Venezuelan Women On The Edge

By Asociación Civil Mujeres en Línea, Asociación Venezolana por una Educación Sexual Alternativa (AVESA), Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ), and Centro Hispanoamericano de la Mujer FREYA

Last month, four non-governmental organizations launched a report presenting the dire situation of women’s rights in our country, Venezuela. We called it “Women on the Edge” because this is the best way to describe current living conditions of most Venezuelan women and adolescents girls.

This report documents not only how Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency and democratic deficit has negatively and disproportionately impacted women and adolescent girls, but how the current situation involves serious regressions and violations of human rights that have failed to catch the world’s attention.

The findings tell a story of survival and resilience, where women have been left alone for the most part by a State that seems to be preoccupied only with keeping its grip on power. While poverty is on the rise, particularly among women, they are greatly exposed to hunger, malnutrition, extortion, ill health and violence.

In the context of a staggering socio-economic and political crisis never seen before in this country, the outlook for the year 2018 is grimmer and more complex. Already this year, 82% of Venezuelans live in poverty – more than half in extreme poverty. The minimum monthly wage sits at 4 USD. A professional with graduate studies earns between 15 to 25 US dollars a month: approximately 1 USD a day.

According to the IMF, inflation will hit 2.068% next year, which means that salaries and purchase power will collapse even further than this year. It is calculated that a minimum monthly wage is needed to cover just one day of basic food requirements for a regular family.

Even in 2013, before the deepening of this crisis, poor women outnumbered poor men: for every 100 men living in poverty, there were 107 women, and for every 100 men living in extreme poverty, there were 112 women. Overall, poverty among women is 6 points above the national average.

If we consider that 4 out of 10 households are headed by women (70% of which are women without partners), it is not difficult to conclude that many of those households live in some form of poverty.

Behind these figures lies a stark reality: women are carrying on their shoulders the bulk of the crisis. They are the first to leave their jobs in order to line up for food, medicines and other scarce supplies, or to care for children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled in a country where social safety nets, work-life programs, and social security are severely diminished. At the height of the crisis between December 2014 and December 2015, 99% of those who left the labor market were women.

Lines for food are made up mostly by women of all ages, who spend between 8 and 14 hours a week lining up. While standing, they are often subjected to different forms of aggression by security forces, including beatings of pregnant women. Despite being the ones looking for food, they consume less food products than men and are forced to consume less healthy products, putting their own health at risk. Last year, a survey conducted by 3 major universities in Venezuela found that 75% of those consulted had an uncontrolled loss weight of 8 to 9 kilos.

Caritas, a non-governmental organization working on food and nutrition monitoring in some of the poorest parishes in the country has identified several survival strategies used by families in the face of severe food shortages and soaring inflation: eating less and avoiding specific foods (70-80% of households); waiving one or two meals so that another person in the family could eat (53% of households); and spending the day without eating (48%). Women are the ones who most often waive meals so that someone else in the family may eat (33%), while more than half of families reported they sacrificed elder women’s food intake. Essentially, women are being forced to deny themselves food in order to survive and to ensure the survival of their dependents and loved ones.

The threats to their reproductive health are just as bad or even worse.

Today, Venezuelan women are being denied access to contraceptives despite the fact that historically, women were able to get contraceptives, including the morning after pill as well as condoms, through public hospitals or in private pharmacies,without obstacles. But since 2014, together with general shortages of a vast majority of medicines and medical supplies, oral contraceptives, intra-uterine devicess, and other family planning options have disappeared from shelves. This violates women’s rights to reproductive autonomy and health, both of which are constitutionally protected in Venezuela.

There are no official figures regarding public expenditures on contraceptives or on shortages. According to the latest available data (from 2015, the Ministry of Health’s purchase of contraceptives and condoms would amount to 2% of local demand for family planning methods. An online survey conducted by our organizations last June found out that 7 out of 10 women consulted could not find their desired contraceptive in the past 12 months.

Lack of access to contraceptives has had an impact on unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal mortality. As recently as 2016, maternal mortality increased 66% according to official figures. The main cause of these deaths is hemorrhages. Considering that Venezuela has one of the most restrictive legal frameworks in the region on abortion, it’s not difficult to conclude that behind the increase in maternal mortality rates are women trying to end unwanted pregnancies. It is important to highlight that President Nicolas Maduro has never spoken of the issue of abortion in the 4 years since he came to power. There are also tremendous gaps in the health system infrastructure where the most basic medications and supplies are missing, with reports of pregnant women having to visit up to five hospitals to get medical attention.

Women are put on the edge regarding their sexual and reproductive health when they are unable to make fundamental decisions about their bodies and their lives, particularly in a context of severe socio-economic conditions and shortages of food, diapers, menstrual hygiene products and milk formula, among many other basic items.

