News for Monday 6 August is taken from The Guardian
A growing number of Bolivia’s indigenous women are participating in politics. Though spread across great distances and representing a wide range of experiences, many of these women share a similar history. Most started out leading civil society organisations and then went on to run for local public office, often overcoming resistance within their own families.
“The major obstacles [to accessing a government position] are domestic duties and economic issues,” says Lucinda Villca, a council woman from Santiago de Andamarca, a municipality in the western district of Oruro. Villca is an Aymara mother of nine who used to be one of the native leaders of her quinoa and llama farming ayllu [community]. She is one of four council women who shared their experiences with IPS during a national meeting of women leaders from rural local governments held recently in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba.
“We go out on the fields early in the morning to help our husbands, tending the crops or taking the cattle out to pasture. We come home at night and we have to fix supper and make some time to weave so we can earn extra money for the house,” Villca says. “With these obligations, there’s no time for anything else. I now have a greater responsibility. As a member of the indigenous council my mission was to work for my community. In this new post I have to work for the future of my municipality.” .
Marina Cuñaendi, a 55-year-old council woman from Urubichá, says: “I used to be a housewife. I’m a Guarani, and like many women in the countryside, I have no regular job. I was working for a women’s organisation when I was asked to run for office.”
Urubichá is one of Bolivia’s poorest areas, despite being located in Santa Cruz, the country’s most prosperous district. According to the last census, 85.5% of its 6,000 inhabitants – mostly Guarani people – live in extreme poverty.
Before being nominated in 2010, Cuñaendi had never thought of holding public office. She planted rice and corn and, in her “free time”, weaved to support her seven children, along with her husband. In Urubichá, she says, women have no time to organise and are marginalised from political life. She admitted that she had to consult her husband and children, who encouraged her.
In San Julián, another municipality of Santa Cruz, Yolanda Cuellar, a Guarani, was deemed to be “too young” to hold a municipal position. She turned 21 a month after being elected council woman in April 2010, on the ticket of the Without Fear Movement, opposing the Movement to Socialism party, which governs the municipality and the country.
“They didn’t trust me because I was young, and a woman to boot. In our municipality, sexism is very strong. Now there are four of us women in the council,” the accountant and mother of two says. Cuellar has her husband’s support. “He understands me and tells me not to quit because people voted for me; he tells me to fight for what I want and not give up just because somebody doesn’t want me there,” she says.
But the women’s lack of political experience and the discrimination by male peers have not made their work on the council easy. Also, being a council woman is very different from being an indigenous leader. “There’s a lot of bureaucracy, which slows down any project, but the worst is the lack of support. Our ideas are ignored and we feel alone. It’s like nobody is interested in doing anything for young people and women,” Cuellar says.
San Julián’s economy is primarily agricultural, but benefits from the commercial and services activities linked to the busy highway that runs through it. However, 57.9% of its more than 70,000 inhabitants live in extreme poverty.
Under the 2009 constitution and other laws, women must occupy at least 50% of all elected government positions. To ensure that percentage, candidate lists must be drawn up by alternating between women and men. At present, 43% of the mayors and council persons in Bolivia’s 327 local governments are women, and 96% of them are holding public office for the first time.
Lidia Alejandro, a 50-year-old Aymara council woman from Llallagua, a municipality in the mining district of Potosí, in western Bolivia, also identified inexperience as a factor that puts them at a disadvantage compared with their male counterparts.
“I became a council woman without knowing a thing about how municipal affairs are run. I’m a teacher, but holding office is very different. I couldn’t even speak up at a meeting or give statements to the press,” Alejandro says. “I had to learn as I went along.” Training workshops helped her, but training takes time, she says, and that causes problems with husbands as they reproach women leaders for neglecting their homes.
Alejandro is troubled by the failure to achieve the goal of lifting the women of her municipality out of poverty due to a lack of specialists who can design projects to meet their needs. Bolivian legislation requires that part of the annual budget at all government levels be allocated to spending on projects that target the needs of women and other vulnerable groups. But most of the allocations are not spent, and the funds are either returned or transferred to other areas. “Women have come to us to complain. ‘How is it that we have four council women and they’re not doing anything for us?’ they say. We’ve tried to join forces, but the truth is that we all have our political loyalties,” Cuellar says.
Natasha Loayza, a specialist with the UN women’s office in Bolivia, says there has been great progress in terms of women’s participation in politics, furthered by the constitution and various laws. “The challenge is to translate this legislation into action, into real and concrete participation,” she says.
The UN women’s office’s Semilla (seed) programme, a three-year pilot initiative that is in its final year, helps women in rural districts exercise their economic and political rights. Loayza says one of the programme’s goals is to motivate more women to participate in politics by showing them the meaningful involvement of those who are already participating.
“Women can now access [public office], but it’s very hard. It’s a colossal task. The women who have achieved positions of responsibility in public bodies can bear witness to the problems they face every day to make their presence felt, and not just occupy decision-making positions on paper,” Loayza says. “We’re still at a point where women have to work hard to really participate.”
The programme is being implemented by the ministry of equal opportunities in 18 rural districts with $9m (£5.7m) in financing from the UN and, so far, has benefited 4,000 women.
- A Filmmaker’s Mission: Shining Light on Afro-Bolivian Invisibility (losafrolatinos.com)
- ‘End of Capitalism’: Bolivia to Expel Coca-Cola (thetruthseeker.co.uk)
- Introducing Alejandro Fernández: Afro-Bolivian Activist (losafrolatinos.com)