She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Nora Castañeda should be tired from her gruelling speaking tour around Europe. Instead she is like a power station, pumping out energy and radiating sparkle; inspiring packed audiences wherever she speaks. She is President of Banmujer (the Women’s Development Bank of Venezuela) – a unique initiative by the Chavez Government. For, as she explains, the bank is about something much more than money:
She says: “It was set up in consultation with people in the shantytowns and the countryside as one of the mechanisms to tackle endemic poverty in Venezuela. Since 70 per cent of Venezuelans living in poverty are women, we decided to target them. Banmujer tries to create a level playing field by empowering these women not just economically, but also politically and socially. It’s a social development bank that assesses the viability of projects, and provides training in citizenship, organization, leadership, education, health and self-esteem as well as personal development. We are not building a bank – we are building a different way of life.” (full interview text).
Her book: ‘Creating a Caring Economy, Nora Castaneda and the Women’s Development Bank of Venezuela‘, by Nora Castaneda, £4.50 paperback, Crossroads Books, 2006.
Same book in spanish: adult book, Creando una Economia Solidaria: Nora Castaneda y el Banco de Desarrollo de la Mujer de Venezuela.
Nora Castañeda – Venezuela
She says also: “What we are trying to achieve is for women to not only get credit, but also to improve the quality of their lives. This can be developed through an economic model with gender equality”.
Nora Castañeda was born into a humble family in Caracas in 1942. Her mother, who was of peasant’s origin, was “father and mother at the same time”. From her mother she has inherited her love of studying and honourable work.
During Marcos Pérez Jiménez dictatorship (1953-1958), when Nora was an adolescent of 14 years she entered the secondary school Fermín Toro. Two years later, when the dictatorship was just fallen, she participated in the creation of the Feminine Centre Marisela. This centre worked along with other women’s organizations like the Unión de Muchachas Universitarias de la Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), Union of University Girls of the Central University of Venezuela and the Unión de Mujeres, the Women Union.
When she entered into the Central University of Venezuela to study economy, her decision was coloured by her encounter with the poverty that defined the life of many women. They were the 60’s and the country was under the presidency of Rómulo Betancurt, whose administration was allied to the Venezuelan oligarchy. The country lived an intense activity of rebel armed groups, and the fight of women was particularly “centred in solidarity with the political prisoners and our classmates who had gone away to the guerrilla. We did not fight only for our rights; we fought for all the people “.
Nora was married in 1962 in the middle of that fight. The university studies passed between the social fight and the conformation of her family: “During my studies I gave birth to three boys and I have got a daughter after my graduation”.
She took her degree in 1968 and made a post degree in Public Administrative Planning. The following year she returned to the UCV as a university professor, post that she would maintain along 33 years in different subjects as Economic History, Economic Theory and Economic Development. Later on she became the head of the Faculty, member of the Council and founder of the Centre for Women’s Studies and of the Master degree in Women’s Studies.
The 70’s initiated under the influence of the “French May” of 1968, and they constituted fertile earth for the development of the feminist movement. “We began to discuss about the condition of women and the discrimination of which they were object. I belonged to the National Women Commission of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario (Revolutionary Left-Wind Movement). It was an encounter between feminist women and women who were members of political parties “.
The World-wide Women’s Conference in Kenya in the 80s was the motor that pushed the extension of the women’s movement. “We met women from political parties, from the government, from Popular Feminine Circles and women of Christian inspiration; we did not agree in several subjects, but we gave priority to the ones on which we could work together “.
Thus, little by little the fight became a fight made of and for women, without leaving aside the political action. In that frame Nora participated in the configuration of the Coordination of Women’s Non-Governmental Organizations. She coordinated the Women’s Continental Front for the Right to a Worthy Life, an organism that was dedicated to the fight against the intervention in Central America. Her ample and active trajectory in the women’s movement make her to a symbol of the fights for the discussions about the Law on Work, the reform of the Civil Code and of the Penal Code, and also a symbol of the pressures towards the Congress for the discussion of other certain laws.
As the good economist she is her time has been well administered, uniting two ways that would seem dissimilar, her academic life and her action for the public interest. She surprised us once again when she articulated those two levels of her public life and started in the University a Centre for Women’s Studies, who should study women’s organizations and their different activities.
“I was an academic but I also contributed to the communitarian practical work, working for the creation and development of women’s movement.
In the 90’s the fourth World-Wide Woman Conference was under preparation. Nora was there as a flood of freshness and energy, summoning the amplest expression of women of her country: indigenous, blacks, professionals, young, students, 59 women altogether. They have discussions on which women ‘rights they find as the most important, the ones with highest priority forming an agenda that included social, economic and political rights. They worked also on a theoretical frame to initiate the fight for the surpassing of the effects of the prevailing neo liberal model. A fight that could impel the defence of women‘s economic rights.
1998 was a year of political changes in Venezuela. The election of Hugo Chávez as President of the Republic, with his vindications of the ideas of Bolivar, raised a new margin of political fights. “We were interested in making our proposal heard and known. We arranged demonstrations every day in front of the Assembly and managed to give more presence to our gender vision into the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which today is a reference for the women in the world”.
Due to her long trajectory in women’s movements and her active attitude she is since 2001 president of the Woman’s Bank, which is a governmental post created by the administration of president Chávez. For this post she obtained the support of the Venezuelan women’s movement.
The challenge for Nora is “to contribute to the construction of a popular economy centred in the people. To go from the wild capitalism to a society based on solidarity, on cooperation and mutual aid “. The Woman’s Bank grants credits to the poorest women that do not have any type of guarantee, and for that reason they have a relatively high index of dilatoriness. Nevertheless the bank puts confidence in these women, because their sense of responsibility is also high.
Her plans, in that position, are related to empower the poor Venezuelan women so that they will be able to improve the quality of their lives. “We do not want poor and indebted women; we do not want women administering poverty”. The project is for the construction of an economic model with gender equality. (1000peacewomen).
And she says: “The economy must be at the service of human beings, not human beings at the service of the economy. And since 70% of those who live in conditions of poverty are women, economic change must start with women” … and: “Micro credit is an excuse to empower women. We want to create an economy based on co-operation and mutual support, a caring economy. We women won our rights in the constitution. We won Article 88, which recognizes that housewives create added value and must be compensated with social security. And Article 14 of the Land Act which prioritises women headed households in the distribution of land” … (full text).
Nora was also a consistent advocate of Article 88 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which recognizes the unwaged work of the often despised housewife in the home, looking after the family. Article 88, which would give women a small wage for home duties, has not yet been implemented, as there is massive opposition from many quarters. INAMUJER, the National Women’s organization, is fighting for Article 88 to be discussed and implemented as soon as possible. Nora maintains that Article 88 recognizes that housework is an economic activity that produces wealth and welfare, and is basically anti-imperialist. (full text).
Nora Castañeda, an economist committed to grassroots women, was appointed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to head the Women’s Development Bank when he agreed to women’s demand for a bank as a way of funding reforms to benefit the poorest families & communities.
Of African and Indigenous descent and the daughter of a low-income single mother, Ms. Castañeda is a remarkable woman in a remarkable time – one of great economic and social change.
Venezuela is the world’s 5th largest oil exporter, yet 80% of its people, mainly people of color, live in poverty. In 1998 they elected President Chávez to get the oil revenue back so they could tackle poverty and corruption. In 1999 they passed one of the most advanced constitutions in the world. In 2002 they defeated a coup carried out by the racist Venezuelan elite with the support of the US administration. Literacy, healthcare, housing, land rights … have all leapt forward. (full text).