Our study also explored the increasing numbers of femicides and impunity around cases of violence against women in general. In the case of femicides (the killing of women out of hate or contempt towards them), which is a criminal offense included in Venezuela’s progressive violence against women legislation, the rate has shown an increase from 0,77 per 100,000 women in 2015 to 0,78 per 100,000 women in 2016. However, due to lack of proper training of police and criminal justice officers in identifying what constitutes femicide, these figures indicate major underreporting. On other forms of violence against women, despite efforts by the State in creating and strengthening institutions in this area, including special courts to deal with cases involving violence against women, impunity is high. Out of almost 71,000 cases reported in 2014, only 482 or 0.6% made it to the courts. Victims of violence face all sorts of obstacles and revictimization within the justice system as a result of which many opt not to report their cases.

As the crisis worsens, reports of young girls being forced into prostitution in exchange for food are increasing, as well as reports of women being recruited by traffickers across the region.

As indicated in our study, all of these situations are occuring on the watch of a government that calls itself “feminist,” but does not guarantee the most basic rights to women and is involved in violating their rights. Never before have Venezuelan women been more vulnerable or had their rights trampled upon in this manner. And the State is mostly responsible for that which begs the question, when and how will the impunity end?

 

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“Brexit” Threatens the Rights of Women and Minorities

By Alexandra DeMatos

Communications Intern – Summer 2016

People from around the world watched as the United Kingdom experienced its most momentous week in decades. After a nerve-wracking referendum vote, Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU) by a very slim margin – 51.9 percent by 48.1 percent. London residents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. This vote meant much more to the people of Britain than a typical election because voting to leave the European Union is something that no country has ever done. To add more fuel to the fire, not only did Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron resign and international markets took a harsh blow, but also both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, which many fear will lead to an even more historic event – the fall of Great Britain. These are the concerns that are currently dominating international media, leaving many other extremely important issues, such as the rights of women, minorities and refugees, swept under the rug.

The European Union began after World War II in order to increase security between its members states both economically and politically. The EU consists of 28 members with many more eager to join and it holds a great amount of influence over Europe. Many rights for women and minorities, which were brought to Britain through the EU, were not up for debate during the referendum period.

Feminist Caroline Criado-Perez compiled a list of rights given to women in England through the joining of the EU, “EU referendum: For any woman who values workplace equality, there’s only one way to vote,” including: equal pay for work of equal value, paid maternity leave, making it illegal to dismiss women due to pregnancy and ending the practice of “treating part-time workers as less valuable than full-time workers.” These were all rights that were NOT enforced in England until the intervention of the EU. The worry is now that by leaving the EU, there is no saying what will happen to these advancements and rights of women.

Here’s an example; in 1970 the United Kingdom passed the Equal Pay Act, which was supposed to be a leap towards ending wage discrimination. The issue however, was that it only guaranteed equal pay for women who were doing the exact same work as a man. The intervention of the European Commission in 1982 forced the United Kingdom to comply with Article 119 of The Treaty of Romeequal pay for work of equal value. Criado-Perez compared male street cleaners and women who clean offices as an example of equal pay for equal work. Now the fate of this important policy is unknown.

As for the rights of minorities and refugees, the EU, under the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), says that refugees are guaranteed protection: “Under CEAS, international protection is granted to those migrants who qualify as refugees due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Subsidiary protection status is granted to those who would face a real risk of suffering serious harm if returned to his/her country of origin.” According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, just about half of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees are women – 25.6 percent of whom are extremely young, ranging from infants to 17 years old and 24.2 percent are aged 18 to over 60. Since 1993 a majority of migrants to the United Kingdom have been women, most of which were attempting to escape terrible, often violent conditions from their home country, and considered the United Kingdom a safe space.

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Tweet posted to @PostRefRacism.

Perhaps it may seem unlikely that there would be a backwards shift in the realm of women’s rights or the rights of minorities or refugees, but if the #Leave campaign, which was heavily fueled by a hatred and fear of immigrants and minorities, was able to win the vote then perhaps a backwards shift does not seem so unlikely after all. Since the referendum vote on Thursday, June 23 there has been more than 100 incidents of hate crimes or racial abuses. There has been an outpour on social media of instances of harassment, a great deal of which are being reported by Muslim women. One tweet, by @heavencrawley, reads:Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.58.14 PM

Women in Great Britain are unsure of what is to come in the years following the referendum vote. Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, wrote, “Britain is leaving the EU and I would like to know what that means for women. For the cost of my childcare, for the likelihood of closing the pay gap and for the chances of this country ever ratifying the pan-European Istanbul Convention to end violence against women and girls.”

Her thoughts sum up the worries and questions of many.