Bolivian Indigenous Women’s Struggles in Politics

IPS had a story up recently on a group of Bolivian indigenous women who are attempting to break through both gendered and ethnic barriers in national politics, with mixed success. The article does a great job shedding light on the daily struggles and challenges that face women who want to become involved in their communities:

“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 explains.

“With these obligations, there’s no time for anything else,” said this Aymara mother of nine who used to be one of the native leaders of her quinoa and llama farming ayllu (community).

“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,” she explained, describing an experience she shares with other indigenous leaders elected to local governments.

While some of these women have the support of their families, they don’t necessarily find a system ready to work with and accept them, however.

But these women’s lack of political experience and the constant discrimination by male peers have not made the work in the council easier. Being a councilwoman is also 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 said.

This isn’t that surprising, given how much politics is still a masculine arena throughout the hemisphere, including the United States. Certainly, women are making real gains in politics – the presidencies of Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and the former presidency of Michelle Bachelet in Chile show that real barriers are being broken, at least for now. But as the women’s experiences in Bolivia remind us, there is still a long, long way to go before women’s voices are better heard and their interests better represented in politics.


About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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