Venezuela’s Migrant Crisis Is Made of Desperate Women

With 96% of households in poverty, and 79% in extreme poverty, the Venezuelan disaster isn’t gender neutral: women carry the brunt of survival for them and their families

Photo: ACNUR

Crises and their effects are never gender neutral. In Venezuela, the threats against economic and social rights are affecting women disproportionately in at least four aspects: 

  • Food security;
  • Health;
  • Sexual and reproductive rights;
  • Gender violence.

This dangerous combination of human rights violations are also serving as push factors for Venezuelan women to make the journey to other countries and expose themselves to further dangers, both as women and as migrants.

In terms of food security, we know that women represent 72.7% of head of households in the lowest quintile, and they lead 41.7% of homes where both women and men provide for the family. Venezuelan women are expected to generate the income to purchase food, and at the same time to line up for purchases when food is availableand they have to be good at buying through bachaqueo (informal food market networks). Studies indicate that women tend to spend from eight to 14 hours a week just purchasing products at prices regulated by the State, lining up in the open, exposed to the elements, without access to toilets, and frequently accompanied by their children.

The rates of malnutrition and undernourishment in Venezuela are well known, but they have worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting women and children in particular. According to the latest Caritas Venezuela Nutritional Situation Monitoring Bulletin (April-July 2020), there’s been an increase of 73% in the levels of acute malnutrition in children under five years old. There’s also rising levels of malnutrition in pregnant women, with that report by Caritas showing a 24% increase.

Maternal and infant mortality continue being the black box in terms of human development indicators in Venezuela. There’s been years when we don’t get official data on this, but anecdotal evidence indicates that it’s getting worse as the humanitarian crisis deepens. Services as basic as getting a physical exam, weight checks, monitoring immunization and supplement intake during pregnancy, or the right to a dignified labor process are a luxury for most Venezuelan women.

This, coupled with limited access to contraceptives, violating women’s rights to plan their families and safely engage in sexual relationships, is also causing concerning numbers of teen pregnancy. The United Nations Population Program (UNFPA) estimates an 80% shortage in contraceptive supplies, also reporting that Venezuela has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the region, with one in four babies being born to a teenager.

They face the risks associated with these journeys: being trafficked, having to recur to survival sex, the risk of being abused by figures of authority along the way.

As in all crisis situations, Venezuela’s humanitarian plight also exacerbates gender-based violence. A 2020 CEPAZ study revealed that between June 14th and November 13th, a woman was murdered every 28 hours in Venezuela. That’s a total of 103 women just in that period, with 21.4% of them being mothers (leaving around 41 children orphaned). This is particularly dire for girls: from June 14th to November 13th, 2020, there was an average of one child femicide every ten days; out of the 11 girls under the age of 12 who were murdered, five of them suffered sexual abuse and the other six died of physical violence. Eight were killed by members of their families, illustrating the pervasive nature of violence against women in Venezuela, which has gone unattended by national authoritieswhile the economic pressures and the social confinement adopted to contain COVID-19 become an aggravating factor to explain this trend.

Unfortunately, this scenario is giving Venezuelan women more reasons to migrate to other countries, sometimes on foot and with almost nonexistent material conditions for the trip. While Venezuelan migrants were once mostly men, women are migrating at similar rates. Women generally comprise 40% of migrants entering Brazil and around 49% of the 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants entering Colombia are women. Anecdotal accounts of recent migration trends to Colombia indicate a growing number of young women with many children (their own and those of other women), who are also making the trip on foot. They face the risks associated with these journeys: being trafficked, having to recur to survival sex, the risk of being abused by figures of authority along the way (police, immigration officers), among others. 

As we close this month in which we celebrate the progress made on women’s rights, let’s also ponder where things went wrong for women in Venezuela, and which are the key areas a transition period should focus ona key subject, since at least 50% of Venezuela’s long term human development rests on women. 


* Opinions are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States.