Raúl Cazal and Alba Carosio
Alba Carosio has been a feminist activist since the 1960s. She practices a feminism committed to popular struggles and to the poorest and most excluded women. Nevertheless, she is aware that her reach was limited, until Hugo Chávez became President of the Republic:
Women’s struggles for their rights pre-existed the arrival of Chávez, although there is no denying that he provided an impetus and supported those struggles. There are comrades who affirm that he did so because he was educated by women whom he loved very much and he valued the effort made by women for subsistence in society, especially young women. This aspect should not be downplayed because it implies the dimension of humanity. Women understood the justice of the struggles, because a society, in order to be transformed, has to overcome the primordial relationship that is established, because we all have mothers and families.
If there is exploitation and curtailment of women’s rights in that primordial nucleus in which we are educated and where we grow up, then there is an idea that the world is unjust and that this cannot be changed, which is transferred to adulthood and social life. He understood this and it is an idea that has been present since the French Revolution, passing through the anarchists, the peoples’ springs of the 19th century and the revolutions in our region, who understand that the emancipation of women is necessary for society to be truly egalitarian, for all of us to be completely equal in rights, but also for diversity to be respected.
Alba Carosio holds a PhD in Social Sciences, is a professor at the Women’s Studies Center of the Central University of Venezuela and a researcher at the Rómulo Gallegos Center for Latin American Studies (Celarg). She is currently coordinator of the Latin American Working Group CLACSO “Feminisms, Resistance and Emancipation” and is director of the Venezuelan Journal of Women’s Studies.
She maintains that with the Bolivarian Revolution, very remote places were reached with the initiative of the Meeting Points promoted by the National Women’s Institute and the Network of Women Clients of BanMujer (Women’s Development Bank), before the creation of the Ministry of Popular Power for Women and Gender Equality. These initiatives collected information on exclusion and violence against women; rights and gender equality for the transformation of society.
Has violence against women decreased in the last two decades?
No, despite the momentum and support for women’s struggles. What is different is that now it is visible. The stories were not seen before, they were not even told. This is not only happening in Venezuela, but in Latin America and in different parts of the world. The incorporation of women into social life in general, both economically and politically, also brings resistance to women’s participation in these spaces, it is a factor that affects violence.
The administration of justice has followed a very patriarchal concept, which must be transformed gradually. It does not happen overnight. And in this last year, it is related to the confinement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The United Nations has reported that violence has increased and in some parts violence against women has doubled. In Venezuela, which used to register a hundred serious cases, some of which ended in death, it has tripled. This is without counting the cases that have been generated by migration, which place women in a situation of vulnerability.
Is confinement a cause of violence?
It is not a cause, but it is an aggravating condition. It is like poverty. It is not the same for a woman who is a victim of violence with her partner and can easily go out to a relative’s house, to look for other alternatives in the street, but it is another thing to spend more time at home. Not only with her partner, but with all the members of the family, in a reduced space and with the anguish produced by the pandemic situation. The cause is machismo, and the situation that has caused the pandemic, aggravates it.
It is said that gender violence exists in all social classes, but it is much more serious in the sectors with fewer resources. This is why shelters have been created around the world where women can take refuge when the levels of violence are very high and they have nowhere else to go.
How could legislation in communal matters contribute to transform the living conditions of Venezuelan women?
I have not studied the projects that are being discussed at the moment, but in principle we have to be realistic with communal legislation. Human beings, both men and women, are neither angels nor demons. We have moments of great solidarity and love for our neighbors, but we also have moments of violence, aggression, etc. This has to be looked at squarely, because sometimes it can be considered that a commune is created and everyone behaves wonderfully well socially. Solidarity, generosity has its phases. Sometimes it vanishes.
In the specific case of Venezuela, there are many community networks that are basically run by women. For example, 80 percent of the Clap and the communal councils, for the most part, are organized by women. We have to think about their participation in the communes, not only for them to do the work, but also to generate systems that support family life.
At the communal level there should be care systems because a socialist society must take care of its members, starting with those who are most vulnerable or who need it most, such as those with disabilities or the elderly, whose care is generally left to the women of the family and who end up exhausted from so much work.
The same is true for childcare, because productive initiatives require a lot of energy and time. For the upbringing and care of children, it is necessary to have socialization levels such as day care centers, kindergartens, and to have support for the many tasks that women have in the family. Aleksándra Kolontái put it very well in the Russian revolution, he developed a food program called “pre-prepared” that relieved women of the heavy domestic burden and allowed them to free their energies for production.
“It takes a whole village to raise a child,” as the popular saying goes.
There must be co-responsibility between genders, between adults, children and youth, between families in the community and with the State, which is the one who must strengthen services such as water, electricity, etc., that allow the development of work. In short, there must be individual, family, community and state co-responsibility.
There is an overexploitation of women as workers, wives, mothers, community leaders. Has this co-responsibility been understood in Venezuela in order to create a society of equals?
There are still many roads to travel. There were important initiatives such as the Casa de Alimentación, which alleviated situations of food need and freed women from their domestic burden so that they could carry out other types of productive activities. The economic situation, the blockade, so many circumstances, caused these initiatives to diminish. Popular women are currently under great pressure because they have three working days: at home; in paid work, and because of the pandemic they have to attend workplaces with greater difficulties; and then, in the community. The greatest complications are experienced by those who have small children and older adults in their care. If they had the support they would help the economic development of the country.
Could we consider violence against women to be such a burden?
It is labor violence.
It is overwork.
Of course. First of all, we find the division of labor where they decide that some jobs are for women and others are for men, which is an artificial division. We can all do the indispensable tasks for social reproduction. Women are generally working at double their physical and emotional capacity.
