[News] Venezuela and the need for Bolivarian socialism to combat gender oppression

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 11 16:10:40 EDT 2019

venezuelanalysis.com <http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14424>

  Socialism Has to Be Feminist or It Won’t Be Emancipatory: A
  Conversation with Indhira Libertad Rodriguez

By Cira Pascual Marquina – pril 8, 2019

/Indhira Libertad Rodriguez is a feminist researcher and sociologist. A 
member of the Araña Feminista (Feminist Spider network), she does human 
rights advocacy for women and sexually dissident groups. In this 
interview with Venezuelanalysis, Rodriguez discusses the specificity of 
the feminist struggle in Venezuela and the need for Bolivarian socialism 
to combat gender oppression./

*There are some sectors of the Left which still argue that feminist and 
gender diversity claims can only be settled in a postcapitalist society 
and thus shouldn’t occupy much of our time now. The current situation, 
in which we are under attack by imperialism, might seem the best case 
for this viewpoint which is nevertheless mistaken. How can we show 
people the vital links between the anti-imperialist struggle and the 
anti-patriarchal struggle?*

There is indeed a tendency that comes from the traditional 
twentieth-century Left, a traditionally which puts gender rights and 
women's struggles aside, apart from what is considered to be the main 
struggle. The idea is to separate these struggles – our struggles – from 
the anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist one. That was a tradition of the 
Left in the last century, both in this continent and in the West more 

But I’m not sure if it is very strong these days... What I’m seeing now 
is a surprising willingness to incorporate our debates. For instance, I 
have observed that Left parties are now forming offices and teams 
focused on feminist issues, and this has been happening even in 
communist parties. So I have seen these new openings. And it has all 
been very interesting to me precisely because there has been – as you 
mentioned – a very conservative tradition that descends from the 
traditional Left.

The truth is that now the Left cannot ignore the feminist Green Tide 
[the color green is associated with the abortion rights movement in 
Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America], the “Ni una menos” [not one 
woman less] movement or the 8M feminist strike. These movements, which 
have been massive on a global scale, have forced the Left to question 
itself. So now the Left has had to think and debate about feminist 
demands, and it has had to introduce such demands into the emancipatory 

But it is also true that this conservative Left tradition has continued 
in some ways. For that reason, we need to remember that it’s not 
possible for an emancipatory process to succeed if half of the 
population is not taken into account; or if (even worse) the Left 
participates in the oppression of that half of the population. Socialism 
must be feminist. If it isn’t, socialism is not going to be libertory, 
it won’t have an emancipatory quality, and it’s not going to be socialism.

If we think about it, the struggle against imperialist intervention that 
is going on right now, is an anti-patriarchal struggle because 
imperialism expresses hegemonic masculinity. Imperialist subjectivity 
actually reflects and reinforces masculine domination.

An anti-imperialist struggle is, by definition, anti-patriarchal. The 
concept of “patriarch,” if we go to the original meaning, is the owner 
of the wife, the children and the household goods. Yet he also dominates 
the whole space of the family. The patriarch exercises power and 
domination not only over women, but also over younger men, and over 
slaves, of course.

I think it is important to remember this, because precisely in 
imperialism we find this masculine, patriarchal subjectivity reinforced. 
Imperialism is power brought together and imposed on those who are 
weaker, and it is power that is exercised through coercion and violence.

Imperialism also implies the negation of other beings. The process of 
colonization was exactly that: making other human beings into 
non‐beings. In other words, imperialism erases the condition of humanity 
from other human beings. It takes that premise to new lengths: 
imperialism is essentially masculine and patriarchal.

*Caribbean societies may be sexist and homophobic, but they are also 
very flexible and dynamic. Additionally, among the working class, 
especially in the barrios, **family**organization tends to be 
matriarchal. How do these specific characteristics of Caribbean society 
affect the feminist struggle in Venezuela?*

Well, I would put things differently. I would say that the Venezuelan 
family is actually /matrilineal/ (what we find is, in fact, 
/matricentrism/ [a society organized around the mother]). The concept of 
matriarchy is not necessarily correct, because a “matriarchal society” 
would be one in which women would hold a monopoly on power.

