Archive for images

27 de Marzo: Puntos de Reflexión

Posted in Bolivia, images with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, I’d like to offer a number of simple facts about Bolivia that impact women’s lives, along with some images of La Paz and El Alto.  I hope that these will serve to raise awareness about the country and about some of the issues it faces, and perhaps spark comparative reflection about the countries where you all live and work.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please contact me for citation information for the facts presented below.

City scene in La Paz, Bolivia.

Bolivia’s maternal mortality rate of 222 women per 100,000 is the second highest in Latin America (after Haiti).

About 30% of maternal deaths in the country are due to complications from abortion.

6 of 10 Bolivian women will have at least one abortion in her lifetime.  (The rate for women in the United States is 1 in 3.)

Graffiti penned by Bolivian youth from El Alto, reading, “You decide – Don’t let yourself get carried away,” with drawing of condom.

69% of Bolivian women lack access to reliable contraceptive methods.

In 2008, 1 in 4 of women giving birth at one of the largest public women’s hospitals in La Paz were teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19.

The same hospital saw 1,122 cases of incomplete abortion and “miscarriage” in 2009—over 3 per day.  Doctors insist that the majority of these cases correspond to incomplete provoked abortions.

Some women facing unwanted pregnancy end up abandoning their children rather than seeking an abortion during pregnancy.  The above image is a “foundling wheel” embedded in the wall of a La Paz-based orphanage, where desperate parents can place an infant and then spin the wheel to safely deposit it inside the home without revealing their identities.

Abortion in Bolivia has been legal since 1973 in cases of rape or to save the mother’s life, yet only five legal abortions have ever been performed.  In most cases, women and adolescent girls deliver their babies before the bureaucratic processes required to obtain a legal abortion come through.

7 of every 10 Bolivian women suffer physical violence three to five times per year; 6 of these 7 are victimized by a member of their own family.  About 53% of women do not report these crimes.

143 girls and women were murdered in Bolivia during 2009.  98 of these murders can be considered feminicides–murders of females for the simple fact that they are female.

International Women’s Day protesters in La Paz carry a banner reading, “A dignified life without violence.”  The woman in front and to the left of those holding the banner carries a paper sign reading, “Enough with corrupt attorneys and  judges!”  Many feminist activists in Bolivia contend that legal representatives in the country accept bribes from men who have murdered women in exchange for lenient prison sentences.


10 de Marzo: Imágenes de Protesta

Posted in Bolivia, images, International Women's Day with tags , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Below are several images of an International Women’s Day protest that took place last Monday in La Paz, Bolivia.  The central idea behind the protest was to insist that women want justice for female victims of violence and feminicide, not flowers, on their “special day.”  The family members of five recent victims of feminicide (murders of women for the simple fact that they are women) were present at the march.

Come back and visit the site this weekend to learn more about the International Women’s Day events that took place this year in Bolivia.

24 de Enero: ¿Qué quiere decir ‘extremo’?

Posted in Bolivia, sexuality with tags , , , , , , , on January 24, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Over the time that I have spent conducting research on women and gender in Bolivia, I have had the opportunity speak with scores of activists in the local feminist community, representing a variety of different organizations.  Some of these organizations work on sexual and reproductive rights; many aim to reduce violence against women; others focus on increasing women’s political participation; still others target a specific demographic, such as campesina or indigenous women.  Many of these organizations work on a combination of issues.

Since I first set foot in La Paz in January 1999, countless individuals–feminists and not-so-feminists, taxi drivers and newspaper vendors, restauranteurs and health care providers–have informed me in hushed tones that the organization Mujeres Creando is the “most extreme” of La Paz’s feminist groups.  (See

But why “extreme”?  What exactly does “extreme” mean in this context?  The home of Mujeres Creando–a sizable building on 20 de Octubre street, called Virgen de los Deseos–houses a health-food restaurant, a hostel for visitors, a small shop and bookstore, a public shower, a low-cost clinic, and childcare for its guests.  The organization holds seminars and workshops on a variety of themes, offers literacy classes, publishes magazines and books, and maintains a radio station, Radio Deseo 103.3 FM. None of these activities seem exactly “out of control.”  Perhaps so many describe Mujeres Creando as “extreme” because of their raucous street performances, where women occasionally appear in their underwear?  Or because they dare to call Bolivia’s popular indigenous president, Evo Morales, machista?  (A recent protest circulated pamphlets imagining what Evo’s life would have been like had he been born a woman.  An accompanying graffiti read, “No saldrá Eva de la costilla de Evo,” or, “Eva will not emerge from Evo’s rib.”)  Or maybe the organization seems extreme because one of its founders sports an unusual haircut and dark eye makeup–María Galindo often shaves one side of her head.

