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 comedianBill 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.
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.”
Initiatives to counter violence against women in Bolivia are, sadly, very necessary.
Bolivia’sCentro 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.
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 ofBolivian 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.
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.
In my research, I tried to find some positive news about the situation of Bolivian women. For example, it is an encouraging development thatfemicidenow 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.