Women's rights groups presented a series of proposals to Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday evening in a televised event at the Teresa Carreño theatre in Caracas. The groups are hoping that the proposals, which are related to specific issues affecting Venezuela's female population, will be incorporated into the Chavez administration's governmental plan for 2013-2019.
Speaking to the women at the packed out theatre, Chavez highlighted that the revolution had implemented numerous policies aimed at improving the material conditions of the country's women and increasing their political participation, especially those from poor backgrounds.
“All Venezuelan women have my deepest respect… never before has any government treated Venezuelan women with such dignity and respect,” said the head of state.
The president was also extremely critical of an opposition led political rally last week, dubbed the “panty-a-thon” by the opposition's election campaign organisers. The event was held between opposition presidential candidate, Capriles Radonski and female supporters, and was a chance for the presidential hopeful to outline his views on women's issues and respond to their concerns.
“Capitalism has tried to reduce women to a fetish, a sexual symbol. Just a little while ago, I believe that the Venezuelan bourgeoisie offended women with an event that they called the ‘panty-a-thon.’ How crude! That reflects their chauvinist and exclusive nature,” said Chavez.
Women's groups such as the “Runaway Collective” and “Skirts in Revolution,” as well as female representatives from political groups such as the Ezequiel Zamora Peasant Front all attended the event and addressed Chavez directly. The majority of the groups belong to the umbrella collective, the “Feminist Spider,” and have been working on the proposals for over a year.
“We have been carrying out debates throughout the national territory, and we consider this program and its strategic framework to be vital for the deepening and continuity of this emancipatory project, which is essentially the construction of Bolivarian socialism,” said Melissa Orellana, representative and spokesperson for the country's rural and peasant women's groups.
The list of proposals handed over to the president include; the free distribution of contraceptives for men and women, education in state schools to increase awareness surrounding gender equality, the creation of communal council based refuges for women who are victims of domestic violence, an increase in communal projects to care for children and the “socialization” of domestic labour to allow women to participate fully in political activities. The women also demanded more state regulation over the usage of women's bodies as “merchandise” in the media.
Chavez will now review the proposals with a view to including them in the government strategy for the socialist transformation of the country during the next 6 years. He also stated that his government would be committed to deepening gender equality throughout his next term if he is re-elected in the October presidential elections later this year.
“I, as a soldier, will be at your disposal to keep advancing this process for the liberation of women… We must initiate new projects which come out of organized women's groups,” said the president.
Many of the women's groups, who consider themselves to be socialist-feminist, have said that true social change and progress in the arena of gender equality will only be possible with the re-election of Hugo Chavez in October.