Unlikely revolutionaries

Mike Clulow | Nov 05, 2016
CDIMA women of the revolution
On a recent visit to Womankind's partners in Bolivia, our Policy and Programmes Officer Mike Clulow was inspired by the women he met who are seeking a revolutionary end to violence.

The 20th century’s most iconic revolutionary, Che Guevara, met his downfall in rural Bolivia. According to some analysts, he misread the Andean peasantry whose conservatism, acceptance of the given order and wariness of outsiders ensured that he would receive little, if any, support. Similar mistakes have been made by home-grown Bolivian communists and by the Maoist Shining Path terrorists in neighbouring Peru. However, last week, five hours’ drive north of La Paz in Mocomoco municipality, I met dozens of true revolutionaries.

Womankind’s partner CDIMA – the Centre for the Integrated Promotion of Aymara Women – has been training women and men in the communities of this remote rural municipality to be leaders in the fight to eradicate violence against women and girls (VAWG). Such violence is widespread in urban and rural locations, in all sectors of society and in all countries. Nevertheless, its eradication is particularly challenging in very traditional, male-dominated societies.

A truly revolutionary movement

In Bolivia, women are closed out from public spaces and lack awareness of their rights and the laws that support them. Men are unlikely to speak out against violence, indeed both men and women tend to justify and naturalise VAWG, accepting it as the way of the world. Now women and men from the nine districts of the municipality have learnt about their rights and Bolivia’s legislation against VAWG and have grouped together in Justice and Rights Committees (JRC) to guide and train their peers, support survivors of violence, and work with traditional leaders and municipal authorities to ensure that justice is done. Together, they form a truly revolutionary movement.

Speaking out

Many of the women trained by CDIMA have themselves experienced violence.

Natividad Mamani Calle left her abusive husband four years ago after she realised that her small child had physical and mental disabilities as a result of her being punched in the stomach when pregnant, one of many instances of violence in their relationship. She was supported in this by members of the local JRC in Italque and decided to join them in their work:

"I opened my eyes. Before … I didn’t know about human rights, particularly women’s rights. I thought that only men should be respected, like our parents’ taught us. They told me that they should always be treated well, that we should offer them the best of everything so that they always look after us and value us as women … So, since I opened my eyes, I am really determined to learn about my rights and those of my sisters, of my neighbours."

Change is happening

Another member of the same JRC, Cristina Chujo, spoke about the changes she has experienced and the importance of the JRCs’ work:

"Now I can express my opinion in the meetings and the authorities listen to us. This is real progress for us women … there is still machismo in our municipality but it’s clearly changing little by little … because we women don’t keep quiet anymore and our leaders have to listen to us.

"It’s important for us to participate and not behave like before. We have to work for the women of Mocomoco because there is still a lot of macho behaviour. It’s not only adult women who are the victims but girls and boys and old people too. This really concerns those of us in the Justice and Rights Committees. We’ve come together in these committees to defend women’s rights and eradicate the violence that exists in the municipality."

Future commitments

The work of these unlikely revolutionaries, together with CDIMA, has received the support of the local authorities, at first cautiously but more firmly as the work progresses. The committees have been recognised by a local decree and provided with a small budget, while a lawyer, originally paid by CDIMA, has now been hired by the council to run the Municipal Integrated Legal Service.

At a ceremony which I attended, to honour the JRC members and spread awareness about their work, the mayor publically committed himself to pass a by-law recognising the JRC, further consolidating them and ensuring the future of their work to end violence against women and girls.

¡Qué viva la revolución!

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