Bolivia’s Struggle with Gender-Based Violence

Photo by USAG- Humphreys. From Flickr.

The number of women beaten, raped and murdered by their partners in Bolivia whilst the police remain apparently oblivious now stands at disproportionate levels compared to other South American countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that out of all of the Latin American countries, Bolivia suffers from the highest rates of domestic abuse.

The underlying cause of this epidemic of violence can be boiled down to the ingrained culture of machoism in Bolivia. This machoism culture is built on the widespead view that men are in control of the household and that aggressive behaviour is acceptable.

Whilst in Bolivia last year, I met a Bolivian friend for lunch who told me that even on her journey to our meeting she had witnessed domestic abuse. She had seen a woman and man fighting near the door to their house; the man then proceeded to shout abuse whilst violently dragging her into the house. Although this event allowed us to peer into the hidden world of abuse, one can be almost certain that worse things happen away from prying eyes.

In a culture where men are in charge, this sort of behaviour is often covered up, silenced and accepted, but when the abuse begins to have fatal consequences it cannot be pushed behind closed doors.

A report from the Centre of Information and Development of Women (CIDEM) states that ‘110 femicides – defined as a crime involving the violent and deliberate killing of a woman – were reported in Bolivia in 2013. A woman dies every three days in Bolivia; yet 97% of the femicides reported remain unpunished

It also goes further, reporting that not only has the number of women murdered increased, but the nature of the crimes has also become more horrific. One of the most harrowing cases included a pregnant woman being gang raped by her husband and his friends before being beaten to death. Others include a woman whose eyes were sliced out after being raped, and a heavily pregnant woman being murdered by a hitman hired by her husband.

Another prominent case was that of María Sonia Vásquez Tomás, a mother who was assaulted, raped and dismembered by her husband. Her death has pushed Bolivian women to stand up and fight back against the onslaught of violence.

The Bolivian President, Evo Morales has pushed women’s rights to the forefront of his presidential campaign with the enactment of law called ‘The Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence’ which states sixteen forms of violence against women and punishes the violent murder of women with 30 years in jail without the chance of parole.

However, many feel that this law carries little weight. Many Bolivian women say that if they went to the police to report abuse they would be dismissed because the authorities either don’t believe them or have no interest in helping them. Their feelings are supported by the statistics. Since the enactment of the law in 2013, there has actually been an increase in the number of femicides and only eight perpetrators convicted despite there being over 200 reported cases of femicide.

In order to solve this issue of domestic abuse, the culture of machoism needs to change. Groups which promote women’s rights are pushing for social systems which promote equality and justice, but change needs to come from every household in Bolivia so that young girls do not grow up to expect such terrible violence in their relationships.

Global Seven News

Jade Parker

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