Venezuela Celebrates Women’s Advances, but More Efforts Needed

With banners, signs and traditional attire from around the world, a colorful march moved through the streets of Caracas last Tuesday in celebration of International Women’s Day.


The enthusiastic event formed part of a series of activities taking place in Venezuela since March 4th to commemorate the date which was first celebrated in Copenhagen, Denmark 100 years ago.

Joining the march in Caracas were delegates from the 46 nations represented in a week long World Conference of Grassroots Women Revolutionaries. 

“We have to struggle together”, said Monique Diermissen, delegate from Germany during the march.  “We have to find a way to fight in our everyday lives against the capitalist system which promotes the struggle of man against man while relegating women to a secondary role in the redefinition of the world”.


The women’s movement in Venezuela, although still not particularly strong, has achieved some notable gains since the ascendancy of Hugo Chavez to the presidency in 1999.

The creation of the Women’s and Gender Equality Ministry in 2009 has been held up by many as one of those principal achievements.

The country has also enshrined the protection of the women’s rights in the republic’s constitution and has strengthened this protection under its Law on the Rights of Women to a Life Free from Violence.

“Venezuela has become on of the most advanced countries with this legislation.  Women were invisible as social beings and weren’t even considered for pubic offices”, said Women’s Minister Nancy Perez Sierra during a report to congress last month.

Other major advancements include the requirement of political parties to ensure that 50 percent of their candidates for office be women and the creation of Banmujer, a development bank that provides micro credits to economically disadvantaged women.

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary along with International Women’s Day on Tuesday, members of Banmujer laid a wreath at the foot of the Simon Bolivar in downtown Caracas where the celebratory march began.

Nora Castaneda, Founder and President of the bank, related the importance of the financial institution in helping to provide economic independence for impoverished women.

“It is precisely for the women who can’t obtain loans from other banks due to their condition of poverty. Banmujer works with them so that they can be incorporated into the benefits of development…In 10 years, we’ve given more than 127 thousand microcredits and we’ve provided benefits for more than 300 thousand women”, Castañeda said.

“There are still those who think that women are people of short ideas and long hair, even though we’re demonstrating everyday that this isn’t true. But there’s still much work to be done. I don’t know how many years it will take but, there’s still much to do”, she remarked.


Indeed, although positive steps have been taken to advance women’s rights in Venezuela, the society, like much of Latin America, is still gripped by a machista status quo which many times stifles gender equality.

Amnesty International has reported that a woman dies of gender violence every ten days in Caracas and that in 2008, over 100 thousand complaints of domestic violence were reported to authorities. 

Local organizations inform that only 1 out of 9 women who are victimized by violence actually report it.

This type of sexism is also highlighted by the country’s multi-billion dollar beauty industry that promotes the role of women as consumer merchandise for national and international business interests.

The famous Miss Venezuela beauty contest, owned by one of the wealthiest corporations in Latin America, the Cisneros organization, has prided itself on selling a Europeanized image of the Venezuelan women to international audiences through pageants like Miss Universe.

Such an emphasis on the superficial has created an extremely lucrative industry ripe with advertising kickbacks and promotional incentives for the Cisneros organization.

In fact, Venezuela’s beauty obsession has become so widespread that it has made the nation the largest per capita consumer of cosmetics in the world as an entire one-fifth of the average citizen’s income is spent on beauty products.

Plastic surgery is also as common as dentist appointments and it is not unusual for wealthy parents to proudly buy their 15-year old daughters breast implants for “coming of age” birthday presents.  

“Now some people think, ‘My daughter’s turning 15, let’s give her breast enlargements.’ That’s horrible. It’s the ultimate degeneration”, President Chavez said in condemnation of the practice in 2007.