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Venezuela’s Committed Counselor: An Interview with Belmar Franceschi
As the program manager at Asociación Civil de Planificación Familiar (PLAFAM) in Venezuela, Belmar Franceschi is responsible for implementing all of the organization’s programs related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. She began working as a counselor at PLAFAM’s clinic in Petare while earning a social work degree in 1993. PLAFAM is a pioneer in sexual and reproductive health services delivery and advocacy in Venezuela, and it is a regional leader in its efforts to defend the rights of women and LGBT people.
For Belmar, the training she received while working with PLAFAM was fundamental; it encouraged her to think more deeply about the discrimination women face, and she gained a profound understanding of the importance of gender equality and sexual rights in her country.
What motivates you to work to end gender-based violence in Venezuela?
As a counselor, I provided legal and emotional support to women, and offered resources for their care and protection. When I joined PLAFAM, I participated as co-facilitator of the support groups we hold for women who have experienced violence. Working with these women gives me a lot of motivation to continue learning about the way gender-based violence functions in our society. I try to stay informed about new opportunities in order to strengthen PLAFAM’s work on such an important yet stigmatized issue.
How does PLAFAM respond to gender-based violence?
Our work is comprehensive and approached from a variety angles, including staff training, incorporating gender-based violence detection within health service provision, offering support groups for women who have experienced violence, and making legal and counseling referrals.
What is gender-based violence like in Venezuela?
Although we do not have official data on the prevalence of violence against women in Venezuela, there are non-official statistics from several NGOs that work on the issue. In 2011, the Public Ministry reported that it received between 15 and 45 complaints of gender-based violence each day.
The main factors that contribute to gender-based violence relate to the patriarchal culture: stereotypes about gender roles, a lack of knowledge about the law, and institutional inequality. The few institutions that address gender-based violence aren’t equipped to provide adequate support to women, much less impose sanctions on perpetrators of violence, or give either the victims or the perpetrators psychological and community care. The legal support is insufficient and public employees aren’t sensitized to the needs of survivors of violence, so they often re-victimize women who come to them to make a complaint.
In February, PLAFAM held public sessions on sexual and reproductive health. What impact will these sessions have on gender-based violence?
These sessions are intended to showcase PLAFAM’s work on gender-based violence prevention and response to professionals working in the educational, psychological, and medical fields. We aim to strengthening the rights of the most vulnerable individuals and promote sexual and reproductive autonomy. The sessions demonstrate our commitment to women’s health in a variety of ways. PLAFAM’s programs and services mean to support women’s ability to make their own decisions about their emotional and physical well-being.
If you could tell your government to change one thing to help end gender-based violence in Venezuela, what would it be?
Venezuela is currently undergoing a rather severe institutional crisis, where fundamental human rights like education and health are being compromised. Sexual and reproductive health laws are being shelved by the national government, and laws intended to protect women from violence are ineffective. This makes it imperative for us to keep pushing for more recognition of the need to address this issue and to cultivate our own capacity to efficiently and comprehensively respond to women’s sexual and reproductive health needs.