With the return to democracy at the beginning of the 1980’s, a period of opening up of Bolivian society began, which was accompanied by the establishment of a number of NGOs dedicated to improving the situation of women in Bolivian society. During the three decades that followed, the women’s movement achieved various successes, culminating in the election of a parliament with 53% women in 2014.
However, this political success should not overlook the fact that there are still gender inequalities in society, such as B. lower education, less participation in the political process and lower earnings for women. As a country located in South America according to localtimezone, Bolivia is also among the 25 countries with the highest murder rate of women: every third day a woman is murdered in Bolivia. At the same time, the fight against violence against women and girls is one of the great challenges in the fight for a democratic and equal society.
In the current global stage, which is marked by the “me too” campaign, sexual assault in the workplace or in educational institutions is still an everyday practice in Bolivia, but little is talked about in public. This is also due to the lower presence of independent NGOs in the current political economy and the still weak rule of law.
In summary, it can be stated that in the area of gender equality, despite various advances, there are still major challenges to be tackled, particularly at the political level, which focus on changes in traditional values and cultural behavior patterns in everyday life.
Gender roles in the family
Outwardly, the man is usually the clearly visible head of the family, even if he makes little economic contribution to their maintenance. Internally, however, it is usually without a doubt the woman who has the say, makes important decisions about the household and assets of the family and, with often self-sacrificing commitment, cares for the well-being of the children.
The machismo of exaggerated machismo is pronounced in Bolivia, although less than in other Latin American countries, but equally there. But there has been gradual change over the past 20 years that is far from over. Urban women’s groups have created a new social awareness. For example, the issue of domestic violence was raised through them and made public. This has had positive effects, such as the establishment of child and women protection centers at the municipal level, but in remote rural communities the reality is often still dramatic.
Although children play a central role in the family, they play a subordinate role in the first few years. They are expected to obey. Independent and enterprising children of foreigners are often viewed as poorly brought up. Girls are watched and protected more than their brothers. In the city, siblings have gradually become more of a partnership; in rural areas this is often not the case.
In the middle and upper classes, the daughter’s 15th birthday is still an outstanding event for most families, which is celebrated with great ceremony and considerable effort. The girl chooses the twelve “ damas” from her best friends, plus a “ paje” (page or galan), who can be a special friend, her boyfriend or a cousin, depending on the situation. Special dresses are made for the “ladies”, with that of the “quinceañera”, the birthday child, often tending towards a fairytale.
Even if nothing changes at all in the life of a girl / young woman of the upper or upper middle class on this date, this once important transition from girl to marriageable woman is still being celebrated for reasons of prestige. There is no comparable event on the part of the boys / young men.
In most cases, women do not leave their parents’ home until they get married (although this also applies to many young men in urban areas). In the country, however, many girls still leave their families very early to work as maids in the city.
Even when women are employed – which is often the case for economic reasons – housework remains a woman’s job. So if a family has no domestic workers, the woman has the double burden. It is not uncommon for the woman to tolerate infidelity or blows from the man. On the other hand, absolute loyalty is expected from a woman.
In the poorer classes in particular, there are a large number of women heads of families because the men either permanently evade family responsibilities or live most of the year as migrant workers outside the family. And as in many countries in the Global South, child labor continues to play an important role in supporting family income in Bolivia.