How will our women help solve our conflict?

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The role of women in Venezuelan society is a topic that is rarely discussed.

Our media tends to portray women as either helpless victims, sex objects, or chavista firebrands. Sometimes we see in the choices of poor women the root causes of poverty – just yesterday, we highlighted a 31-year old single mother of five that appears in Boris Muñoz’s article on the Torre de David, and I’m sure many of you wondered about the fate of those kids, just like I did.

Yet there is one role for Venezuelan women that is rarely discussed: women all over the world are being empowered in order to help foster peace and security.

While I was in Halifax, I met the Director of the Institute for Inclusive Security, an NGO that promotes peace and security through the education and empowerment of women. She told me about very interesting programs their organization has in the Middle East.

Women there are rarely the conduits of terrorism, but they are always its main victims. Fundamentalist Islam targets women, yet even when they are not the main victims of violence and even enslavement, they are losing their sons, husbands, and fathers to the ongoing encroachment of dangerous ideologies.

The women themselves must play a significant role in pushing against this. By joining together, women can create a powerful force for containment and rejection of violence as a way of life.

I’m no expert on this topic, so I’ll stop writing now. But the point got me thinking about the role our women can play in reducing the enormous levels of violence we see in our home.

Venezuela is a deeply matriarchal society, but it seems to me that we don’t take advantage of that. Women in Venezuela are strong and powerful, and they play a huge role in our families and in our culture. They could do more if given the tools. Just like in the rest of the world, women are rarely the culprits of our violence, and more often than not they are its main victims.

Something tells me that a decisive turn for peace can only come about if and when women take a stand, when the mothers, daughters, wives, and girfriends of our malandros finally say enough, and they impose a culture of peace and disarmament.

How you accomplish that is the tricky part. But it’s something that needs to be done.

1 COMMENT

  1. I remember reading an article on Rocinha’s slum, one of the largest in South America, and at some point I realized that much of the violence that happens there should be blamed on the women inhabiting that place:

    It’s probably slightly different from Venezuela, but when you see that they:

    – Have one or two children because of cultural reasons: “You are not seen as a good woman (morally speaking) by other women if you don’t have children, so you must have a child to prove your female neighbours that you are a serious family woman;

    – Most of them are terrible mothers, or expend the day away working and have to let their child alone at home, so their kids end up being adopted and raised by local drugdealers, becoming the future generation of local drugdealers that will adopt and raise other neglected children, thus perpetuating the neverending violence.

    You understand first-hand that women are the root of violence and chronic poverty in this places, so I passionately welcome any initiative that focus on women to solve these issues. Because when they change their own behaviour, they will automatically influence/improve society as a whole.

    And the change of behaviour might come from:

    – Stop seeing having babies as raison d’être;
    – Drastically improving their parenting skills (Asian women should be the benchmark).

    The Institute for Inclusive Security seems to be a good thing.

    • Wow this was a really easy way to blame women for all of Venezuela’s most serious problems. You simply put a group of senseless prejudices together and made them sound like an argument, poorly done anyway.

      • Well, I’m merely repeating what researchers in the fields of Sociology, Anthopology and Social Work have found about this particular slum. Maybe these issues hasn’t got any similarity with the Venezuelan situation, maybe they have, I don’t know. But if to state FACTS that can be easily comproved by anyone is “prejudice”, let’s burn all the books and arrest everyone who says things that we disagree with then.

        • i assume from your “study” that most of the drugdealers that are corrupting these women’s children while they are working are women also? that is the only way i see you can make your ridiculous claim that “much of the violence ” should be blamed on the women.
          i think maybe you should reread your “study”.

        • So glad to read that you are so well-versed in the social sciences, keeping up-to-date with the literature is not an easy task these days, so congrats!

          No book burning, that’s very disgraceful. And this is a comment section for a blog, not a court, so no arrests either. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to reading your own refereed articles.

          • If you were being serious, I would be glad to insert links here, but since you are just a troll and probably can’t read in Portuguese, I won’t.

