothers of the Barrio’ and the Women’s Bank would be transferred over to the new ministry.

Chavez also proposed the creation of women’s councils in the poor neighborhoods and towns around the country to promote the participation and leadership of women in the social programs and grassroots communal councils.

He also cited United Nations figures indicating that of the 2.6 billion people living in poverty around the world, 70% are women and children, of the 867 million adults that are illiterate 64% are women, and that on average women earn 22% less than men.

Despite formal equality in Venezuela, he noted that women earn far less than men and assured that the Bolivarian government would continue fighting for equal pay for women and equal access to credit and until “women are protagonists in all ambits of national life.”

Chavez also informed the congress that he had ordered the creation of an all women tank battalion in the Armed Forces to be called “Tank Battalion Juana Ramírez”

Leon added that the Bolivarian revolution “is leaving behind five thousand years of exploitation.”

“Humanity has lived for five thousand years under exploitative regimes, slavery, feudalism and the most exploitative system, capitalism…women have been doubly exploited, not only have they been exploited by bosses, but they have been exploited by their partners, their husbands.”

In this respect she stressed the efforts of the Bolivarian revolution to constitutionally recognize housework as productive work that produces added value to society.

“Article 88 will continue being a beacon to humanity for its recognition of the work of women,” she added.

However, despite this constitutional recognition, article 88, the implementation of which would guarantee the right to payment for work in the home, has never been codified into law due to unresolved debates in the National Assembly over where the funding for this would come from.

Like many other countries in Latin America, the right to abortion also remains illegal in Venezuela. However, National Assembly Deputy Iris Valera, has called for the lifting of restrictions on abortion in some circumstances.