Since the Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence was passed in 2007, the number of denunciations of violence against women has tripled in Venezuela, as women become more aware of their rights and have more access to the courts.
The public prosecution office has received nationally 101,750 cases of violence since 2007, according to Yolanda Jaimes, a magistrate in the Supreme Court who was speaking at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) World Conference on Gender Violence in Caracas Tuesday.
Of these denunciations, 53,000 came from Caracas, Jaimes said. Norma Romero, the director of planning for the National Institute of Women (INAMUJER) said the large number in Caracas was due to a concentration of attention centers there and that "in the center of the country it has been a bit harder for us to help women empower themselves."
In the past, "Many cases [of violence] were hidden, women didn't dare to denounce them...the number of accusations has increased for one main reason: now they know the law that supports them, that guarantees their rights, and they know that special courts exist that can treat their cases," Jaimes said.
Maria Amundaray, director of family issues for the public prosecution office, said that between when the law was approved and the end of 2008, physical violence was the most common crime denounced, with 49,072 cases, and psychological violence the second most common with 42.975 cases. After those the most commonly reported crimes were threats, sexual harassment, and harassment.
There are currently 29 courts for violence against women in the country. However Jaimes recognized that these courts are congested because "they don't have the capacity to attend to all the denunciations."
In states where no court exists, claimants must take their case to the nearest state. However, Jaimes said they hope to have created 20 more tribunals by the middle of this year.
At the conference, Romero also said that INAMUJER has a project called ‘The Construction of a New Masculinity' which aims to incorporate men into the struggle to eradicate violence against women.
Maria Leon, minister for Women and Gender Equality and president of the National Institute of Women (INAMUJER), in her intervention at the conference said the Venezuelan socialist project should work towards eradicating the exploitation of women by men whilst developing policies of equality.
"A cultural change in Venezuela is necessary which makes women visible as brave, strong beings, capable of defending themselves, in order to break with the paradigm of weakness that has dragged women down for centuries," said Leon.
The UN Conference on Gender Violence began yesterday in Caracas and will finish today with a final declaration and international agreements made between countries to cooperate in the eradication of violence against women.
"Venezuela is one of the most advanced countries in Latin American in the struggle to eradicate violence against women and for gender equality, and that's why we are having this global event here, where we are holding workshops to review the advances [in women's rights] and learn from the Venezuelan experience," said the coordinator of UNDP in Venezuela, David McLachlan-Kerr.
On International Women's Day on March 8th this year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the full creation of the Ministry for Women and Gender Equality. It is different from the old Ministry of Women's Affairs, which was an extension of INAMUJER and didn't have a separate budget. This ministry came formally into effect on April 13.