Hugo Chávez used to describe himself as a “feminist” and his self-proclaimed “feminist revolution” has long been full of promises and colorful ceremonies —including rather comical costumes— when it comes to dealing with gender equality. But if women dare to demonstrate on the streets for their rights —even on International Women’s Day— chances are they’ll be met by a riot squads. Or in this case, just to honor the occasion, by an all-female riot squad.
That’s exactly what happened to two groups of women (La Urdimbre Colectiva and Las Comadres Púrpura) after they decided to take their protest to the Avenida Urdaneta in Caracas, in front of the Attorney General’s Office. Although the protest didn’t end in the usual tear gas cloud, you can’t help but wonder what precisely went through the mind of whoever made the decision to send women to deal with other women (déjalas que se entiendan entre ellas sort of thing?) as if putting the State’s repression and violence in the hands of women made it less reprehensible.
Let’s remember that it was a female PNB officer who brutally attacked Marvinia Jimenez during the 2014 protests. The officer has never been tried.
Maybe it is just becoming standard practice, as it seems to be increasingly common to see the first row of riot squads made up of women only. We saw it last year during a protest called by the opposition in May, which resulted in the aggression against PNB officer Dubraska Alvarez by a group of protesters, prompting President Maduro to quip that “the right” wanted to impose a “state of violence against women.”
If a woman in the armed forces suffers the costs and risks associated with the task of using state violence to suppress civil liberties, the government calls it gender-based violence. The same logic applies if someone asks Tibisay Lucena to do her job: it will be considered misogynistic and violent to request the head of CNE, who happens to be a woman, to comply with the constitution and call elections.
In the midst of the regime’s distorted and manipulative vision of gender equality, groups of women across the ideological spectrum are becoming increasingly frustrated with the many challenges we face. Many of us put them forward in a slew of declarations on the occasion of International Women’s Day last week. One of them was signed by more than 80 human rights and women’s rights organizations.
As Mujeres sin Tregua, a women’s group, has rightly argued, the government is “neither feminist nor popular” and its policies in the field of gender equality and women’s rights are “a total failure.”
To be sure, it doesn’t matter if Venezuela’s maternal mortality rates are high and rising, or if we have the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America, or a gender wage gap of 18%, an 85% shortage of contraceptives, increasing unemployment rates among women, and a lack of an effective electoral quota system to guarantee female political participation (women make up just 21% of the National Assembly).
The “feminist revolution” wants us to be seen but not heard. Fat chance.