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International Relations and Human Rights Observatory

November 2, 2020

The situation of gender and humanitarian aid in the Venezuelan crisis

In Venezuela, the decimation of economic growth destabilizes society, pushing the Maduro regime to continue its abuse of human rights and repression of dissent to remain in power. Without democratic renewal, it is unlikely that conditions will improve in Venezuela. In response, humanitarian aid must weigh the crisis’ consequences for different demographics, especially women. Targeting vulnerable socioeconomic groups requires greater coordination and deployment of existing aid infrastructure.
By Greg Ross

La situación de la mujer y la ayuda humanitaria en la crisis de Venezuela

This past September, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela released a 411-page report that details a broad range of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, and torture, committed at the hands of Venezuelan state authorities and non-state, pro-government actors.

The UN report, accessible here, was highlighted during an October 30 webinar with panelists from the Center for Justice and Peace (CEPAZ), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P). The panelists reflected on the report to emphasize the importance of humanitarian aid that responds to gender dimensions of the Venezuelan crisis.

Beatriz Borges of CEPAZ, a Venezuelan NGO, said Venezuelan women are “carrying the weight of the crisis on their shoulders.” According to Borges, increased malnutrition, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence, and femicide call for greater gender-based humanitarian aid. Of particular concern is Venezuela’s public health system, which was at a breaking point even before the COVID-19 pandemic and unable to confront rising maternal mortality rates. Pandemic-related border closures in Venezuela create a precarious situation for women seeking to receive healthcare or give birth abroad.

Elisabeth Pramendorfer of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect called for the international community to prioritize the “systematic inclusion” of gender-based considerations when addressing human rights violations in Venezuela. Indeed, as the UN report notes, “Women’s rights organizations have denounced the lack of consistent official statistics and disaggregated data, as it limits the possibility to analyse trends in violence against women.”

There is no shortage of statistics, however, that demonstrate the overall severity of the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis. The pandemic compounds an economic collapse that helps drive the Maduro regime’s human rights abuses and repression of dissent. The Venezuelan economy is expected to contract 25 percent this year and 10 percent in 2021, the steepest declines in the Western Hemisphere, following a 35 percent contraction in 2019. Between 2013 and 2020, real GDP in Venezuela fell 65 percent, the sharpest decrease of any country not at war since 1975.

The economic collapse has direct repercussions, reducing the Venezuelan middle class from 62 percent of the population in 2010 to just 15 percent in 2020. Last year, 78 percent of Venezuelans experienced extreme poverty, earning less than $3.10 per day. A UN World Food Programme report from last year shows 65 percent of households cannot buy basic hygiene products and other items like clothes, while one in three Venezuelans face conditions of food insecurity.

Amid such conditions, over 5 million Venezuelans—one sixth of the population—emigrated from Venezuela in recent years. Women migrants face heightened risks, as past CEPAZ reports detail. Moreover, the pandemic’s outsized impact on the informal economy in hard-hit migrant destinations like Colombia threatens the tenuous jobs and safety nets held by those Venezuelans abroad.

There is little hope that conditions in Venezuela will improve any time soon. Even once the pandemic subsides, the Venezuelan economy will remain hobbled by the collapse of the oil sector. A decade ago, oil exports earned Venezuela $90 billion in revenue. By the end of this year, exports may amount to just $2.3 billion. Without oil revenue, the government struggles to import necessities like food and medical supplies. As a sign of its desperation, this year the Maduro regime turned to also-sanctioned Iran to import gasoline.

The decimation of economic growth destabilizes society, pushing the Maduro regime to continue its abuse of human rights and repression of dissent to remain in power. Venezuela will hold parliamentary elections in December, but concerns of illegitimacy and division among the opposition threaten to weaken what remaining power the National Assembly possesses. Without democratic renewal, it is unlikely that conditions will improve in Venezuela.

As panelists during the late October webinar made clear, humanitarian aid must weigh the crisis’ consequences for different demographics, especially women. Targeting vulnerable socioeconomic groups requires greater coordination and deployment of existing aid infrastructure. Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch insisted on a broad-based international response that includes UN bodies like the Human Rights Council despite its inconsistencies on Venezuela, such as the recent election of Maduro-ally Cuba as a member state. “Even if the Council is incapable of taking any decisions, it’s important that it stays on top of the issues. Sometimes just holding a meeting can send a strong message,” Charbonneau said.

For Eleanor Openshaw of the International Service for Human Rights, effective international response requires cooperation with civil society groups in Venezuela. She concluded by asking how the international community can “open doors so that those who know most about the challenges in Venezuela speak directly to those we need to make clever, smart, effective, urgent decisions to bring the weight of the UN machinery to bear.”