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Women push for gender equality in Bolivia

Reina, Celestina and Gertrudes

“Our goal is to implement the law on gender equality! It states that 50 % of all candidates on election should be women. That is in on all levels; municipal councils, departmental structures and the national assembly”. Getrudes Flores is responsible for organizing training for women in Bartolina Sisa in Cochabamba Department.

“Today men hold almost all leading positions in society, but the elections in October 2014 are the first since the new law”.

Bartolina Sisa is the national indigenous peasant women organization (see box). They organize political training and develop women leaders from local to national level all over Bolivia.

Bartolina Sisa 

The national women farmers’ organisation “Bartolina Sisa”: Confederación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas, Indígenas y Originarias de Bolivia ”Bartolina Sisa”(CNMCOIB BS), established in 1983,  is part of the national peasants’ organization (CSUTCB). Bartolina Sisa’s aim is to organize indigenous women peasants 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.

“Many women will be elected”, Getrudes continues, “but they need training to be able to represent their electorates and participate in political processes with knowledge and confidence”.

“We will experience a brain drain within our organization as our members are elected to public posts”, she says. “Therefore we must work hard to recruit and train new women”.

The bus is slowly climbing steep hills of red earth. In the surrounding, dry hills peasants are growing potatoes and quinoa on small plots. It stops in Japo, the central village for 17 small communities counting a total of 600 families, at an altitude of 4100 meters. About 50 % of the women are Bartolina Sisas.

The meeting in the community house is attended by representatives of Bartolina Sisa from different provinces of Cochabamba. Celestina Huancha is one of the traditional leaders in Japo and a participant in the political training program organized by the peasant union of Cochabamba (FSUTCC). She’s dressed in a traditional costume with handmade pearl adornments, a woven colorful shawl is wrapped around her shoulders, and on her head she carries a sombrero with a green ribbon.

“We need training to understand how society works and how it can be utilized by us”, she says.

Natividad Guzman, from Bartolina Sisa in Tapacari, is already a municipal council representative. In her municipality women in many villages want to organize.

“We may be broke, but we’re not poor“, she says. “We have our traditions and our culture, but people need training to be able to participate, influence and implement political change.”

Reina Choque, from Chapare, has been active in Bartolinas since 2003. She is divorced and lives with her daughter and sister on a small plot where they grow potatoes, maize, fruit and vegetables.

“I got engaged in the struggle to have our land registered”, she continues. “According to the law on gender equality land should be registered in both the man’s and the women’s name. There are still some plots in our area that are only registered on the man, but we are following up those cases”.

“We will press hard for the new law to be implemented”, she smiles, “otherwise it is just blah, blah, blah”.

17.09.2014 | Helle Berggrav Hanssen