  2. It is a mistake to say that Venezuela is a matriarchal society. Women in Venezuela are commonly strong indeed and sole head of households but that by no means makes Venezuela a matriarchal society. Women’s subordination to their male counterparts can be seen not only in various forms of sexual violence, income inequality and symbolic violence but also in terms of the amount of burdens and responsibilities they tend to carry, usually under–or mostly–unremunerated. They are largely under-represented in deliberative political bodies in our institutions and also in business and other circles. Reproductive rights are lagging in Venezuela, compared to most countries in the region. The list goes on….

    • Thanks, Raul, for saying this.
      I was taken aback when I read in previous posts here that Venezuela was indeed a “matriarchal society”. And the worst were some women who came up to support that idea and blame most of the mess on women.
      Thankfully, other women came to express things are not that simple.

      As I have written repeatedly, women in Venezuela might have to play a big role…because the men are
      absent when the women get pregnant. Other than that, Venezuela is a terribly patriarchal society.

      Over ten times more women were murdered by their partners in Venezuela than in Spain in the last year I have data for…and Spain has 16 million more people. That is a reference.

      Venezuela has the highest percentage of girls under 15 who get pregnant in the whole of Latin America. Most of those pregnancies are rapes (yeah, there is also the exception).

      Yes, among my Venezuelan female friends I know of a much higher percentage of engineers, mathematicians and the like than among my German, US, Dutch or Belgian female friends…but I am aware my friends are not representative of the whole of Venezuela. Venezuela is rich in extremes and the worse-than extreme is rather representative.

      • I wonder where this idea of the Venezuelan matriarchial society comes from. The point has been raised numerous times in the blog and we keep arguing about it. Maybe it’s matricentric, but a Matriarchy? No way.

        • I agree. The only way I can possibly relate to this idea is in that Venezuelan men seem to take an inordinate amount of time to mature into responsible adults. It is a common pattern (although not universal) for women to dominate the household. But, men still hold the majority of the positions in authority.

          Come to think of it, even the terms “Patriarchal” and “Matriarchal” are vastly over-simplistic.

        • Audrey, I think the difference between the two would make an excellent post. If only I had someone who could write about these topics … hmm …

        • As I understand it, the two key women in the taxonomy handed down to many of us are as follows: the Virgin Mary is revered, because she procreated, but she has no decision-making power. And the other Mary is bad and sinful, and should control herself, but is nice to know, and can be reformed with proper instruction, or something like that. From that understanding of womanhood flows a lot of public policy. Slowly the doctrine and the policy are changing. Slowly.

    • Sorry for the self quote:

      Wikipedia delves not too deeply into a conflation of different concepts.

      Venezuela, as a country, isn’t politically ruled exclusively (or even mostly) by women, so it is not a “Gynecocracy”, or any of the other gyn- words referred in wikipedia, which roughly translate as “Governance by women”.

      On the other hand, large segments of Venezuela do have a social organizational form in which the mother or oldest female (a grandma) heads the family. This is usually called a matriarchy, which roughly translates as “Mother in charge”.

      An effort to solve this conflation of Gynecocracy and Matriarchy is quoted:

      “Matriarchy is also the public formation in which the woman occupies the ruling position in a family.[1] For this usage, some scholars now prefer the term matrifocal to matriarchal. Some, including Daniel Moynihan, claimed that there is a matriarchy among Black families in the United States, because a quarter of them were headed by single women; thus, families composing a substantial minority of a substantial minority could be enough for the latter to constitute a matriarchy within a larger non-matriarchal society.”

      But Matrifocality seems too much of an artificial construct for me. I guess that terminology debate has its merits, but I prefer to use Gynecocracy/Matriarchy than Matriarchy/Matrifocality.

      So, to sum it up. I think large segments of Venezuelans are raised in a domestically Matriarchal society, within a largely politically Androcratic society (even if 4 out of 5 branches have been “simbolicaly” headed by women).

  3. “Women are being empowered…”

    Sounds good. Very politically correct. But, what the hell does it really mean?

    Sorry, Juan, but there is nothing of any real substance in this Post. We all know that the better and longer we educate all of our citizens, the better will be the decisions they make as adults. This is no revelation. We also know that the women who delay bearing children longer do a better job of raising the children she does have. This is also nothing new.

