“The Bank of Development of Women: A Grassroots Tool for the Construction of a Feminist Solidarity Economy” by Nora Castañeda

Nora Castañeda
“The Bank of Development of Women: A Grassroots Tool for the Construction of a Feminist Solidarity Economy” by Nora Castañeda, president of Banmujer, former professor of public administration and economic development at the Central Venezuela University (UCV). Watch the video. Listen to the English audio file or audio file in Spanish. Read original Spanish presentation.

[Speech at the First Global PROUT Conference in Venezuela, “Building a Solidarity Economy based on Ethics and Ecology”, 7 to July 9, 2011, Central Park – Room 1, Caracas]

Many thanks to all the organizers of this First Global Prout Conference. Also, thanks to all those who are willing and preparing to establish a dialogue of knowledge with us.

Indeed, once we were presented the possibility of being part of this panel, “The solidarity economy in Latin America and the Caribbean: lessons and opportunities from Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela,” I wondered how I could, speaking from within a group formed by the Development Bank for Women, give a presentation of an experience that would be able to enrich the participants and the attendees. In the beginning, the title was “A Grassroots Tool for the Construction of a Solidarity Economy,” but then I realized that something was missing, that it’s “A Grassroots Tool for the Construction of a Feminist Solidarity Economy.” It is because I am a feminist and a revolutionary that I had to take this approach, it could not have been any other way.

The Development Bank for Women was created on March 8, 2001, that is, it is of this century. It began with the century. Yet even still, its creation began much earlier, because the seeds of a new society emerge from the old society. Way back in 1995 we had the opportunity to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace that was held in Beijing, China. Presented at this conference was a very important topic of discussion: the feminization of poverty. That is, poverty, as a product of the development of the neoliberal model of unbridled capitalism, had given rise to a growth in poverty especially within women.

According to statistics reported by the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL), 70% of the poor at that time, in 1995, were women. Poverty had a woman’s face, which led to the creation of the new category, “Feminization of Poverty,” to account for reality. There in Beijing, and not coincidentally, approximately 40,000 women from around the world came together, from different religions, different spiritualities, different socio-economic living conditions, 40,000 women. Ten thousand were either participating or attending the world conference, the 4th Conference, and 30,000 were at the parallel forum, a parallel forum taking place among grassroots women: the simple, the humble, those who did not accede to their government. They were convened for a discussion of the situation, not only of what we women lived through in 1995, but of how we, from our femininity, from our position as social activists, could confront the capitalist model that was destroying humanity. That was the approach.

From this a conclusion can be derived, that the human rights of women must be integral rights. It is not just about having sexual and reproductive rights, it is not just about the right to have a life free of violence. It is also about social rights, political rights, but also economic rights. And these economic rights should be fully exercised at times when the economic model considers us a form of cheap labor, unorganized and disorganized. That is, the women under such conditions, where we can be used to make the economic model work, we are in 1995, but on the basis that our work was increasingly less worthy, unpaid, work in which we are practically condemned to slavery. That was the approach they were taking in Beijing in 1995.

Did the government do it? Not necessarily. We could even say that most governments were not doing it, because most of them had assumed that we had reached the end of history, the end of ideologies. And since we had come to this, what was needed was to implement the neoliberal economic model, no matter what that meant. We were told the illness is serious, and since it was serious we should be given a very bitter medicine, and this was the only possible medicine. That was the approach of most governments, but not all, we are generalizing, but that was basically the approach.

But there were 30,000 women gathered in the parallel forum, and the parallel forum was of a different nature. But there, yes, the women’s organizations from around the world decided that this was not an economic or socio-economic model that served humankind, and that we should work against it or build another. It was not only about fighting against one model, but also about building a new socioeconomic model. In this way, then, you come to the conclusion that the human rights of women are integral rights and that if there are no economic rights, there will be no human rights for women. And there will not be any because the development of other human rights is not possible if the socioeconomic base of society is pitted against human beings. Yes, there are established criteria by which the economy is shown to be against human beings, and yes, there are established criteria by which the economy is shown not to be in the service of humanity, but that humans are in the service of the economy and it is an economy that satisfies the interests of a minority.

They agreed in the Beijing forum, not in the conference but in the parallel forum, to work towards a new economy in which women would be able to be happier, in the assurance that if one day women were more happy, all human beings would also be happier. In this way it dealt with building a world of happiness, that other possible world, different from the world that is spoken of at the World Social Forum. Not only another possible world, but a necessary one as well.

The people who attended the conference returned to Venezuela and at the forum we had decided that the Women’s Development Bank was necessary. We asked the government at that time if they would create the Women’s Development Bank. It was not possible. But in late December of 1998 and in February of 1999, the Bolivarian government came to power in this country, so we proposed the same idea to the President and he agreed on March 8, 2001 to create the Women’s Development Bank. As you see, the President agreed to a request from the women. Not only did he accept, but from the outset he became an important element in the development of this project.

Immediately, we went to work on what would be the vision, the mission and the overall objective of Banmujer, the Women’s Development Bank. And in terms of the vision, we decided on the following: that we are dreaming the future, in 2050, in 3000, I do not know when, but we are a medium for the construction and consolidation of the socialist economy, that is popular, compassionate and environmentally sustainable, with gender equality and equity, where women are an essential part of the socioeconomic life of the country, in a just and peace-loving society. And in 1999, the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was passed, which provided us with our guidance to built a just and peace-loving society.

We immediately set out on our mission. If we are going to achieve this dream, we have to carry out various activities, create various strategies and create policies that allow us to achieve this dream. And so, our mission: we are a public institution that provides microfinance to women living in poverty to help them organize and build solidarity in their communities for socio-productive work, providing access to non-financial services and microcredit in a timely and responsible manner, in a society that incorporates women in its development and in its benefits, guided by these latter aspects to achieve a quality life.

To us, a quality life means to be in perfect harmony with other living beings – with the understanding that humans are a part of all living beings, but we are not the only living beings – and in harmony with the cosmos. And here again, spirituality, meaning that it implies a perfect harmony between all living beings. Living beings include “Pachamama,” Mother Earth and all the rest, so that everything develops into a perfect harmony with the cosmos.

And the overall goal: to provide financial and non-financial services specifically to women in situations of exclusion and discrimination who are organized in solidarity groups to promote their own active participation, sovereignty and equality in the building of a socialist economy. We’re talking about building socialism from the small, from grassroots communities and with grassroots communities, but from a perspective of gender, ethnicity and class. May all women be involved in the possibility of building a new nation, a socialist homeland.

Thank you very much.
[Translated by Spencer Bailey]
Panel 1 questions and answers