A Global Network For and By Venezuelan Women

Nota original de Caracas Chronicles

by: Alejandra Márquez Janse, October 12, 2020

When María Corina Muskus Toro and Yenni Peña created a Facebook group in 2018 to connect with other Venezuelan women abroad, they didn’t know it would grow into a global web connecting more than two thousand of them.

Venezolanas Globales (VG) is now a network that provides resources and support for women of the Venezuelan diaspora in about 13 cities around the world. They hold local meetups, workshops on entrepreneurship and leadership, and provide information through online group chats, social media, a blog, and a website.

“There weren’t any similar initiatives,” said Muskus, director and co-founder. “There were many initiatives focused on Venezuelans in different cities or countries but this is the first initiative that unites Venezuelan women.”

Muskus, a feminist and human rights defender, moved to Mexico City after living a few years in Washington, D.C., where she obtained a master’s degree in Gender and Human Rights from the American University. She had a group of women in D.C. and craved to have something similar in her new city. She began to connect with some women she knew and, inspired by a similar network called Atlas Network, she and Peña eventually created an informal but private Facebook group where Venezuelan migrant women shared recommendations, contacts, and tips to adapt to their new countries.

VG now connects women in New York, Miami, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Lima, Quito, Madrid, London, Paris, and others.

They also developed an ambassador program that localizes the network’s efforts. A selected group of women leads the way in each city, planning workshops, in-person meetings and managing group chats.

Paola Albornoz is a content coordinator for VG and one of those ambassadors in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a journalist and feminist, she joined the network in 2019 and was chosen as an ambassador when the program started. She stresses the importance of groups such as this to find one’s ground when migrating.

“This group is born from a need to strengthen contacts towards someone who can recommend you a job, to find economic stability, or to build bridges for you with the health system and different things that come up in daily life and that, being away from your nucleus, you don’t have first hand,” she says.

Through VG, both Muskus and Albornoz have witnessed the characteristics, changes and challenges of Venezuelan migrant women.

Muskus says they comprise a high-skilled diaspora. Many women who have joined the network have a master’s degree and some even doctorates. She has also noticed their interests and needs vary depending on the city where they moved. For example, many who migrated to London have spent years there now, and mostly moved for academic or professional reasons. In contrast, migration to Colombia is more recent and mostly for economic reasons.

The transformation of their thinking and the drive to improve are also palpable.

“We’re not the same ones we were in Venezuela,” Muskus says. According to her, being exposed to different customs, languages, and people in their new countries has led the women to expand their knowledge and opinions about themselves and the world. They are also a “community thirsty of connecting.” They are ambitious to learn skills and tips from each other; eager to get new professional skills that can help them land jobs or even start their own businesses in their new homes.

Albornoz adds that the women are not only constantly learning, but also eager to share the knowledge with the others.

“Wherever one places a flag for Venezuelan women, she opens a path for the rest.”

Fighting Discrimination Abroad

Albornoz and Muskus haven’t been blind to the discrimination that these women have often faced. The two of them, along with the other women, have learned how machismo is prevalent in different places but manifests in different forms. In Perú and Colombia, for example, gender-based discrimination and xenophobia have been prominent, to the point where, last year, they didn’t even hold public events in Lima for fear of problems. In Mexico, they live weary of the rate of femicides that has skyrocketed since 2015.

However, migrating has given these women an awareness of how they were also victims in Venezuela, Albornoz and Muskus say. By discussing their experiences abroad and reflecting on their years in Venezuela, they have realized that our culture has subtle ways to show its gender bias.

According to Muskus, members of VG started to take matters into their own hands. Some in Colombia work in NGOs or human rights organizations, focusing on women’s issues. She and a group of women in Mexico also participated in this year’s Women’s Day march on March 8th. She had attended before with a group of women from Mexico and other countries, but this was the first time she attended only with Venezuelans.

They also turn to their meetings, group chats and workshops to educate themselves about what happens in their countries, learn about issues related to feminism and the LGBTQ+ community, discuss their experiences, and understand how to identify discrimination and micromachismo (subtle discrimination against women that can sometimes go unnoticed).

Quarantine Heightens Connectivity

With the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, VG took its regular meetings and workshops to Zoom and Instagram. They grew the content of their blog (with the dedication of Albornoz, Muskus points out) and social media presence. They started Instagram lives and takeovers in which members shared tips on anything from makeup to how to deal with migratory grief.

The virtual novelty also allowed for more connection between the local groups. Now, it’s not just the women in Buenos Aires networking with each other. It’s them meeting those in Mexico or the United States just as easy. Muskus and Albornoz say this has made VG feel more like a global community.

Passing the Knowledge Along

Muskus and Albornoz shared with us at Caracas Chronicles some of their advice for those women who are starting their careers and lives abroad:

Open up. You leave your home country with social norms and stereotypes. You     need to be flexible to understanding the new cultures and people you will     encounter abroad.

Strengthen your confidence. As a Venezuelan woman, your professional and personal     experiences are valuable to your new country. 

Don’t give up. Looking for a job in a foreign market is difficult, but you never     know when that offer or opportunity will arrive.

Be resilient. We have it hard when it comes to gender-based discrimination or     xenophobia, but you need to understand that everything is temporary and     new opportunities will come.

Stay in touch with your networks. Groups related to your career, women, or your     new country are fundamental to finding your footing in your new home and     making your immigration experience easier.

Keep in mind your value as a person. You may think that, as an immigrant, your     worth as a professional or community member must be kept in your luggage     or back in Venezuela. You are an immigrant, Albornoz says, but you’re working,     paying taxes, and trying to get your immigration documents. You are an     important part of your new community.

These tips highlight the goals of VG: to give visibility and support to Venezuelan women abroad through sorority, and to provide a space where members can recognize their potential and become an inspiration for others.

Any women interested in joining the network can do so through their website.