    The problem Venezuela is facing at the moment is that its government does not want its citizens to be well-educated responsible adults who might be capable of questioning and challenging their rule.

    • Roy, you are right on this, women or men alike!
      if you think for yourself and have your own criteria different from the nomenclature induced feed, you are a target!

      I think Juan tried a heartfelt motivation to write this,and he is getting hammered by the details and probably by people with very strong agendas across the gender divide.

      It makes total sense to tackle any large systemic problem in a multitude of ways, there is not a single silver bullet solution, so yes, work on solutions that gather around woman as a societal layer!,

      …and on police , and on courts, and on legislature, and on oil policy and on….

      what wrong folks? , can’t you dance and chew gum!

    • Roy,

      The point of the post is to get the conversation going on the subject.

      For example, “We all know that the better and longer we educate all of our citizens, the better will be the decisions they make as adults. This is no revelation. We also know that the women who delay bearing children longer do a better job of raising the children she does have. This is also nothing new.”

      It seems as though you’ve closed yourself off to other alternatives, and that is what initiatives like this look to prevent.

      For example, how can we give women tools to decrease de levels of gun-related violence in our country? For example, imagine we begin educating our women about the dangers of guns in the house. Imagine we were to create networks, or help them create networks, to support getting guns out of the house. In Liberia, women banding together helped bring down a government and end civil war. One of the tools that they used was forced abstinence for their husbands until certain political conditions were met. That could be very powerful. It might even be productive to prompt women to help in the ongoing epidemic of motorcycle accidents in Venezuela.

      It just seems as though the role of women is being underutilized. To limit the argument to “better education” or “fewer kids” is shallow and misinformed.

      • Juan,

        To me, it feels like the house is burning down, and you are talking about shopping for an alarm system. I understand that you live outside and don’t feel the immediacy of the situation. To me, living here, you are sounding like an ivory tower do-gooder. I am sure you do have the best of intentions, but I see this discussion as purely hypothetical with no application to today’s immediate problems.

        • My blog is not going to make the oil appear on the shelves – guilty as charged! But you know what? There are only a limited number of “Maduro is an idiot” posts I can write.

    • I agree with you Roy. When I first read this post my first reaction was “uh?”
      Even for a moment I felt it was borderline machista, like Marc’s comments trying to blame women for all the issues.
      In any case, regarding the “women being empowered…”, I would like to ask empowered by whom? I tend to think that women are simply empowering themselves after understanding that role stereotypes are not such nor relevant anymore.
      And why this empowerment has to be such a highlight anyway?

      • Carolina,

        It’s crazy that in Venezuela to say that women should have zero children to dedicate their lives to their daily jobs or whatever they want to do is actually seen as “machismo”. Thank God that in my country the people has already passed this point, otherwise we would be a lot worse than we are now.

        Any feminist would go insane in Venezuela, hehe.

  4. I have a reading suggestion:

    “Militarized Gender Performativity: Women & Demobilization in Colombia’s FARC & AUC” by Andrea Mendez
    http://www.peacewomen.org/assets/file/ddr-militarized_gender_performativity-_women_and_demobilization_in_colombias_farc_and_auc.pdf

    It’s a PhD thesis written by a woman of Colombian descent at Queen’s University, which challenges the narrative of women simply being victims in a conflict, especially since such narratives exclude women who are in fact perpetrators of violence. I’m not done reading it, I’m halfway through, and it’s pretty an interesting and refreshing read.

    As far as Fundamentalist Islamic goes: it is true that most of the purveyors of terrorist acts are male, but most of the push-back from non-state actors are from women, and it is not done in a nonviolent way as that NGO suggests (“by joining together…”). Just look at the YPG – or more specifically, the YPJ, which is a unit completely made-up of Kurdish women – in Kobani in their fight against ISIS.

  5. In the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America both men and woman act irresponsibly in the way they make it a habit to enter into very temporary relationships one after the other and have children which are then abandoned first by their fathers and later by many of the mothers (incapable both materially and emotionally of facing the burden of raising their brood ) seriously damaging their personal development . This is part of a putrid cultural legacy that enshrines machismo and goes hand in hand with matricentric mode of social organization .

