Despite discourse of equality, Morales administration still machista, women’s organization says.
The word “revolution” is en vogue in Bolivia. The government of President Evo Morales says he is heading a “democratic and cultural” revolution in the heart of Latin America.
But for one women´s organization, his policies are chauvinistic, leaving out women from the process.
“The president has done nothing for women worth noting,” said María Galindo, one of the founders of La Paz-based women´s organization Mujeres Creando — or “Women Creating.” “Morales comes from a movement that fights for change, but he is machista. He even tells misogynist jokes in public. The women laugh at the jokes too, maybe because he mentions them.”
Bolivian society has historically been highly conservative and chauvinistic. Galindo says that this is rooted in long centuries of colonial rule and from some aspects of native Andean culture.
“Andean culture associates women with the land and with territory, which is held by men,” she said. “Later there is the inherited phenomenon of colonialism. The man who feels subordinated by foreign domination compensates for his impotence by taking it out on what’s beneath him: women.”
It is difficult to know the dimensions of violence against women in Bolivia. Official statistics only show the cases that have been reported, but Mujeres Creando says the prevalence is much greater.
“In our country, to beat your wife or girlfriend is a socially accepted conduct,” Galindo explained. “To live and tolerate violence is the norm that is instilled in women. The men who don´t beat [them] consider their non-violence a value, and they use it to blackmail women: ‘I don´t hit you; look how good I am.’”
Situation facing indigenous women
Mujeres Creando is one of the few organizations that openly question the situation facing indigenous women. Native communities make decisions in an assembly, but first women and men discuss the issue separately. But it is the men who really vote on the issue in the end.
Maintaining traditions is a central value of indigenous communities. But when members of communities migrate to urban areas, it is almost always the women who continue to use their traditional clothing. Their layered pollera skirts are not practical for city life, but women who stop wearing them are criticized back home for become too “Westernized.”
“In rural areas, men control women in a suffocating way,” Galindo said. “We recognize our right to ´not belong.’ We respect the decision to stop wearing polleras as well as the decision to keep using them, as long as it’s their own decision.”
For more than 15 years, Mujeres Creando has worked to change the patriarchic systems in Bolivia. They´ve used direct campaigns, civil disobedience and humor, and they defy those in power and the judicial system.
“We´re not trying to change the laws because that could take a lifetime,” she said. “We prefer direct action. We help women who want to halt their pregnancies, even though abortion is criminalized. If a woman has run away from home, we don´t want for a judge to order her abusive husband to give her things back. We simply accompany her to get what she needs, making sure her husband doesn´t beat her.”
The organization graffitis witty phrases around La Paz such as, “No saldrá Eva de la costilla de Evo” — “Eve won´t come out of Evo´s rib” and “Mujer que se organiza no plancha más camisas” — “The woman who organizes doesn´t iron anymore shirts.”
“We try to chip away at machista attitudes and ways of thinking by making fun of them,” said Galindo.
Las Alasitas, a festival of miniatures, is an excellent opportunity. Every Jan. 24, La Paz residents buy miniature houses, cars or dollars for Ekeko, the god of abundance, in hopes that he will provide the life-size objects to those who offer it to him.
In Mujeres Creando´s stand, they sell divorce papers and food for children. This year, they created a miniature statue of Evo Morales, holding a broom and carrying a baby on his back. In a public ceremony, Galindo managed to present the statue to Morales.
“He got nervous and passed the statue to his assistant,” she said. “He reacted with contempt.”
Mujeres Creando is not trying to represent or “save” Bolivian women. Members prefer to give an example that it is possible to break from societal norms.
“In Bolivian society, motherhood is a mandate,” Galindo said. “To be respected, a woman has to be a mother, preferably of many males. We violate these norms to show other women that it´s possible to live happily without a husband and without children, if that´s what one wants.”
The “home” Mujeres Creando runs is called “La Virgen de los Deseos” — “The Virgin of Desires” — in central La Paz.
The house is self-run and houses various women´s cooperatives, who support themselves on what they produce.
Mujeres Creando combines practice with theory, Galindo says. They run campaigns, workshops and run a daycare center for working mothers. The house also provides shelter to women seeking refuge from domestic violence, often arriving with several children.
Even though Galindo is one of the very few openly gay women in Bolivia, over time she has gained respect.
“Throughout Bolivia, people recognize me and greet me. Many people do not agree with us, but they know that we´re honest and we work for women´s rights,” she said. —Latinamerica Press.