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WhatsApp is the new tool for Venezuelan feminists during the pandemic

Woman uses cellphone during a blackout in Caracas. Photo by Cristian Hernández. Used with permission.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, feminist collectives in Venezuela and international NGOs have warned about the rise of domestic violence during the strict quarantine measures implemented in most Venezuelan cities. International children's rights organization Save The Children, reported 33 percent increase in demand for support for gender-based physical, sexual, and emotional violence in Venezuela since the beginning of the pandemic in March. In the first eight months of 2020, 172 women have been murdered in Venezuela — one femicide every 43 hours.

In order to compensate for the perceived lack of government assistance, civil society organizations and feminist groups have turned to WhatsApp as a tool to support women facing violence during the pandemic. Global Voices interviewed the leaders of four projects that aim to help women who face violence during the pandemic through WhatsApp.

Uquira educates on the principles of contemporary Feminism

Before the pandemic, members of the Caracas-based feminist group Uquira would often take to the streets to denounce government negligence, the culture of gender violence, and machismo in Venezuela. After the pandemic, Uquira has been forced to rethink their work dynamic. They have turned to organizing interactive conferences on WhatsApp, called foro chats. Uquira member Melanie Arguinzones told Global Voices:

WhatsApp es una herramienta genial para el contexto venezolano. Hay muchas mujeres que no tienen computadora o una conexión estable de internet, así que les cuesta entrar a una reunión de zoom, por ejemplo. Para muchas esta puede ser la única y la forma más económica de compartir información, experiencias y pedir ayuda. […] Los foro chats se convirtieron en una buena herramienta para invitar a expertos a que compartan información de temas relacionados a género. Esta nueva dinámica es mucho más inclusiva, porque nos permite acercarnos a mujeres que están fuera de Caracas.

WhatsApp is a great tool in the Venezuelan context. Most women don’t have a computer or a stable internet connection to attend Zoom meetings. For many this can be the only way, and cheapest way, to share information, share experiences, and ask for help. […] Foro chats became a great way to invite experts to share their knowledge on a subject related to gender. This new dynamic is also more inclusive, because it allowed us to reach women outside of Caracas.

Since the pandemic started, Uquira has organized four public foro chats about the fundamentals of feminism, feminist self-care, and debunking conspiracy theories about LGBTQ communities. The last forochat, about sexual politics, was a private course for members of Uquira. 

In these forums, participants register in a Google doc and then receive links to enter a WhatsApp group. On the day of the talk, moderators greet participants, share group rules, and introduce the invited guests. Then, the guests discuss the topic through photos, texts, and audio messages while the rest of the participants are blocked from sending messages. At the end, the moderators open up for a round of questions for about 40 minutes.

Experience has taught Uquira to take security measures, like mandatory registration and keeping the group closed before the questions round. “At first we got some trolls who got inside the groups to insult us and send obscene pictures. Still, it’s a necessary space for us. We want to use as many communication channels as we can because we want our message out there,” Arguinzones said.

#JusticiaParaTodas offers a support group for families of victims of femicide

When Ketsy Medina’s mother was murdered in 2018, she knew she had a long path ahead of her to find justice. Indeed, the legal process to find her mother’s killer has been slow and challenging. Soon, she realized it wasn’t worth fighting Venezuela’s legal system alone. She created a WhatsApp support group called “#JusticiaParaTodas” (Justice for all) for women going through the same ordeal as her. By phone call, Medina said:

Creamos este grupode apoyo  para que las familias de las víctimas pudieran construir un espacio para compartir información, actualizaciones de los casos y  buscar apoyo. Presionamos a las instituciones a través de las redes sociales con la información que recopilamos; pero el grupo ofrece algo fundamental para curar una herida tan grande como el feminicidio de un ser querido: compañerismo, comprensión y apoyo.

We started this group so families of victims could build a space to share information, updates and support. We pressure institutions through social media with the information we gather; but the group offers something that’s fundamental to heal a wound as big as a femicide of a loved one: companionship, understanding, and support. 

Ketsy explained that the group’s name is the same hashtag they use on social media to denounce gender violence and state negligence:

En Venezuela es común ver denuncias de feminicidio en Twitter. Usan el nombre de la víctima: #JusticiaParaGreicy, #JusticiaParaAngela, #JusticiaParaKarla. Nosotras usamos la etiqueta #JusticiaParaTodas, porque juntas somos más fuertes ”.

In Venezuela, on Twitter it’s common to see femicide complaints. They use the victim’s name: #JusticiaParaGreicy, #JusticiaParaAngela, #JusticiaParaKarla. We use the #JusticiaParaTodas, because together we are stronger.

Tinta Violeta is a helpline for victims of gender violence during the quarantine 

In 2019, Daniella Inojosa, founding member of feminist collective Tinta Violeta saw the need for a women's helpline. She explained via WhatsApp:

Cuando comenzó la pandemia, empezamos a pensar: ¿Qué tipo de apoyo tienen las mujeres si son víctimas de violencia? ¿De dónde obtienen ayuda, atención y un espacio para denunciarlo? Lamentablemente, en Venezuela no hay.

When faced with the pandemic, we started thinking: What sort of support do women have if they are victims of violence? Where do they get help, attention, and a space to denounce it? Sadly, in Venezuela there are none.

So, Tinta Violeta made the phone numbers of some of its members public and created a helpline on WhatsApp. Volunteers work from 6am to 10 pm support, listen, and advise women living with their abusers during the lockdown.

“We started to invest time in our support project in 2019 because we wanted to understand how to support women in alternative ways during a situation of violence,” she said. Inojosa also explained that a big percentage of the women that have called or written them have already denounced aggressions by their partners to the pertinent legal institutions. “They are abandoned by the system,” she continued.

Inojosa describes the experience as a big responsibility resting on the team’s shoulders. “We have to deal, at a distance, with pretty violent and distressing situations,” Inojosa said. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tinta Violeta has supported 215 women, and 500 people in total. “We also support direct or indirect victims of violence, which is usually the case of children”. 

Alimenta la Solidaridad teaches their network of cooks how to help their communities 

It was no surprise for soup kitchen Alimenta la Solidaridad to learn that their cooks are also fundamental pillars of their communities. “They are trusted women, in contact with many families from the communities through the comedores comunitarios [‘community dining rooms’],” Mariana Luengo told Global Voices through a phone call. She is a volunteer psychologist for what became chat forums on gender violence organized by Alimenta la Solidaridad. The goal was to support the cooks in helping victims of abuse. “[The cooks] were also eager to learn how to help and advise women and children who confessed violence at home,” Luengo continued.

Alimenta la Solidaridad invited psychologists and lawyers from the Catholic Andrés Bello University to chat with the cooks on how to best assist the community. Luengo continued:

La experiencia fue particularmente enriquecedora por las preguntas que las cocineras traían a la mesa: cada uno tuvo un enfoque muy particular después de haber escuchado a los vecinas hablar sobre sus experiencias de violencia y haber vivido situaciones de abuso en un momento u otro de su vida. Las mujeres estaban particularmente enfocadas en la idea de ayudar a los demás, y les ayudó mucho contar con un equipo de psicólogos y abogados para entender cómo apoyar y asesorar sobre qué hacer contra los abusadores.

The experience was particularly enlightening because of the many questions they had; each had a very particular approach after having heard neighbours talking about their experiences of violence and having lived abusive situations at one point or another in their life. The women were particularly focused on the idea of helping others, so having a team of psychologists and lawyers helped them understand how to support and advise on legal measures against abusers.

 

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