Socialist Party member Denise Dudley has recently returned from a trip to Venezuela. During the visit she attended a forum organised by Socialismo Revolucionario, the sister organisation of the Socialist Party in Australia. The forum discussed women’s rights in Venezuela, the gains that have been made and the tasks ahead.
In 2007 a law was passed in Venezuela to protect women against domestic violence and to ensure that their rights are enshrined. This law represents a real step forward for the equality of women in Venezuela. Indeed combined with other measures this makes Venezuela one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to women’s rights.
This year there has been an extensive Government campaign to raise public awareness of domestic violence. Everyday newspapers print facts and figures highlighting the problems of domestic violence. There has also been a massive propaganda campaign in Caracas promoting the idea that domestic violence and violence towards women is not acceptable.
President Hugo Chavez has announced new initiatives to deal with perpetrators of violence – including a new court for such cases, an expansion of social programs and the establishment of a Ministry of Women’s Issues.
However despite all that is written in law, there remains a significant gap between the propaganda of the Government and what is actually happening on the ground. There still has not been enough resources put into practically addressing domestic violence and into providing real alternatives for women fleeing violence. It is still estimated that on average one woman is abused by a partner or ex-partner every 15 minutes.
Amnesty International has reported that since the introduction of the law reporting of domestic violence has actually doubled. Still most women find it difficult to actually escape situations of violence. Basic social infrastructure such as refuges, support workers, counselling and longer term housing options are still minimal or non-existent.
For many women the decision to leave a violent partner can be a difficult and a complex one, particularly if children are involved. Questions of finances, security, housing, children and the relationship itself will often override the question of personal safety.
For these reasons it is essential that any effort to combat domestic violence needs to include financial assistance to victims and adequate social services. With around 40 per cent of Venezuelans still living in poverty it is not difficult to see why women find it hard to leave a relationship, especially if their partner is the main wage earner and they have no other accommodation options.
The perception and role of women in Venezuelan society must also be addressed in the context of a campaign for equality. While the recent education campaign by the Government has gone some way towards raising awareness of domestic violence, in general women are still not seen as equal. A speaker at the forum explained that while laws exist to protect women in society and in the work place the enforcement of these rights remains a problem.
There is no denying that a certain amount of macho culture exists in Venezuelan society as it does in many other countries in South America. In order to fight sexism and violence against women it is also necessary to combat this macho culture. The attitude of “men in the street and women in the home” has begun to shift slightly. But the continued objectification of women combined with the position that women are forced into by the capitalist system means that much more needs to be done for women to truly achieve equality in Venezuela.
The funding of women’s services in Venezuela is an urgent task but side by side with this the trade unions, community organisations and Chavez’s Government must also organise campaigns to cut across sexism and the continued objectification of women in society. Socialism is a system based on the equality of all people. On that basis the fight for socialism must be linked to the fight for gender equality.
By Denise Dudley