Witnessing “woman at the heart of change” in Bolivia

September 13, 2017
by 
Helen MacDonald, member from Grande Prairie, Alberta

During Lent 2017, Development and Peace focused its campaign on “Women at the Heart of Change.” On this Bolivia solidarity tour, I feel I have been blessed by my contact with many women in Bolivia who are at the heart of change in their country.

The situation of women in Bolivia is difficult in many ways. As a country, Bolivia is trying to address the widespread problem of violence against women. Our delegation has heard several times that women are often the victims of machismo – an exaggerated and aggressive sense of one’s masculinity.

Several Development and Peace partners we have visited have programs to address this form of violence and to empower women to change their lives and the lives of their families.

FENATRAHOB, the National Federation of Domestic Workers, is an example of women changing lives through advocacy, awareness and education of domestic workers, government and employers. This former partner of Development and Peace was founded in 1982 in La Paz, and helped create the first union of domestic workers in 1984. One incident of a woman who was severely abused incited others to organize.

FENATRAHOB now has 16 unions in the nine departments of Bolivia. One member spoke of beginning her career as a domestic worker at the age of 10. Many domestic workers, most of whom are Indigenous, are underpaid, work long hours and are often subject to abuse.

For many of us women on this solidarity tour, this meeting was very emotional, and I was one who had to hold back tears.

Another Development and Peace partner is CEPROSI, the Centre for the Promotion of Holistic Health, which has been a partner since 1988. Dr. Ana Maria Vargas and her husband Gaston Lobaton were the founders. One important work of this organization is the provision of psychological services to women who have been victims of violence. It also provides psychological services to the aggressors.

CEPROSI further offers leadership training workshops for women, where participants are empowered through education to become community leaders.

A new project for CEPROSI is training people to become urban gardeners. CEPROSI noticed that the nutritional health of people is deteriorating so it teaches people to raise their own food in small spaces. Ordinary items, such as pop bottles and old tires, find a new use as planters in these gardens.

The organization also hopes to combine these two projects in a unique way – to provide therapy for aggressors in domestic violence by helping them start their own gardens.

Bolivia faces many challenges, but the people remain hopeful, resilient and joyful. Our group has had an amazing experience, and we will go home changed and more determined than ever to support the work of Development and Peace in our communities.