Bolivia: Violence against women is not improving

Opinion As new incidents of violence against women continue to make headlines in the United States, most recently dealing with fraternities in the University of…

President Evo Morales has supported new initiatives that will protect and empower women in Bolivia, but how successful will they be? (Photo: Facebook/@CIDEM)


As new incidents of violence against women continue to make headlines in the United States, most recently dealing with fraternities in the University of Virginia and the past of famous comedian Bill Cosby, the situation in land-locked Bolivia is just as grim.

President Evo Morales has supported new initiatives that will protect and empower women, but how successful they will be is debatable given an ongoing wave of horrific crimes.

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Today, November 25, is the International Day of Violence Against Women, and neither the United States nor Bolivia can brag about meaningful achievements in terms of gender equality.

Numbers and Responses

The Bolivian head of state is not blind to the hardships Bolivian women face, and wants to not only protect them via legal means but also change the country’s machista culture. His goal is to “enforce family rights and help eliminate the patriarchal model.”

Women protest in Bolivia against abuse.

Women held a march in Bolivia on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. (Photo: Facebook/@CIDEM)

Initiatives to counter violence against women in Bolivia are, sadly, very necessary.

Bolivia’s Centro de Informacion y Desarrollo de la Mujer (CIDEM) reported that 169 women were murdered between January and September of this year. Out of that number, 103 cases fall under Law 348, passed last year and which carries a 30-year prison sentence for individuals found guilty of femicide.

One of the most appalling of these crimes occurred in early November when the body of a four-year old was found in Santa Ana de Moseten, a town located in the La Paz department. She had been raped and then asphyxiated to death. A 16-year-old young man was arrested – he declared himself guilty of not only murdering the girl but also of the murder of an eight-year-old girl in October.

It seems that even the possibility of a 30-year prison sentence has not deterred criminals and psychopaths from carrying out violent attacks against women in the Andean country.

Meanwhile, the Oruro department, which borders Chile, also has some tragically high numbers. Between January and October of this year, there were 1,592 reported cases of violence against women. Some 70 percent of them were threats and insults while the rest were physical aggressions.

Evo’s Thoughts

In spite of generally pro-gender equality initiatives, I would be remiss to not acknowledge that the Bolivian head of state has sometimes linked some bizarre facts together regarding the situation of Bolivian women.

Most memorably, the president declared that soap operas have a negative effect on gender equality as they, according to Morales, promote teenage pregnancy, infidelity and that acts of violence in TV (i.e. men against women) are imitated by the youth. He is also known for occasionally making sexist comments in his speeches and meet-and-greet ceremonies.

In 2011, he called for his male supporters to “flirt with” indigenous Amazonian women in order to convince them to support an unpopular government project. The head of state has apologized for his remarks, saying that he says them because of the “trust and familiarity” he has with his nation’s population.

Many women are protesting in Bolivia.

People in Bolivia protest (Photo: Facebook/@CIDEM)

Certainly, while it is good that a head of state is friendly towards his people, rather than behaving like a despot, Morales’ “jokes” are unacceptable given the violence his female citizens have to endure.

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In my research, I tried to find some positive news about the situation of Bolivian women. For example, it is an encouraging development that femicide now carries a 30-year prison sentence.

Moreover, gender equality in the country’s government and armed forces have achieved some important milestones: in 2013, for the first time the Bolivian Army promoted a woman to the rank of General. Meanwhile, out of 37 Senators in Bolivia’s congress (it has a two-chamber system), 19 of them are women (14 belong to the ruling MAS party while 5 are members of the opposition).

Those are the good news as they represent encouraging numbers and barrier-breaking developments. The bad news is that a high number of female Senators and harsher prison sentences have not halted the wave of violence against women.

This is particularly upsetting as the country has a population of over 10 million where women are actually the slight majority (50.1percent to 49.9 percent at the time).

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President Morales and other local and federal state officials have made a plethora of declarations about the importance of Bolivian women speaking out if they have been victims of a crime. However the problem runs much deeper than that.

A report unveiled on the International Day of the Girl (October 10) analyzed gender issues and the status of Bolivian girls and young women in five municipalities. The report argues that women are treated differently since birth as parents prefer to have a male child who can have a professional career whereas girls are viewed as destined for housework.

President Morales can boast multiple successful initiatives throughout his lengthy presidency, but gender equality in his nation is still a distant utopia. Not that the rest of the world seems to be doing much better.