by Maria Eugenia Acero and Rachel Boothroyd-Rojas
On International Working Women’s Day, Venezuelanalysis had the opportunity to put three questions to Maria Eugenia Acero Colomines, National Coordinator for Culture and Gender at the Venezuelan Ministry for Women and Gender Equality.
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In celebration of the historic date, the symbolic remains of three Afro-Venezuelan and indigenous women: Apacuana, Matea Bolivar and Hipolita Bolivar, were inducted into the National Pantheon of Heroes in Caracas. As an indigenous leader of the Quiriquire, Jefa Apacuana led a rebellion against Spanish occupying forces in the mid 1500s, while La Negra Hipolita, otherwise known as Hipolita Bolivar, and La Negra Matea or Matea Bolivar were born into slavery and assigned to care for legendary Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar as his wet nurse and nanny, respectively.
The move brings the total number of women included in the Pantheon to nine, a figure which has tripled since the Bolivarian Revolution came to power in 1999.
Why are you marching today?
I am here first of all because this is an historic act, that two Black enslaved women and an indigenous woman are receiving state recognition. Matea and Hipolita were slaves and Simon Bolivar liberated them, and despite that they were scorned until the end of their days. Hipolita Bolivar, who was practically Bolivar’s mother, was mocked until the end of her life, not just for being a woman and also Black, but because she was part of the Bolivar family. This was also the case for Matea. Apacuana was a shaman, a woman of medicine and knowledge, as well as a warrior. So that’s why I am here, because this is a symbolic tribute, because racism still exists and discrimination against women still exists and we continue to be undervalued. We are in a country where there is a Ministry for Women, that doesn’t exist in the rest of the world, and which is working to reverse all of the damage that the capitalist patriarchy has done to us, which treats us as if we were subhuman. So that is why I am here, and the significance of today.
What is the greatest challenge facing Venezuelan women at the present moment?
To value themselves. To value themselves above and beyond the stereotypes which the media impose on us. The beauty pageants, the soap operas, which attempt to trap women into an unreal aesthetic standard. The Bolivarian government has promoted laws which empower (women) which are delivering justice in cases of femicide and gender-based murders, something which does not exist in many other parts of the world. The challenge for women today is to be aware of these laws and rights and to educate and empower themselves, as well as to liberate themselves. To liberate themselves mentally from the mountain of chains that have entrapped us all, men as well as women. The other challenge for women is to educate men and to create new masculinities that do not repeat patterns of mistreatment, abuse and ridicule towards women. That is our challenge, for women as well as men, and also to recognize sexual diversity, to which we are giving increasing importance.
And this is the work that you are carrying out at the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality? Can you give me a specific example?
Yes, of course. I belong to the Vice-Ministry for the Protection of Women, and there we are promoting a care programme aimed at building co-responsibility so that men and the wider community also care for children, the elderly and people with disabilities, not just women. Historically and socially it is believed that women are the ones who must carry out this kind of work, but social groups as a whole, the state and men must also assume the responsibility.
There is also the program which I am promoting which is a culture and gender program aimed at universalizing values, you could say feminist values, but they are values based on equality and respect towards women. Because we are bombarded by messages in the media which reinforce disturbing gender roles and which lead to dysfunctional intimate and family relations. And so this programme is aimed at building a cultural counter-hegemony (to that) and to visibilise another type of values to those found in fairytales, about princes and princesses, which show that children can have a happy ending which is different, that children can progress and create another reality, create community and a homeland. This is what we are doing.