Women across Venezuela took to the streets yesterday to celebrate International Women’s Day, to protest the current and widespread injustices that women continue to face, and to strategize for the future. After paying homage to women across the world in the Plaza de Bolívar, a special ceremony was held in the Angela Suárez House of Women.
Iris Bolívar, the coordinator of the House, clarified that the ceremony, entitled "Violence Against Women," had the dual purpose of explaining the existing laws dealing with gender and their shortcomings to Venezuelan women as well as elucidating what rights they have. "We are satisfied with our work that we have carried out through out the years here in the House and this is our way of paying tribute to those women, the fighters like ourselves, who look for improvement," noted Bolívar.
Adicea Castillo, a professor from the Central University of Venezuela, participated as a speaker in the ceremony. She devoted a substantial amount of time during her exposition to emphasizing the importance of Article 88 of the Constitution. Article 88 guarantees housewives social security and is internationally regarded as one element that makes the Venezuelan constitution one of the most progressive in the world.
Yet in spite of the Constitution and the recent influx of laws designed to protect women and to promote gender equality, Venezuelan women continue to face steep, uphill battles in both respects. After honoring International Women’s Day, Delsa Solórzano, a member of the National Directorate of the opposition party Primero Justicia (Justice First), took a moment to present some statistics that shed light on the situation of Venezuela women.
Solórzano affirmed that, "in Venezuela 72% of families are headed by single women." Although she applauded that "62% of university students are female," she recognized that this does not necessarily translate into women attaining positions of power or authority. "Political representation continues to be very low. Of the 165 deputies in the National Assembly, only sixteen are women. Out of twenty-four states, only two have female governors. Out of 336 mayors, not only seventy are women and in the Supreme Court of Justice only eight out of thirty-two justices are women."
Implementing What We Have Learned on a Large Scale
María del Mar Alvarez, the National Defender of Women’s Rights for the National Institute for Women commented that although the National Institute for Women (INAMUJER) offers a free telephone hotline for victims of domestic violence and free legal advice, very few women report sexual harassment, domestic violence, or rape.
The Vice President of the Permanent Commission for Women and Children in the National Assembly, Marelys Pérez, announced that on the 8th of April, a meeting would be held to create a national network for the protection of women. She also took a moment to acknowledge the rapidly growing, although barely recognized phenomenon of "feminization of poverty," noting that "of the percentage of poverty that exists in Venezuela, over half corresponds to women."
In a statement issued yesterday by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, he remarked that 2005 constituted a "milestone in the advancement of women," due to "tangible progress" in areas such as life expectancy and primary education. However, he acknowledged that there remains much to be done. "If we are to change the historical legacy that puts women at a disadvantage in most societies, we must implement what we have learnt on a larger scale."
Sarah Wagner U.S. journalist living in Venezuela