30 de Enero: Hagamos un cambio, y no sólo desde arriba
Several days ago on the blog, I quoted a friend lamenting that, after Bolivian president Evo Morales elevated a high-profile woman to the senate, he suddenly asserted that men and women are equal–and implicitly, that women no longer have any need to organize. As if in response, several articles emerged this week celebrating the “unprecedented gender parity” of Evo’s new cabinet, which is made up of 10 male and 10 female members. (See here for an example of an article in Spanish, here for one in English.)
Don’t get me wrong–gender parity in government is clearly a good thing, although female cabinet members do not necessarily equal feminist ones. The danger of Evo’s “unprecedented” move, however, is its punch line–the insistence that now, women are equal to men, and their activism, obsolete.
While reports of Evo’s new “gender harmonious” cabinet all but flooded the international news, an interview with dissenting feminist activist Dunia Mokrani Chávez went largely unnoticed. (See here for the original Spanish version, here for the English.) Mokrani, a political analyst and one of the founders of local feminist organization Tejedoras de Sueños, notes that leftist political circles in Bolivia are not necessarily any less machista than conservative ones. Although this may be true in many countries, in Bolivia, this contradiction seems particularly stark. In the 1970s, arguably the most militant group of workers in the world–Bolivian miners–were also wife-beaters who vigorously opposed the formation of housewives’ committees in the mines.
In previous postings, I have noted the very real effects of machismo–both institutional and domestic–on the lives of Bolivian women. An estimated 7 of 10 women in Bolivia suffer physical violence, and rates of feminicide, sexual violence, and maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion are equally alarming. So, what happens when the state institutes quota systems to achieve gender parity in a society in which the average man believes he owns his wife?
In the words of Mokrani, “there are…cases of physical violence when [female town councilwomen] refused to resign” to let men take their places.
“There are many cases in which female leaders have been looked down upon by the…community members they represent, just for being women. Some…meetings are held in bars. Union representatives meet in bars and if a woman comes in to discuss, it’s frowned upon. So [people] don’t look down at them, or for their children or husband’s sake, the women leave their posts.”
“We have heard deputies of MAS [the ruling Movement to Socialism] party tell fellow lawmakers that women are not able to represent the people.”
Evo, says Mokrani, was fond of saying that his government would “not…have an indigenous issues ministry…[because] ‘we indigenous are no longer an issue.’…Little by little,” she notes, “this [phenomenon] has translated to the issue of women,” wherein Evo claims that “women are also involved in everything, something that’s just not true.”
In other words, “just uttering that women are involved in everything does not give us access.”
In many ways, Evo’s government has been revolutionary–in its long-overdue recognition of the exploitation of indigenous peoples and the real incorporation of these peoples into leadership. And yes, also in “gender parity” in government. But the problem is, Evo Morales is not a hero. He is a man. And he cannot single-handedly overturn centuries-long patriarchal domination, or even ethnic discrimination. Those changes must come primarily from below, through education–so that day-to-day interactions between him and her, between camba and kolla, are ones of mutual recognition and respect. So, by all means, women–and indigenous people–must keep organizing. But I don’t have to say that–they already are.