One of the findings that we could say from a recent study is that from the emotional point of view, many feel fenced in by the enormous amount of activities they do that never stop. When they finish one activity, they immediately start another. This is exacerbated in homes that are economically precarious in terms of food, housing, services, which is a type of economic and labor violence against women.
Especially poor women.
Poor women who have to work at supermarket checkouts, in food stands, in the toilets of establishments, in health centers… women who are exposed to contagion and are physically exhausted.
The “e” excludes women.
Digital networks have had an impact on new language codes. Pretending to be inclusive of sexual diversity, they try to displace the feminine gender after the Bolivarian Constitution achieved gender equality in the naming: las y los, presidentas y presidentes, etc. Carosio, without hesitation, considers that “women are once again excluded”.
Women are once again disappearing from the language.
Spanish comes from the 10th century. The founding book of the Spanish language is El Cid Campeador, while El Quijote de la Mancha dates from 1605. We have been listening for many centuries exclusively through masculine language and ignoring the fact that there are women.
Gender-inclusive language dates back to 1999 with the Constitution, that is, barely 20 years ago. And two decades cannot go against centuries, machismo and patriarchy are so cunning… like capitalism, they make it so attractive and “include” sexual diversity. Now, instead of saying “todas y todos”, they say “todes”, which is neither male nor female but nothing. Feminists, at least the line to which I belong, want to remain women and share with men and we want to have our differences because sexually we are different. It is a beauty the diversity of life, of relationship, including romantic relationships.
What is the strategy?
The patriarchy has more centuries dominating than capital itself, and its strategy is that it makes it look nice, beautiful and good, things that in the end hurt you. The video clips they broadcast on YouTube now are so aggressive against women and poor people that they pose an underworld of the neighborhood, mixing the criminal with the aggressive, using weapons as a sexual symbol, imposing domination, romanticizing devaluation. Of course, with a single male singer and four or five women apparently sexually related to him, somehow pandering to the valuation of money obtained through violence and through money one gets women. That is presented to you packaged as something very desirable and good.
In capitalism sex and violence are its weapons of sale.
The sale of sexuality through photography and the different forms of pornography are business. First, it is weapons; second, drugs; and third, sexuality. There are even some social networks that present themselves as economic alternatives for women. It’s a whole industry of capitalism and girls are made to look desirable because that is what the advertising axiom is all about, “transforming a need into a desire”.
What is your biggest concern for the future of girls and women?
At this moment, both for Venezuela and Latin America, it is the transformation of sexuality into one that is pleasurable but affective. In 2017, which is the latest figure I have, 5,200 children were born in Venezuela to girls under 14 years of age. All that human reproduction is violent, because we could not say that a girl is fit to be a mother. Feminists have a slogan: “Girls, not mothers”. If being a mother for any woman is an enormous responsibility, imagine for a child.
Latin America in general and Venezuela in particular, has this very acute problem, not to mention those between 15 and 19 years of age, which is much higher, about 120 thousand children are born. At ages where there are serious difficulties in being mothers, economic, emotional and physical, they are closely related to poverty, lack of expectations, educational difficulties and violence. It is important to work on inequality so that this does not happen, with cultural changes that promote real equality, one that comes from the heart. Not because it was imposed or manipulated by a slogan.
Why is it that in Venezuela there are practically no public demonstrations for the legalization of abortion, while in other countries they are massive?
It is due to the level of maturity and social analysis that we have not yet reached. There is still a great deal of ignorance about biology. That is to say, there is still the idea that when the egg and the sperm unite, immediately after the sexual act, we already have a human being, which is not the case.
Pregnancy goes through different stages which are not known, for example, that in the first 16 weeks we do not have a human being. Different versions of what it would be like to terminate a pregnancy have been put forward, where pro-life groups have worked, overshadowing everything that would be considered biological knowledge of this process. But what we women have to understand is that our body is ours, no one else’s. Why is it that when a woman is a victim, she ends up as a victim?
Why is it that when a woman is a victim she ends up being prosecuted?
We still have a Penal Code that dates back to 1936, in which some aspects have been reformed, but not for women, and we are now a century on. It is as if in all this time nothing has changed, that women do not have the right to their own body in the exercise of sexuality and if they misbehave, they are punished with pregnancy. If they do not accept the divine punishment and interrupt the pregnancy, they can go to prison. Sexuality is still a taboo and at the same time it is marketed as pornography. We have much to reflect on what human dignity implies in the exercise of sexuality.
With these reflections, do you think it will drive the mobilizations?
We are working so that these reflections reach the most remote places. But also the influences of the religious prejudices that were imposed in the most impoverished communities make the task difficult.
Do feminist movements reflect on gender and class?
Nora Castañeda told us that we should analyze from the perspective of gender, class and ethnicity. In feminist theory and practice we have an intersectional approach that crosses oppressions. That is to say, we talk about gender oppression together with class, ethnicity, territory, age, because we know that the type of oppression suffered by a middle or upper middle class white woman is not the same as that suffered by an indigenous woman living in a precarious settlement and in conditions of poverty.
The gender, that is to say, the condition of women, favors poverty due to a phenomenon called the feminization of poverty. The last census in Venezuela showed that 40 % of the households were matrifocal, where the women responsible for the maintenance of the family group were single. But if we go to the most popular sectors, we find that this proportion is even higher, it is estimated that up to 60% are maintained by women. Therein lies the indissoluble relationship between gender and class oppression. If we eliminate gender oppression, we will surely contribute to class equity, and vice versa.
Translation by Internationalist 360°