Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Feminism in Bolivia

Feminism in Bolivia is a complicated issue; that much is clear as soon as you begin to research the continuing struggle for equal rights in South America’s poorest country. Many of the problems regarding gender inequality can be related directly to the machismo culture, which is still prevalent across the whole of Latin America, particularly in rural areas. There is, however, an extensive network of women who continue to take action against the traditional patriarchal society, demanding a change in attitude towards gender equality.
Machismo culture is the term given to the idea of men being superior to women; a culture which has existed across the globe in one form or another for thousands of years. In indigenous Bolivian cultures, machismo is still prevalent by society and women are expected to be subservient to their husbands and fathers. Even in modern day Bolivia, seven out of ten women experience some form of mental or physical abuse as a result of the machismo regime.

Maria Galindo, leader of Mujeres Creando
However, there are plenty of women in Bolivia who are taking a stand against gender inequality, albeit in different ways. One of the most well known feminist groups in Bolivia is Mujeres Creando, an extreme feminist group who are based in La Paz. Led by Maria Galindo and her partner, two of the few lesbian activists in Bolivia; the group do not allow men to join. Mujeres Creando use a variety of different methods to promote their demands for equal rights, however the most obvious is the graffiti which can be seen on the walls of various buildings around La Paz; they believe that the streets are the best place to establish a relationship with the public. They also incorporate street theatre, radio and television into their ongoing fight for equal rights. Unlike many other feminist groups in Bolivia, Mujeres Creando are not affiliated with any NGOs or charities, being instead comprised of a group of Bolivian women who work hard to maintain their support network. This includes free legal advice for women who have been victims of physical or sexual violence and night classes on a variety of subjects, including feminist law. But, as aforementioned, feminism is not so clear-cut in Bolivia. Although there are many groups similar to Mujeres Creando across the country, practising feminism as we know it in western culture, there is another group of indigenous women who are fighting for a different kind of gender equality.

A portrait of Bartolina Sisa
The Bartolinas are a group of indigenous ‘peasant’ women, named after the iconic Bartolina Sisa, who was an Aymaran woman executed in 1782 after being captured by the Spanish for leading an army with her husband to hold the city of La Paz under siege. The Bartolinas do not consider themselves feminists, but instead work to promote their idea of “complementarity”; that men and woman do not have equal roles in society, but instead have different things to contribute. The Bartolina organisation reaches over 100,000 indigenous women across Bolivia, and is the biggest group of its kind. Instead of taking action against the machismo culture and promoting a Western-notion of equal rights for women, the Bartolinas focus on gaining a higher status as native women, for example, fair political and legal representation, ending domestic violence and shared decision-making in government.

There is still more ground for feminism to cover in Bolivia, in whichever guise, and progress for women’s rights has been fought for hundreds of years, and is still far from a resolved issue, despite the numerous victories won.

Mujeres Creando graffiti in La Paz
Written by: Hannah Emblen
Edited by: Liam Hilton

Editor’s Note: Hannah’s article was chosen for publication in the Inspira magazine and this entry will be updated with information of the publication once it has gone to print.

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