If we talk about matriarchy, we might also be talking about an exercise 
of power from the feminine standpoint. Frankly, we still have to think 
about how that would be done, what it entails, how it would differ from 
the patriarchal exercise of power. That means that matriarchy as a 
conception is “a construction in construction.” Also, in this open 
debate, we must avoid essentialist attitudes regarding the feminine.

This is a patriarchal, machista, and androcentric society [dominated by 
the masculine point of view]. It turns out that one of the most evident 
features of our revolutionary process in Venezuela is that it put women 
to spaces of power. That fact, for us, does not mean the end of machista 
organization. Women in spaces of power guarantees nothing. The best 
proof of that is the twenty years of the revolutionary process. We find 
women in decision‐making roles, in positions of power, and yet we find 
that they don’t defend our interests from a feminist perspective. That 
is because they exercise power with the tools at hand and replicate the 
existing model, based as it is on the exercise of power from the 
masculine standpoint.

Regarding Caribbean culture, it is indeed tremendously sexist. However, 
we could also ask where that’s not the case. But it is true, as you 
point out, that here there are spaces of flexibility in general and, in 
gender terms, and that is important.

Now, I believe that in Venezuela and in much of the Caribbean, 
matricentrality is very difficult to overcome. That is because the 
central role of the mother in our society actually reinforces the 
patriarchal system… The struggle against this system in a society like 
ours, and particularly in the popular or barrio sectors with their 
profound matricentric organization, leads to two important problems.

First, as I mentioned before, the mother’s role in our society is the 
reproduction of the [patriarchal] system. That reproduction has no 
masculine face to represent it; it is apparently a women’s affair. This 
means, as many class-conscious feminists have observed, that women are 
the ones who teach in our society, and so it is women who end up 
transmitting sexist values.

That’s not surprising, however, since the mother assumes the role of 
reproducing society as a whole: she does it because that is the role 
that the system gives her. Women are oppressed economically and 
sexually, and additionally, they are assigned the role of transmitting 
sexist values!

The other component is the identification of woman and mother and that, 
in general, happens throughout Latin America (where, by the way, there 
is also an identification between woman and nation). That identification 
makes it very difficult to untangle the web of oppression that affects 
women and mothers in our society. It includes the fact that we are 
denied the free development of our personalities, since the only 
legitimate role for women is being mothers.

Thus, /non‐mothers/ are /second-class/ women or aren’t exactly women in 
our society.

Then, there is a second issue that is very particular to the Caribbean. 
Women here are often forced into the stereotype of “the Atlas woman.” 
That is, the person who can hold the weight of the entire world on her 
shoulders: the woman who can deal with it all! We are talking about a 
woman who must work, deal with the house and children, be a community 
activist, and go to marches. The woman who can do it all! That may be an 
extraordinary strength and may reflect the toughness that women from the 
barrio often show. But still, it is not the same as women being in 
important decision‐making spaces in our society.

*In Venezuela, there is still much to be done as far as progressive 
legislation is concerned, especially regarding sexual and reproductive 
rights <https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14051> and gender 
diversity issues. Are these struggles making any headway in the 
constituent process?*

It is not going well. The constitutive process is very administered and 
controlled. The decision‐making processes and the possibility that the 
final text might include feminist claims and the claims of dissident 
sexualities is remote. So it’s not going well.

When the call for the Constituent Assembly went out in 2017, those of us 
in the Araña Feminista (which is part of the popular feminist movement) 
organized a big debate in what we called the “Constituent Coven” 
[Aquelarre Constituyente]. The “coven” had two large meetings geared 
toward making proposals for the new National Constituent Assembly.

Out of those meetings came what I believe to be a beautiful and rich 
text <https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14051>. That document has a 
range of proposals for the new Venezuelan constitution, from material to 
be included in the preamble, to a new chapter on sexual and reproductive 
rights. We also propose including new economic and social rights, 
environmental rights, political rights, etc. Really, the document 
touches upon all aspects of life and politics. That is because feminism 
today – after three centuries of struggle – has something to say about 

And I should add that the Araña Feminista’s text not the only one 
incorporated in the document. Yet all the varied contributions demand 
sexual and reproductive rights, the right to adoption by homoparental 
couples, the legalization of homosexual unions, the right to 
self‐perceived gender identity for trans people, just to mention a few 
of our key issues.

Nevertheless, I’m not very optimistic about the final text of the new 
constitution. When it comes out, it will have to be subjected to a 
popular vote. Then we will see what happens!