    The cultural mores that produce this perverse behaviour have been the subject of many studies , among them those of Alejandro Moreno whose lived for decades in one of the worst barrios in Caracas (La bombilla) ‘ The effect on society is devastating .

    These studies have been replicated in the US by people studying the negro gheto families in urban america.

    Changing the mental framework of men and women producing this state of affairs , involves more than sex educaton of the kind you see in developed countries , because here usually young women and men want to have the children , not avoid their birth and are simply incapable for the most part of restraining their mating behaviour or developing a responsible behaviour as regards their children.

  6. Isn’t there a considerable number of studies establishing that the presence of the father in the home (or in the life of the children) is crucial to prevent male children from dropping out of school and joining gangs and female children from becoming pregnant during their teenage years? I remember something about fathers providing an admired male example for the boys and a safe source of male appreciation for the girls that makes it less likely for them to jump into the arms of irresponsible thugs. That and the fact that in traditional households mothers provide unconditional love, that is their role, whereas fathers provide conditional love (i.e. discipline).

    A mother with 3 jobs can only go so far…and the modern barrio is a lot worse than the barrio of a generation ago. Moreover, the loss of grandparents compounds the problem. Apparently, when the family becomes single parent w/o grandparents, each generation receives less love and guidance from the former generation and the problem gets worse and worse. So in the end, nth generation teenage pregnant girls do not try very hard to be mothers, as they themselves hardly got any care from their own mothers. This was my take on that terrible book, “Y Salimos a Matar Gente.”

    It really takes two to tango. Both fathers and mothers are failing.

    In the US, the loss of the father in the African-American community has brought problems similar to the problems in the worst Latin barrios.

    • “In the US, the loss of the father in the African-American community has brought problems similar to the problems in the worst Latin barrios.”

      Did you read freakonomics? That part in which abortion legalization played a role in reducing crime? Why do you think that a poor country like Russia is so safe? Maybe because there’s not much young people wandering around?

      I don’t think that abortion is an option, but the thing is: less children in poor neighbourhoods = less crime.

      I realize that with the death of the traditional family you have talked about, the “father figure”, the “grandparents”, the “love” etc. are just not coming back. So it’s clever to focus on the root of the problem.

      • LT and Marc have hit it on the head , The problem is a cultural problem afflicting people living in certain poverty ridden milieus where parents tend to be prosmicuous in their couplings and irresposible or incompetent in their parenting . However it is possible soemtimes for the father figure to be replaced by a strong competent uncle or aunt or brother or more commonly a strong nurturing granny ,

        There are few fathers or even patriarchs in the barrios or US black gethols , only strutting studs who mate almost indiscriminately with man idolizing young girls . I suppose the best bet to improve thing is to try and convince women after they ve hade their first child to take long term but temporary anticonceptive drugs (grafted into the skin) to avoid pregancies for their most reproductive years and maybe paying them for it .(something like this has been very succesful in some parts of the US) Maybe doing something similar to young studs , also fining or otherwise penalizing irresponsible fathers by excluding from access to social benefits or public jobs . .

        • I think you guys might be oversimplifying the issue a bit. Yes, father figures are important as are mother figures, but that doesn’t mean that just fathers or family members can fill that role. Male teachers, counselors, coaches and so on also help. And it doesn’t help that men don’t usually take on teaching jobs (although I had many growing up, but mostly starting in high school level except for PE, and none in preschool or primary levels when it could be most important for engaging boys). Additionally, having structured places for youths to turn to when father figures are an impossibility (which will happen no matter how many programmes you put in place) is useful. Sports leagues, youth centres, counseling, career guidance, church groups, volunteer work, work experience placements, after-school clubs in much-needed schools… it’s not that no fathers + overworked mothers + poverty = evil violent youths, that’s just lazy maths. It’s a way wider problem than that, and yes, it needs a lot of sex ed to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to control population growth, but also needs structures in place to help those children that will inevitably grow up without father figures, or whose mothers work, or who live in poverty, or all of the above. And it also means that working with children and youths cannot be left entirely or even mostly to women (women social workers, women teachers, women childminders and women counselors), and that, you know, people working in such positions need to actually get paid decently.

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