Eventually, I gave up guessing why so many paceñas refer to Mujeres Creando as the “most extreme” of the local feminist organizations, and simply asked.  The response, after much hemming and hawing, usually read like this: “Well, you know, they make women’s issues about being lesbian;” or, “They’re always so public about being lesbians;” or, “They just don’t like men at all.”

It is true that some of Mujeres Creando‘s current and former leadership is lesbian-identified.  The organization was originally founded by María Galindo and her then-partner Julieta Paredes.  After the couple split, Galindo continued as a central figure in Mujeres Creando, while Paredes moved into other areas of feminist activism.  So, those are the facts.

And the fallacies?  The manias, the myths, the “extremeness”?  It seems that, to your average paceña–even to some feminist activist paceñas–the mere existence of a couple of women organizers who do not have sex with men (and who have sex with women) is so unthinkable, that it makes the entire organization “extreme.”  Extreme, meaning = unreasonable, not representative of “real” women’s concerns, and perhaps, dismissible.

Recently, on my way up to El Alto, the trufi in which I was traveling passed the following graffiti:

“You have to be brave to be a fag.  Mujeres Creando.”

Mujeres Creando‘s graffiti are often full of puns, word games, and double entendres, and this one is no exception.  In a country where maricón, like fag in the U.S., is often used to describe an “unmanly man”–the opposite, perhaps, of a brave man–the organization points out a definite reality: that actually, one DOES have to be brave to be a fag.  Gays, lesbians, transgendered, and gender-queers around the world face discrimination and violence, making the act of being open and out one of bravery and defiance.

However, as I read this, another thought occurred to me: perhaps this phrase also expresses the reality that Mujeres Creando and its members–gay and straight–face daily.  Perhaps in Bolivia, where being gay–or even being part of an organization whose leadership is gay–means being labeled as “extreme” (again, = unreasonable, dismissible), you DO have to be brave.  You have to be brave to be out: as a fag, as a feminist, and even, as a woman.

13 de Diciembre: Imágenes inolvidables

Posted in Bolivia, images with tags , , , , , on December 13, 2009 by eugeniadealtura

For the next few weeks, I will be struggling to finish some end-of-the-year work and may not be posting regularly to the blog.  In lieu of commentary on gender in Bolivia, I’d like to offer some images from La Paz and El Alto to stimulate reflection on women, gender, and sexuality in the region.  I welcome your comments and questions.  Felices fiestas y próspero año nuevo a todas y a todos.

“The frigid woman does not exist.  It is all a question of ‘bad tongues.'” (“Malas lenguas” is a way to refer to people who gossip.  And yet there seems to be a pun here…)

“To prevent is a pleasure.” This little guy–actually about 30ft. tall–attends a busy public feria on La Paz’s “Prado” every Sunday between about June and September, during the city’s dry months.  In a country where timidez and conservative cultural mores can make it difficult for couples to discuss birth control and STI prevention, an unmissable condom may get the conversation going.

“Deposit discrimination here.” And below, “Know how to value–We women can do it.” Somewhat puzzling…  At the local zoo, a garbage can takes a stand for women’s rights.

Roughly, “start kissing,” or “get to kissing.” It is not surprising that the couple is seated on what appears to be a public bench.  Since many people in Bolivia continue to live with their parents into their 20s and 30s, couples often take to the public parks and plazas to make out.

