In recognition of International Women’s Day, more than 20 Venezuelan Women’s Collectives massed in the Venezuelan National Assembly yesterday to request that the Assembly address their proposals to re-examine all laws in Venezuela from the perspective of their affects upon the rights of women to equality.
The women also offered thirty three proposals for new laws in favor of women, including the legalization of abortion. Legalization of abortion would be a major break-through for women in this country. Here, 98% of the population self-identify as Catholic and the Catholic Church hierarchy is rabidly reactionary.
The Collectives proposals were received supportably by the President of the National Assembly, Fernado Soto Rojas, and the country’s Second Vice President, Blanca Eekhout, who both promised that the National Assembly would address the proposals offered.
As reported in Correo del Orinoco of March 10, 2011 (Span. and English edition) in addition to the demand for legalization of abortion, the collectives’ thirty three proposals include the demand to for implementation of the 1999 Constitution’s mandate to provide social security benefits to those who work in the home.
The Venezuelan Constitution, passed in 1999, one year after President Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998, contains some of the most extensive human and social rights provisions in the world. It may be the only Constitution which expressly recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to their own language, culture, territories and political representation. But the Constitution, which mandates the right to employment, unionization, housing, healthcare and adequate nutrition, has equally profound consequences for the rights of women to equality of treatment.
Article 88 of the Venezuelan Constitution states:
The State guarantees the equality and equitable treatment of men and women in the exercise of the right to work. The State recognizes work at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth. Homemakers are entitled to social security in accordance with law. (Emphasis supplied).
To date, the constitutional right to social security benefits for women who work in the home (amas de casa) has not been fully realized, due primarily to the fact that laws revising existing social security provisions have not yet been passed. A beginning has been made, however. Some 200,000 “amas de casas” are receiving benefits for their work at home through one of Venezuela’s social missions for the poor, Misión Madres del Barrio (Mothers of the Barrio).
The Venezuelan Constitution is one of the few (perhaps the only) constitutions in the world that specifically addresses women by name, denoting all titles mentioned in the document in both their masculine and feminine versions. Thus references to the president are coupled with references to el president and la presidenta. This practice extends to every title or group referenced in the document, thus emphasizing the constitutional intention to recognize that women are expected to participate in all aspects of Venezuela’s political, cultural and economic life.
Discrimination against women is prohibited in the Constitution, and discrimination is broadly defined based on that included in the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Article 21 states:
All persons are equal before the law and consequently: No discrimination based on race, sex, creed or social standing shall be permitted, nor, in general, any discrimination with the intent or effect of nullifying or impairing upon the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on equal terms, of the rights and liberties of any individual.
Thus, the 1999 Constitution effectively mandates that all public laws must necessarily be re-examined in light of their impact upon women’s equality. That is a huge task which the women’s collectives want the National Assembly to commence.
It should be noted that, in practice, women play a substantial role in the highest positions in the government. A women is the chief justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, heads the National Electoral Council (a separate and independent branch of the government's five branches of government), and is the nation’s attorney general. For the past four years, a women was president of the National Assembly. Women appear at every level of the various government departments, and constitute well over 50% of the legal and medical professions. Many more women than men are enrolled in the universities and schools of higher learning, such that there are worried murmurings about the scarcity of men training for the higher professions.
In my local community of Mérida, women seem to out-number men in leading the community organizations, as well as many political action committees. Indeed, women are a driving force in the main government party, the PSUV (Socialist Party of Venezuela), led by President Hugo Chavez, and hold critical positions in the party leadership. It is clear from the composition of the PSUV party and the government, that the 1999 Constitution’s prohibition of discrimination against women is being actively respected by the Chavez government.
This stands in contrast to the composition of the various opposition parties, in which many fewer women are in evidence. Here in Mérida, an opposition candidate for mayor was recently elected. He arrived for a meeting with our apartment complex’s community council with ten of his ministers and officials in tow and they all sat in a row fronting our community: eleven middle-aged men stared at us from behind their table -- and one women, a rather attractive, much younger blonde, who was introduced as minister of sports and recreation. I was not at all impressed with the Opposition's efforts toward gender equality.