The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela today joins countries across the globe in celebrating International Women’s Day, a recognition of the vital role women play as voters and elected officials, consumers and entrepreneurs, students and teachers, engineers and farmers, doctors and caregivers, and leaders of both society and community.
While Venezuela has celebrated International Women’s Day since 1944, it is over the last decade that women in Venezuela have made dramatic advances, playing increasingly important roles in the country’s political, economic and social development. Those advances have been facilitated by the 1999 Constitution, which strongly emphasizes gender equality, and new initiatives to more broadly incorporate women in all sectors of life.
Currently, four of Venezuela’s five branches of government are led by women, an unprecedented achievement in the country’s political history. Cilia Flores serves as president of the National Assembly, Tibisay Lucena as president of the National Electoral Council, Luisa Estella Morales as president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and Luisa Ortega as Venezuela’s Attorney General.
Additionally, new institutions have been created in Venezuela over the last decade to address women’s issues, including the Ministry of People’s Power for Women and Gender Equality, the National Institute of Women, the Inter-Governmental Commission on the Prevention of Violence Against Women and the Bank of the Woman.
Winnie Byanyima, director of the Gender Team of the UN Development Program (UNDP), said in April 2009 of Venezuela’s advances: “Venezuela has taken the reins of institutional mechanism to help women progress.”
While more women still remain to be elected to public office, both at the national and local level, in the November 2008 municipal elections the number of female mayors tripled, reaching 19 percent of all mayors in Venezuela. Additionally, the number of women elected to state legislatures that year jumped from 12 percent to 42 percent.
In the social realm, in 2006 the Venezuelan government initiated the “Mothers of the Barrio” social mission, which seeks to help housewives who find themselves in a state of poverty by offering them financial assistance equal to 60 to 80 percent of the minimum wage. Other social programs focusing on education and health have also been inclusive of women, allowing them necessary access to basic medical services and the opportunity to complete primary, secondary and higher education.
María del Mar Álvarez, a prominent women’s rights activist and the former National Defender of Women’s Rights, noted, “In this revolution women have participated extraordinarily. We have achieved a Constitution that is a model for the world for justice and equality. It has empowered them. Usually feminism caters to the upper and middle classes. However, this revolution has woken women up and feminism is reaching the popular sectors. Now all women know they have the right to participate.”
In celebration of International Women’s Day, President Hugo Chávez joined Venezuela’s Minister for Women and Gender Equality, María León, at a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of Simón Bolívar, Venezuela’s independence hero. The wreath commemorated the contributions of all women throughout Venezuela’s history and celebrated the lives of independence fighters Josefa Camejo and Luisa Cáceres de Arismendi, as well as cultural legends Teresa Carreño and Teresa de la Parra.
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S. Press and Communications Office / March 8, 2010