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Women leaders in Bolivia

-Through training we have become aware of our rights, says Bolivian farmer Vincenta Sullca. -When we stand together we are stronger.

She’s wearing the traditional Quechua dress; a short, curved, shiny, red skirt, with a laced, peached colored blouse. Her long braids are tied together on her back, and she has a sombrero made from the jipijapa plant on her head.

Bartolina Sisa 

  • Confederación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas, Indígenas y Originarias de Bolivia ”Bartolina Sisa”(CNMCOIB BS), established in 1983,  is part of the national farmers’ organization (CSUTCB).
  • Bartolina Sisa's aim is to organize indigenous women farmers’ and promote their rights.
  • The organisation is organized on different levels; local communities, municipalities, provinces, and departments all over the country.
  • BS leaders are represented in in local and national government structures, as well as in the Plurinational Assembly.
  • The organization provides leadership training and information work to strengthen women’s influence in society and to stop violence against women.
  • NPA has worked with Bartolina Sisa since 2005, and supports the departmental organizations of Bartolina Sisa in Cochabamba (FDMCOIC- BS) and Santa Cruz (FDMCSC-BS), in addition to the national level.

“We often think better than men”, she continues, “we are more concerned about the health and education of our children. We need to increase our production to get out of poverty and prevent people from leaving rural areas”.

20 local women leaders in Bartolina Sisa, the national organization for indigenous campesinas, have gathered in Santa Rosita community in Buena Vista, three hours’ drive outside Santa Cruz.

Strong women

“In the beginning our husbands wouldn’t let us go to meetings, but meetings with both men and women broke down barriers”, Vincenta continues.

Now a Bartolina Sisa woman is the Mayor in Buena Vista municipality, and three out of five representatives in the municipal council are women.  Also, three women from the Department of Santa Cruz are in the Plurinational Assembly.

Access to land is crucial

The table is set with cherimoya, pineapple, mandarins, peanuts, watermelon, cheese, and varieties of bananas – all proudly presented as products from the women’s own farms. The struggle for land has always been high on Bartolina Sisa’s agenda. The Constitution (2009) secures dual ownership and as a result new titles include both the man and the woman.

“This is important”, says Felipa Merino, “men can no longer abandon their families, sell the land, and leave the women and children with nothing”.

Felipa has climbed every step on the organizational ladder since she started by organizing 60 women selling sombreros in the informal marked when she was 28 years old. Now she is the President of Bartolina Sisa in the Department Santa Cruz. There are approximately 50 000 members in the department.

Must listen to women

Lack of land is also high on the agenda. The plots families have are too small to be divided further. As a result many young people leave for the cities or for other countries to find work.

“So far democratic participation and building the organization has been our main focus, but economic development will be prioritized in the time to come”, Felipa continues. “We must listen to the women in the communities. As a leader I represent them. They know what their problems are”.

22.01.2014 | Helle Berggrav Hanssen