Written by: Associate Editor, Julia Kelly
The global fall of oil prices in 2014, among many other factors, caused Venezuela’s economy to crash. Venezuela has since experienced years of economic crisis, which has left its toll on many Venezuelan families, who face widespread hunger and hyperinflation. Specifically, in more recent years, millions of women are now unable to access or afford birth control.
Presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro identified themselves as feminists. President Chávez’s political movement focused on giving women equal opportunities in society, and, in 1999, included in their Constitution that women had the right to decide freely how many children they wished to individually have. He also offered direct cash transfers to poor mothers and repositioned the women’s ministry into the executive branch. However, under President Maduro’s rule, and in light of the economic depression, birth control is essentially nonexistent in the public health care system, and only a minuscule number of poor mothers qualify for the cash transfer, which now consists of a mere one to two dollars.
The average monthly minimum wage in Venezuela is 1.50 USD, yet birth control pills cost an average of 11 USD a month, while IUDs and other intrauterine devices can cost over 40 USD. Even a pack of three condoms costs upwards of 4 USD, nearly three times the minimum monthly wage. Women who already have one or more children can barely afford to feed their families, thus, the private pharmacy prices for contraceptives is a luxury they cannot afford.
Women are increasingly resorting to illegal abortions, which for some has cost them their lives and for others has led to years in prison. Regardless, those who choose to continue their pregnancies also face an increased risk of death, due to a 65% rise in maternal deaths between 2015 and 2016 alone. Some couples have chosen to ration or abstain from sex, however, many women have reported abuse from their partner when they say no.
It is unclear how conditions have evolved for women and families who have stayed in Venezuela. The government has released very limited information, since the economic crisis began, on maternal deaths, teen pregnancies, and birth rates. Despite a majority of families inability to afford food for the families they already have, President Maduro is still urging women to have six children “for the good of the country.”
The United Nations and other organizations have attempted to aid the Venezuelan government during their time of hardship, however, the Venezuelan government has allocated a significant majority of the emergency assistance resources for food and medicine. Millions of Venezuelans have reportedly fled the country, among them are thousands of pregnant women. Bordering countries, such as Colombia, have struggled to handle the additional responsibilities of taking on these refugees. However, without major reform to Venezuela’s policies pertaining to women’s reproductive rights, the situation will continue to spiral out of hand and contribute to the cycle of poverty most citizens now face there.
Amelia Cheatham and Rocio Cara Labrador, Venezuela: The Rise and Fall of a Petrostate, Council on Foreign Relations (Jan. 22, 2021, 7:00 AM), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/venezuela-crisis?gclid=Cj0KCQiApsiBBhCKARIsAN8o_4hwe-pnsphdOFy34fSnQ5AbXBTeLzX4Tpe52Nl3b5WuV40hkM-pGoEaAlOuEALw_wcB
Christine Armario, Venezuela runs low on contraceptives, leaving women ‘forced into motherhood’, Global News (Aug. 20, 2019, 11:48 PM), https://globalnews.ca/news/5792013/venezuela-contraceptives-women-mothers/
Julie Turkewitz and Isayen Herrera, Venezuelan Women Lose Access to Contraception, and Control of Their Lives, The New York Times (Feb. 20, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/world/americas/venezuela-birth-control-women.html
Venezuela’s Maduro urges women to have six children, BBC News (Mar. 4, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-51735025