March 05, 2006

Women acting for themselves in Venezuela

Creating a Caring Economy: Nora Castaneda and the Women’s Development Bank of Venezuela

Edited by Nina Lopez
Crossroads Books, 2006
72 pages
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Creating a Caring Economy is a great publication that carries a biography of one of Venezuela’s most devoted fighters on behalf of women, Nora Castenada. Castenada, an economist, was a lecturer for over 30 years at the Venezuelan Central University. Her commitment to women led to her appointment by President Hugo Chavez as the first president of the Women’s Development Bank, BANMUJER, in March 2001.

Women were demanding access to microcredit so that they could start small cooperatives as part of the process of ending poverty. In 60% of poor homes in Venezuela, the head of the family was a woman without a partner. Research had also determined that 65% of Venezuelans live in conditions of poverty and that 70% of these were women.

Castenada was also a consistent advocate of Article 88 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which recognizes the unwaged work of the often despised housewife in the home, looking after the family. Article 88, which will give women a small wage for home duties, has not yet been implemented, as there is massive opposition from many quarters. INAMUJER, the National Women’s organisation, is fighting for Article 88 to be discussed and implemented as soon as possible. Castenada maintains that Article 88 recognises that housework is an economic activity that produces wealth and welfare.

The pamphlet describes how BANMUJER operates. A group of women who are living in poverty, who are neighbours, decide to hold a meeting. They contact the Women’s Development Bank. They get in touch with allies, who could be the mayor, the governor or an organisation for grassroots sectors. It is the duty of the bank to go to the poorest areas. The bank will let the community know what it has to offer them, while the community decides what it requires. The bank doesn’t grant credits for housing or mortgages.

After the first meeting, a process of training, follow-up and technical support begins. But what is taught in the workshop is what the community wants to know, perhaps how to do book-keeping, not what the bank official wants to teach or preconceived notions of economics.

Castenada also talks about her own life. Her mother had six children, without any support from a male partner, and always worked in other people’s homes, cooking and cleaning. Her father was a well-known lawyer, landowner and political leader in Lara. Once her mother was pregnant, the father took her to Caracas and placed her in the house of a relative, with Castenada’s mother expected to cook and clean to earn her keep. Most women in Venezuela have this experience.

Castenada is very concerned about racial discrimination. Her young daughter has frizzy hair, but when she was small, the teacher said she had “bad” hair. Castenada told her daughter, “Your hair isn’t bad, it isn’t greasy, you don’t have dandruff. Your hair is Angela Davis’ hair. We had heard the stories of Angela Davis and Cassius Clay reclaiming their Blackness and this seemed a very good thing to us.” She relates in her biography how Venezuelans do not accept that they are black or indigenous. “They say they are mestizo — mixed race. But by saying this, they are acknowledging their white ancestry and not their other ancestry.”

This pamphlet is a terrific introduction to the women of Venezuela, their situation and the steps being taken to change their reality through the Women’s Development Bank. The bank is part of the Bolivarian process of revolutionising Venezuela’s economy: promoting grassroots activity backed by oil revenue.

Castaneda describes how BANMUJER is providing a pathbreaking framework for building a movement that is “creating an economy at the service of human beings.”

As Selma James explains in her introduction to Creating a Caring Economy, “Those of us immersed in the movement need to know how they’re doing it in Venezuela so we can learn from them what we have to do wherever we are. She is a fantastic spokesperson for the revolution and for women everywhere.”

From Green Left Weekly, March 8, 2006.


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