Bolivia: Women centre's improve women's health

August 20, 2014
by 
Gabrielle Angers-Gosselin, Quebec Without Borders intern

Following our first blog post, we felt that it would be a good idea to provide more details about the women’s centres that we work with on a daily basis. As you already know, our internship with CEPROSI has led us to work with women from the Max Paredes and Cotahuma boroughs of the city of La Paz and the Ciudad Satelite district of the city of El Alto. These are the target populations of CEPROSI, and to reach them, they are working with the Sembrando Semillas women’s association, which has more than 300 women in over 20 centres.

We must admit that even after several pre-departure training sessions, upon setting foot on the plane we still only had a vague idea of what the centros de mujeres were really about! Indeed, they represent quite a different reality from the one we know in our North American society. That’s why we’re taking a little time to write this text on a chilly night off. We want to help you understand the women’s centres and the Sembrando Semillas association more clearly because of their inspiring work.

First of all, who are they? Simply put, just as their name implies, they are women's groups. They meet once a week in a place of their own choosing. It could be in one of the women’s homes, in the community hall of a church, or in a park; it’s up to each group to decide. The number of women varies depending on the group. The smaller groups may have four or five participants while the bigger ones have more than twenty. They meet only once a week, often after lunch at around 3:30 p.m. It’s really funny, but punctuality is not a priority for these women. One must be patient! Some will arrive at three o’clock en punto, while others will keep us waiting until 4:30 p.m. But what else can we do but blurt out “That’s La Paz!”, as we love to say each time we are stunned and surprised by the organized chaos of this city, and to chat with the women on hand while we’re waiting for the others!

Moreover, what’s the purpose of these centres? What do the women do when they meet? The centros de mujeres provide an opportunity for women to get out of their homes and share with their friends and peers. They share knowledge, life stories, and excellent snacks. Here in Bolivia, a meeting is not a meeting if there are no snacks, which are called recreo! In this Latin American culture, many of these women are in charge of looking after the house and children while their husbands work. These women are called amas de casa. At first glance, the main activity of the centros de mujeres is making handicrafts. For the women in question, this is in fact the main reason why they meet every week. For CEPROSI, however, the handicraft courses are actually a pretext to reach the women themselves. For this reason, CEPROSI hires certain women as profesoras. They circulate in some centres teaching handicraft techniques to the women so that afterwards they can sell what they have created. This way the women have an opportunity to interact, to improve, and to make a little money, most of them having no formal employment. At the same time, CEPROSI offers other services during these weekly meetings. Social workers, doctors, psychologists and other experts do their part to contribute to the women’s overall health. And one should not overlook the work of the Quebec Without Borders groups of Development and Peace, who have been developing and presenting nutrition workshops at several women's centres for three years now.

Why is CEPROSI involved in these centres? The women’s centres are very important for the organization, as they provide a way to reach a majority of the population. Indeed, as women are at the heart of the Bolivian family, taking care of the home and the children's education, they prove to be true agents of change. It’s easier for them to pass on to their children and husbands the knowledge they acquire at the centres. Moreover, they really want to learn and are open to changing their habits to improve their level of health.