Feminism and Machismo: changing roles and structures

Patricia Daniel
13 August 2007

Are women in Venezuela taken in by superficial male charisma? I think there's enough evidence to indicate that the system is delivering a little more than that (more...)

The Venezuelan women's movement has made significant progress. They have achieved one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, often referred to as a non-sexist Magna Carta, created the National Institute for Women Inamujer and been successful in opening NGOs, increasing their representation in politics and defending their democracy.

As Nora Castaneda has said about the new Venezuelan Constitution . "This is the real revolution. It was not written by a group of jurists or academics but is the fruition of years of history and widespread consultation and debate among the people. They have taken ownership of it. We women won our rights in the Constitution: article 88 recognizes that women who work in the home create added value and must be properly remunerated. After all, what is more valuable than bringing up and looking after the new generation of society?"

César Aponte agrees. "I'm against feminists when they say women should be treated equally. If a woman has got a highly responsible job in business or government, for example, and also children to look after, she should be getting more salary so that she can deal with all that."

Currently women constitute 30% of representatives in national and local government: Inamujer are working towards 50.50 A number of women have ministerial posts, in the environment, industry and enterprise, libraries, labour and Cecilia Flores is the speaker in the National Assembly - which, in 2006, agreed a law for life without violence against women and has now passed a law for paternity leave. But I'm still a little sceptical. All that voluntary work done by women at local level, for example.

"As all over Latin America, a majority of heads of household in the barrios are single mothers. It's no surprise that they're at the forefront, providing community cohesion, or that so many government initiatives are sustained by women," admits César. "No, there aren't economic incentives to get organised (by working in the community councils). The incentive is that, by doing so, women can more efficiently use the power that is legislated for them, make it work for them. The government provides funds for community councils to carry out their own projects. Women are there, making the decisions, prioritising how next year's community budget will be spent."

And what about the old latin machismo? Theresa, a Venezuelan painter and activist now living in London tells me: "It's true. Men still make children and then go off somewhere else and make more children and then go off again... But gradually men are getting educated, taking responsibility. And I wouldn't say there is any less machismo in Britain. It just manifests itself differently. For example, here at the festival, it's an all male panel, they're the authority telling us what to do. Women are in the audience, they're already doing things, but they have no voice. We're supposed to be here to change the world and bring about social justice. It's very important for us to change those roles in society."

Theresa draws a parallel with the traditional structures in Venezuela which are hindering progress. "The big enemy is bureaucracy - and corruption. People are used to nepotism and bribery. Families have been rooted there for many years, pass their official position onto the next generation - especially military families. Obviously they want to get rid of Chavez. He comes from the people, not the middle class, he has a connection with the people through his personal experience of rural poverty. I'm not sure if the community councils are really going to be a solution, getting around the old bureaucracy. The roles have got to change. We have to clean things up from the inside out."

Why is she in the Britain? "I come from a poor background but I married into the middle class in Venezuela, I entered that culture of corruption where you can buy anyone. I'm happy Chavez is there. But I had to get outside, to heal myself."

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