Why are these Bolivian women smiling? Because this Women’s Day, their president showed that he takes gender-based violence seriously:
On Saturday, in the southwestern department of Potosí, the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, promulgated the Integral Law to guarantee women a life free of violence. The legal measure was supported by organizations defending gender equality.
The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Betty Tejara, said that the measure establishes a prison term of 30 years without parole for those who commit femicide, defined as the murder of a woman for reasons of hatred or disrespect of her female condition.
The law also sets out eight years’ prison for those who commit homicide out of violent emotion, meaning persons who take the life of an elder, a descendent, spouse or cohabitant, without the implication of femicide.
Tejara emphasized that all the offences established under the Law are considered “public actions”.
She explained that the law’s objective is to establish mechanisms, measures and integral policies of prevention, attention, protection and reparation for women in violent situations, as well as prosecution for aggressors.
To enforce the law, the Government of Bolivia established the creation of Public Courts against violence against women and Material Magistratures and a Division for Crimes of Violence Against Women in the National Police.
According to the latest figures published by the National Institute of Statistics and the Vice-Ministry for Equal Opportunities, nine out of every 10 Bolivian women are victims of some sort of violence.
The Centre for Information and Development of Women (CIDEM) stated that as of 2009, 403 femicides have been recorded, 21 of them in the first months of 2013, and 218 murders of women as a result of citizen insecurity and other causes.
The promulgation of the law was originally slated for the evening of International Women’s Day, but had to be delayed so that President Evo Morales could travel to Venezuela to participate in memorial services for the late president, Hugo Chávez.
Nine out of ten women will be victims of violence in Bolivia at some point in their lives. That is a shocking statistic, and it speaks to the need for development…not only in terms of material goods (although an overwhelming majority of Bolivians ARE impoverished, and most of the violence does indeed break down along class lines), but also a crying need for legal measures against sexism itself. This law was long overdue, as laws against racism and human exploitation in general have been in Bolivia.
I have no doubt that violence against women has long been taken for granted and normalized there for the same reasons as racialized abuses against the indigenous have been. So far, the only protection appears to have been the privilege that comes of having white skin and plenty of money and property. Most Bolivians don’t have all that, so gendered and racialized violence are commonplace, and heartbreakingly so.
It doesn’t surprise me, either, that it’s taken this long to address the matter; for five centuries, this problem has been waved off as unimportant. Or that it’s taken an indigenous president, who governs with heavy input from social movements, to make the changes necessary. One too often has to have been a victim of discrimination to see the need to end it, and one needs the input of those who have experience and understanding of the laws (or lack of laws) to make the legislative changes that will reshape what society deems acceptable. Evo was once beaten within an inch of his life and left for dead when he was the leader of a coca-growers’ union in the Chaparé, and he has lifelong experience of racism and discrimination behind him. His connection to the many social justice movements of Bolivia (including the female coca-growers’ unions of the Chaparé) is another factor in his political development, and has undoubtedly helped him to see the need for laws such as this one.
Evo Morales is very much the president of the poor and downtrodden. Thanks to this law, he is now the champion of the Bolivian women, as well. May it pay off in great social change for all of Bolivia.