“The right to abortion–legal, freely, and without cost.  Bread and Roses.” For more information, visit:

25 de Noviembre: Alteñas de Pie

Posted in Bolivia, violence against women, women with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2009 by eugeniadealtura

This November 25, several hundred women and girls, along with their male allies, descended on the city center of La Paz, Bolivia, from their homes and offices in El Alto.  To commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, integrantes of various women’s organizations, as well as many unaffiliated individuals, carried letreros and banners calling for an end to physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women and girls.

A report released in 2008 by the United Nations Population Fund estimates that 70% of women in Bolivia suffer some form of violence (La Prensa, 26/11/09, La Paz, Bolivia).  In focus groups and workshops organized by the local women’s organization, el Centro de Información y Desarrollo de la Mujer (CIDEM), many women argue that violence against women in the country is somewhat accepted, or at least tolerated, because of widespread machista attitudes and sexist beliefs.  For example, one woman complained that when she took her husband to trial for years of domestic abuse, the judge asked her, “And well, ma’am, were you neglecting your cooking and cleaning duties in the home?”  Other women note that their partners attempt to excuse their acts of violence by arguing that they were drunk when they beat or raped their wives or girlfriends.

Of course, the causes (and consequences) of gender-based violence are very complex and cannot be explained in simple terms.  In her book, Teetering on the Rim: Global Restructuring, Daily Life, and the Armed Retreat of the Bolivian State (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), anthropologist Lesley Gill argues that one of the factors contributing to male-on-female violence in Bolivia is men’s service in the military in their late-teens and early-twenties.  The training and socialization that men undergo during compulsory military service, says Gill, fosters myths of male superiority and often leads male soldiers to abuse their family members and partners upon their return to civilian life.  Violence within the family, however, is not solely the fault of men or of state-mandated military service–several organizations working to combat violence in Bolivia note high rates of parental violence against children, which is perpetrated by fathers and mothers alike.

For many of the marchers, salir a la calle to protest violence against women represented an act of personal vindication that allowed them to express their anger about having suffered violence in their own lives.  For instance, the marcher pictured below (with her permission), suffered acute health problems as a result of her husband’s beatings.  After she sought help from a local organization providing legal and psychological support to women, this marcher was able to get her partner to cease his acts of violence; he ended up accompanying her on this march.  This form of resolution may seem unacceptable to some.  However, it seems to me that one of the most desirable outcomes of work on non-violence and personal empowerment is to create the necessary conditions for women to design and to live their lives with autonomy.  Although we may still fall far short of reaching this goal, this marcha gave women, girls, and their allies in Bolivia the chance to make visible what all to often remains invisible.

Aside from giving women the opportunity to publicly protest their own experiences of violence, this marcha had a variety of objectives.  First, movilizantes hoped to increase local press coverage on the issue of gender-based violence in Bolivia.  In addition, many of the asistentes to the march held signs demanding the inclusion of the crime of “femicide” or “feminicide” into Bolivia’s penal code.  Arguing that many women’s murderers in Latin America serve disturbingly short sentences for their crimes, since these are often designated “homicidio por emoción violenta,” or essentially “crimes of passion,” several women’s rights organizations in the region are pushing for official recognition of feminicide.  Feminicidio, which gained international recognition due chiefly to the murders of women in Guatemala and Mexico, is understood as the murder of women simply because they are women. These murders are usually, but not always, perpetrated by male partners, ex-partners, family members, “friends,” or acquaintances.  Women’s and human rights’ organizations throughout Latin America and elsewhere have struggled, particularly in the last fifteen years, to incorporate feminicide into national penal codes as a hate crime carrying prison terms of at least 25 years.  Spain, Mexico, and Guatemala represent three of the few countries that currently recognize and provide specific punishments for the crime of feminicide.

At about midday on November 25, when we finally reached the city center, a small commission carried a voto resolutivo to the government palace asking for official recognition of feminicide and gender-based violence, and the establishment of specific punishments for perpetrators of these crimes.  About an hour and a half later, a representative of this commission informed the marchers that the voto resolutivo had been approved by the Evo Morales administration.  What this exactly means, however, is still to be determined… While official recognition of gender-based violence is definitely a logro importante–an important victory–discrimination against women in Latin America (and elsewhere) has deep roots and will most likely require both time and persistent work to overcome.