Aymara women hold their political leaders to account

Catherine Klirodotakou | Dec 13, 2015
Women in La Paz, Bolivia
Programme Manager for Bolivia, Catherine Klirodotakou, recounts how on her recent visit, she met women in Bolivia raising their voices to call an end to impunity towards violence.

Last month I attended a conference in La Paz, Bolivia, in which over 400 local women, women’s rights organisations, government representatives and authorities such as the police came together to look at how the law is meant to protect women and girls from violence and strengthen women’s participation in politics.

Despite the law impunity persists

Bolivia has some of the most progressive laws and policies in the world in relation to gender equality, discrimination and promoting women’s rights. But despite their existence, throughout the day we heard from women telling of how these laws were being violated on a daily basis with near impunity. For the women attending and the women’s rights organisations that represent them, the focus of the day was to get the politicians and authorities to understand how women are being affected and what needs to be done to address this situation.

Centro de Promocion de la Mujer Gregoria Apaza and CDIMA are two organisations that Womankind supports in Bolivia and who helped to organise the conference. Nora, one of the women attending, who got up at three in the morning to make the long journey to the capital, explained why she wanted to come along:

“[In my community] if a woman is a victim of violence, even if she goes to the police to report, at best the police will explain they don’t have the resources to follow up her complaint and at worst their ignorance of specific provisions in the law means they might send her home saying that she should resolve her situation privately.”

Aymara women setting out their manifesto to end violence

For CDIMA this situation has prompted them – with the support of Womankind – to establish community based committees of men and women who are trained to identify situations of violence and then help women report it to the proper authorities. To date 130 people have been trained and are now active in their communities. The project has been so successful that the Mayor of the region has formally recognised the existence of the committees and has worked with the council to ensure that there will be funds available to support their work.

Indigenous women are speaking out

Turning the attention back to the conference, the majority of the 400 women participating came from rural farming communities and all of them were indigenous Aymara. Most were educated only up until primary level and for 90% of them this was the first time they had come to the capital, yet alone attended an event like this.

Aymara women committee members

Committee members explain how difficult it is to report violence in rural communities
The women I spoke to explained how difficult it is to participate in community discussions, as women traditionally are not expected or encouraged to voice their opinions in public. Yet here they were getting up on stage and talking confidently to a room of over 500 people. What has enabled this change? Being given opportunities and support to gain the confidence to participate and contribute to issues that affect them, learning about the constitution, the laws and that their voice is important as they represent half the population.

These opportunities have been provided by organisations like CDIMA. They often work in hard to reach communities where strong patriarchal traditions exist and there is little contact with the outside world. They are able to work in these communities, when often the formal authorities cannot and so they have been able to act as a bridge to link up women with the police or social services.

That’s not to say that problems still do not persist. Women explained how there is an ingrained culture of silence and it’s very difficult for women to speak out about violence especially in the home. That is why the committees that CDIMA has created also work tirelessly to raise awareness and sensitise the whole community, and these efforts are more successful given that the committees are composed of both women and men.

By the end of the day, there was a feeling of elation among the women because they had come, spoken and had their concerns acknowledged. But they were not complacent and as they left to get on the buses that would take them on their long journeys back to their communities, despite their exhaustion they were already planning how they would follow up with the authorities to honour the commitments made.

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