Photo: Carlos Jaimes / @fotosamorir

The Plight of the Venezuelan Working Woman

There’s a wide gap between legislation and reality in terms of female participation in the workforce. Solving it starts with knowing exactly what’s happening

Female participation in the global workforce has been steadily growing in the last years; in the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19, women held more jobs than men in places like the U.S. and in others, like Chile, women held a 52.7% participation rate in the workforce. 

So, why is it that we barely hear about policies to empower women economically in Venezuela?

It’s been proven that women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, improves income equality and helps increase economic diversification. It’s estimated, for example, that increasing employment rates in OECD countries to match the level Sweden holds, could boost the GDP of those countries by over 6 trillion. If done properly, then, it can lead to substantial gain on both economic growth and development.

In the case of Venezuela, though, women constitute 50.3% of the whole population, and even so, the female worker isn’t only far from equal to her male counterpart, there’s also very little done to support women as a group. Even though chavismo rode for years on the idea that women were at the forefront of their policies, there’s little evidence to prove women are better off 20 years after it came into power. 

The social, political and economic situation the country is in has also exposed Venezuelan women to heightened vulnerability. Undoubtedly, the crisis the country faces has a lot to do with the lack of policies to incentivize the incorporation of women to the workforce, and if you don’t have a democracy, or access to enact policies, you can hardly advance in social issues that benefits society as a whole.

But there’s somewhere we can start from, and that’s in data collection. 

One of the most relevant tools in the implementation of proper policies is sex-disaggregated data collection. Because you can’t fix something if you don’t understand how broken it is. 

Thanks to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap 2020 Report, we know Venezuela is ranked 67 among 153 other countries. However, in the specific indicator measuring female labor force participation rate, we see the country ranks 116th, due to the existence of a 52% participation rate for women compared to an 80% rate among men.  And with regards to the pay gap, according to the same report, Venezuela ranks 31, with a score of 0.71, meaning there is still a 28% gap between female and male salaries that remains to be closed. Meaning there are substantial barriers in the workplace space for women. 

Both reports help us understand two very basic realities of women in Venezuela: a gap exists and it’s not a minor one but, on paper, it’s not a product of the legislation in place.

A separate report, recently published by the World Bank, analyzes the potential effect of various laws and regulations on female economic inclusion. Out of 190 analyzed economies, Venezuela was found to have a perfect score (100) in workplace inclusion and an almost perfect score (75 out of 100) in salaries.  In contrast to what the previous report suggested, this implies that Venezuela doesn’t have a legal framework that excludes women, on the contrary, it’s quite inclusive. 

Both reports help us understand two very basic realities of women in Venezuela: a gap exists and it’s not a minor one but, on paper, it’s not a product of the legislation in place. 

So what’s the problem then? Why does it feel like women in Venezuela have it harder than what these reports make it sound?  

The crisis in Venezuela in the last seven years seriously impedes any attempt of analysis or study, because of its complexity but also for its fast-paced evolution. And while, yes, the scores in the World Bank report are a direct result of legal frameworks that are inclusive for women, without firm, democratic, and impartial institutions to ensure the frameworks are respected, they add little to no value. 

So to better understand how we can help women achieve economic independence, we need more information. 

Some honest questions we can start to ask and do our best to answer include: How many women who are economically dependent on their partners are victims of domestic violence? What type of choices are there for women who make only the minimum wage of $1.60 a month? What type of decisions are driven under this context? Why does the Venezuelan female worker enter the workforce in the first place? What needs and barriers does she face? Is there any type of motivation shaping her decision to choose one career over another? Are these based on gender stereotypes? How many hours on average does a woman in Venezuela spend caring for children and performing domestic tasks at home? How does her burden relate to that of men? How, and to what extent, is the country’s dire socioeconomic situation making her a target of violence, abuse or sexual exploitation? 

It’s imperative to understand what happens to those who stay in Venezuela queueing for an average of 10 hours a day for food, while their male partners leave to become economic migrants.

These are the questions that individual researchers, NGOs, international organizations, or even the National Assembly can begin to ask. If we address these topics, we’ll be able to unlock the potential of our entire workforce. Besides the positive outcome this brings for women, it’s a key ingredient for putting the country back on track for economic growth and, hopefully, redemption.

Claudia González

Venezuelan/Chilean. Economist on paper, Political Science junkie in practice. Member of a liberal party on Chile. Love and miss the Venezuelan beaches but also enjoy the winter.