Overburdened, exploited and carrying the emotional cost
Venezuelan women are the hardest hit by the US blockade.
Maria Mercedes Cobo
IN patriarchal worlds, and in times of need, deprivation and challenge, women are the most affected, the most held back and the most likely to be sacrificed. They are also the most overburdened, seeking solutions and taking on survival challenges stemming from the inequality of macho culture.
US imperialist and colonial policies have imposed more than 150 sanctions against Venezuela since 2017. The destabilisation and complete control of the country’s resources have always been in the sights of the world’s longest-running looters. Have Venezuelan women been the hardest hit during these three years of sanctions?
In 2015, then US President Barack Obama described Venezuela as an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat to US national security’. Going back to 2017, we can see how the imperialist administration in the hands of Donald Trump applied economic sanctions against our country following the National Constituent Assembly elections.
Three years of sanctions, blockade and obstacles for Venezuela’s access to the most necessary resources to survive have passed. Among the most recent measures are the blockade of government officials’ US-based assets in August 2019 and the Trump administration’s sanctions against the national airline Conviasa in February 2020.
Given this scenario, which Venezuelans live through on a daily basis, with difficulties accessing food, medicine and basic goods, progressive media outlet Alba TV talked to two feminist activists to check on the impact of the blockade on women. Why are women the most vulnerable to the blockade? Let’s ask Daniela Inojosa and Yurbin Aguilar.
‘Yes, we do suffer more due to patriarchal allocation. Firstly, we have a socialised affective commitment, often living to help others. Secondly, and as a result, we are expected to assume the responsibility of caring for life, a role we have accepted. From this subjectivity, we suffer pain, hunger and shortages imposed by the blockade, as well as those which come from the people, the family’s own situations, and the collectivity, affecting us psychologically three times over,’ responds Aguilar, a psychologist and investigator.
‘Men are distressed [by the blockade] from their egocentric identity in as much as it affects them directly. When this burden becomes too much, their social identity allows them to take a break, to set the burden aside. As the [Venezuelan phrase] says: “You don’t feel what you can’t see,” or as it has been wisely corrected by Chanel: “As you don’t feel, you don’t see.” Men’s patriarchal socialisation, which is centred around themselves, generally distances their ego from the collective needs. As such, we may conclude that their burden is not triple.’
Inojosa is a feminist militant and a producer. She adds that the blockade ‘has big consequences in rearing, where there is inequality between men and women, and where the majority of homes are cared for by women. Caring for life is the responsibility which we women have. There are particular cases that show us what this reality is like – for example, observing what some men pay in child maintenance. The law sets child maintenance as 25% of one’s wage, but 25% of a $2 wage is half a dollar, on which no one can live. It is us women who have to be with the children, to raise them, who deal with the crisis, to sustain the family. This is very problematic because it means that Venezuelan women are killing themselves with exhaustion.’
Aguilar elaborates on this point by using the phrase ‘triple burden, impact and emotional cost’, defining the impact of the sanctions as an act of violence against women’s lives.
Inojosa goes a bit further, affirming that ‘violence has increased due to the lack of resources and the psychological angst which comes from having to make ends meet every day, the angst of not possessing hard currency, the angst of having to raise hungry children. I have friends who have had to feed their children with just rice for two days straight. These are situations which increase violence. Likewise, malnutrition in the younger generation is going to lead to much greater cognitive inequalities, even more so than in any other generation which Venezuela has seen since the Federation War (1859), with a gap between children with a material reality which allowed a meat and protein-based diet and children without.’
She also warns that there are some women engaged in prostitution so that they can sustain their families. ‘Violence and hopelessness are growing. Many women are prostituting themselves out of necessity, leaving their children in the hands of grandparents who are often too old for childcare. These grandparents have to raise their grandchildren because their children have emigrated to send $50 a week home so that their children may eat. This is a terrible crisis, a situation where women carry the weight of the impact. We are putting our bodies, our courage and our dreams on the line. The truth is that women will do anything for their sons and daughters, and for the family in general, and that has become noticeable in this crisis.’
Both Inojosa and Aguilar perceive the blockade as an attack against the country. Aguilar sees it as ‘an imperialist attack against our self-determination, to punish our rebellion, to exemplify and cause terror to the rest of the world so that it knows what awaits it if it does not submit, and of course to steal the country’s resources’.
Equally, Inojosa warns that ‘It is certainly an act of terrible force that has us in a very difficult economic situation. It is a blockade that, like all blockades, is murderous, that seeks to intervene in national politics. Now, that doesn’t mean that the responsibility for everything that’s going on in the country lies with the blockade. Resource mismanagement also bears some of the responsibility.’
Inojosa notes that in this situation of deprivation, ‘corruption has increased because in the absence of decent wages, everyone wants to take their cut so that they can live decently. There is also great inequality, which we overcame in [former President Hugo] Chavez’s time (inequality between social classes), which has greatly increased in recent times. The middle class has ceased to exist but the rich are now richer. Also, there is a new currency. We simply do not have monetary sovereignty because the currency used is the US dollar, even if it is not announced openly and it is not handled by banks.’
We asked them about alternatives from the popular movements to get around and overcome the crisis generated by the blockade and the errors in resource management.
Aguilar encourages us to look for solutions in ‘our internal oppression and exploitation’, while Inojosa speaks to us about one of the alternatives of ‘community organisation, the organisation of social movements, caring for us all together. Within our collective we do not let ourselves fall, we are 17 and if one gets sick, we all chip in and take care of the children. Today, many of us are tending small plots of land, and the way out is to go from the small to the universal, building local solutions that become universal solutions.’
*Third World Resurgence No. 345/346, 2020, pp 108-109