Since Hugo Chavez’s electoral victory in 1998, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution has commenced a radical change in the economic, civic, and social life of the country. The determined struggle waged by the country’s women’s rights movement had achieved important gains following the end of the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship in 1958, but economic oppression and sexist social values persisted.
“The pains of the world are larger for women… and larger for women of the popular classes, of the poorer classes,” Hugo Chavez said in a speech in 2012. “A real revolutionary, a socialist, must be truly feminist, because the liberation of the people is achieved through the liberation of women” Under Chavez, Venezuela created a women’s ministry in the national government, tribunals dealing specifically with violent crimes against women, pensions for poor women, a variety of free women’s health services, expanded maternity leave and more. The Bolivarian Revolution also ushered in an ongoing democratic movement in which women are core participants and leaders.
One of the first actions of the Bolivarian Revolution after being swept into power in the 1998 election was to convene a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new charter for the country. Millions of women mobilized to draft proposals for the new constitution, expanding economic and social rights for women. Maria Leon, President of the National Institute for Women, emphasizes the importance of recent groundbreaking measures like Article 88, which recognizes that housework generates value and wealth:
“Our Constitution enhances the struggle against discrimination of human beings, and because of this it includes mechanisms for the protection of all social groups…Article 88 is an example to be followed by all countries in their struggle to eradicate discrimination against women.”
Although the Bolivarian Revolution has accomplished remarkable feats for the most vulnerable sectors of Venezuelan society, it is still an ongoing process. While legislation is written in gender inclusive language and gender-based violence is a punishable crime, the material conditions of Venezuela have made some of the economic goals unattainable under the present circumstances. Sanctions play a direct role in denying economic sovereignty not only to the state, but to the women suffering under shortages caused by illegal sanctions.
Imperialism not only impedes on a nation’s right to self-determination, but it also sets back the women’s movement in the countries it affects. Women recognize the dangers of imperialist warmongering and form the backbone of both mass anti-imperialist demonstrations as well as the Bolivarian militia that is prepared to defend the country from U.S. attack.
The advances made by the women’s movement against patriarchal social values goes hand-in-hand with the victories of the LGBTQ movement. After the historic 2017 decision by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to allow name and gender change, trans rights activist and lawyer Richelle Briceño commented, “We would expect no less given that we were simply making use of the constitutional principles that defend the rights that correspond to us as Venezuelan citizens.”
But the struggle continues on many fronts, such as sexist stereotypes that dominate the corporate media. The same media that propagates archaic values in soap operas and beauty pageants is the same privately owned media pushing for regime change in collaboration with the U.S. government. Women have been awakened and incorporated in the revolutionary struggle and no coup attempt will deter a people taking their future into their own hands.