Marisol is an indigenous leader in Cochabamba, Bolivia who, like many indigenous women, had to migrate to the city in search of better opportunities. “Being a woman and indigenous here is the worst thing that can happen to you, having two X chromosomes in Bolivia is a liability” she says.
Petronila Aliaga, a councillor in Colquencha, a rural community in the south of La Paz, says: “I’ve been bullied to try to force me to resign” “Every time I went to a meeting they’d try to force me to resign. First I stayed quiet, then I stopped going. They came to my house three times to get me to resign. My family was terrified,” she recalls. Over the past two years she has faced a barrage of attacks and intimidation, including a threat to kidnap her and set her on fire.
In Bolivia, where 40% of the population is indigenous, is the Latin American country with the highest rates of violence against women (7 out of 10 women). Bolivian women that live in rural communities and have recently migrated to the urban cities usually do not know Spanish because being excluded from the rest of the population that knows Spanish. Indigenous women tend to work long hours as street vendors or domestic worker in the urban cities, with less days off and low pay.
An indigenous group, the Aymaras believe in the term “Chachawarmi”. The term represents an ideal of complementarity between chacha (man) and warmi (woman), and celebrates these distinct but equally valued roles. They believe that women and men are different, and therefore they have different responsibilities within the Chachawarmi system. Moreover, in many communities there is the view that a marital problem is not something that the community should interfere. And women that leave abusive partners, do not fit the indigenous reality, where events such as this can result in expulsion from the community.
Although women’s participation in politics is growing, Bolivia’s female leaders still struggle to make their voices heard. The most powerful indigenous women’s organization: “Bartolina Sisa” advocates for equal rights, political and economic participation, and respect for exercise the lives of women between town and country. At the same time, it is worth mentioning that the Bartolinas take a clear stance against abortion and feminism. They recognize there is still a lot of racism and machismo, but now that structure is changing.
The social pattern in which Bolivian women are locked is due to the contrast between, on one hand those defined as “agringados” or those who want to imitate the capitalist lifestyle and on the other, those who have roots and refuse to leave them behind.
The problem is not about leaving our roots or trying to replicate other ideal models. It is about fighting inequality and injustice through culturally appropriate programs where female members of the community promote issues of rights and non-violence. Construct our own model as a country with the female participation and translate that into something concrete that will truly change the gender face of this country is the real challenge. Only then can we promote a gender equality that is free of discrimination against women.