*As you pointed out earlier, the last twenty years have brought with 
them an explosion in women’s participation in local, territorial 
organizations. Women often play leading roles in communes, communal 
councils, and the CLAP <https://venezuelanalysis.com/tag/claps>. 
However, women’s participation in 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14169>*of power is very limited 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14169>. What do you make of this 

If we have matricentric societies, then it makes sense that a 
revolutionary process aiming to overcome representative democracy, will 
logically bring women into spaces of organization, into spaces of 
participatory democracy. That is, in fact, what happened here. Women 
have been the most active organizers at the local, territorial level.

At the same time, the cadres of our revolution are not feminists. It 
took Chavez a very long time to connect with the feminist struggle. The 
first trigger, the event that made him recognize women as subjects was 
the 2002 coup, when he saw that it was working women, women of the 
“pueblo,” who most vigorously demanded his return. They were in the 
streets and they were ready to fight.

That made Chavez – who as a military person came from one of the most 
patriarchal institutions – recognize this struggle as legitimate. Also 
important was the fact that he was accompanied by women such as Maria 
Leon [longtime Communist Party member and former /guerrillera/ who 
became an important colleague of Chavez] who taught him about the 
feminist struggle… Since Chavez had a great capacity to rectify, to 
rethink himself, he moved away from the machista framework that he had 

That brings us to the 2006 World Social Forum where Chavez declared 
himself a feminist, and he encouraged Rafael Correa and Evo Morales to 
declare themselves feminists too. However that, of course, doesn't mean 
that all the cadres of the revolution are feminist. Far from it! Proof 
is how women's issues are so often dealt with by making them into 
mother’s issues, since that is the only role that our society’s 
imaginary assigns to women.

And so, we still have much work to do reflecting and verbalizing who we 
are as subjects, who we are as protagonists. We must go through a 
process of self‐recognition regarding our roles, who we are as community 
leaders, who we are as social leaders, and regarding our capacity to 
really exercise an influence in other spheres.

We also have to break with microsexism and the logic by which one woman 
is the chief of the UBCh [basic organizational cell of the PSUV], the 
CLAP coordinator, the leader on the street level, but then, when the 
party representative comes to the community, he talks to a guy and not 
the real community leader. Additionally, we have to wonder how it is 
that we can be protagonists in the political process, but when we get 
home, the tasks of reproducing life [homemaking and childcare] are not 
shared. Or the husband is jealous and violent. Why do these patterns remain?

We must break with all this; we must cease to take over the role of 
life’s reproducers. We must resist and creatively build other roles for 
ourselves, other paths. In fact, even if this struggle is one that takes 
place in small quotidian spaces, it must go hand in hand with government 
policies regarding education and broadcast media. The whole system must 
be transformed.

*In Venezuela, the patriarchal state bureaucracy and the capitalist 
private sphere tend to co-opt the feminist projects, reducing the 
struggle to very limited demands, or interpreting it through a 
simplistic “woman equals love equals mother” framework. How can we fight 
against this tendency to appropriate and declaw feminism in our context?*

In effect, the “woman equals love equals mother” formula has been used 
to subsume the feminist struggle... There has been, as Fernando Buen 
Abad would say, a process of phagocytosis [one cell absorbing another]. 
Buen Abad talks about symbols being absorbed by modernity, referring to 
how symbols become spoils in modernity. It could be compared to the 
process of making the symbols and struggles into a small enterprise, and 
it has happened particularly with the struggles that the twentieth 
century Left didn't take into account. I’m talking about the things that 
the Left excluded, marginalized and oppressed.

A good example of this kind of cooptation is the emergence [in the US] 
of the Pink Market in WASP society: the 1980s phenomenon of integrating 
gays into society as long as they were consumers. Similarly, there has 
been a process of co-opting women’s demands.

I think we have to be very leery of a feminism based on downloading 
[hashtags and slogans]. We have to ask ourselves if doing that will 
strengthen our struggles, or if it is instead about invisibilizing 
collective processes.

Here in Venezuela, to struggle against the “woman equals love equals 
mother” cliche, we need to mobilize on the street and we need our own 
symbolic production. We have to fight, collectivizing the struggle, 
collectivizing alternatives, and collectivizing solutions. Those are the 
tools that the feminist movement has at hand right now.

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