LA PAZ – Bolivia’s laws establishing gender equality in politics contrast with the discrimination against female lawmakers and officials denounced by women’s rights groups.
“They have been locked inside municipal government buildings, they have been attacked, ... beaten, they have had books thrown at them and people have threatened to take their land away,” Lorena Lamar, head of the Association of City Councilwomen of La Paz (Acolapaz), said during a recent women’s conference in Bolivia’s capital.
According to information released by the country’s top electoral court, harassment complaints filed by female officials in the province of La Paz increased from six to 30 in a year, amounting to 65 nationwide.
In 2013, Bolivia set a new standard for Latin America by enacting a tough law to punish harassment and violence against female officials and lawmakers.
The event that spurred the enactment of that law was the still-unsolved murder of councilwoman Juana Quispe in 2012, an indigenous Aymara woman whose body was found in a river in La Paz after having received threats related to her work.
Bolivian law requires gender quotas in government, which allowed the country to be ranked second in the world in its proportion of female parliamentarians, only behind Rwanda.
In 2009, Bolivia became the first country in South America to attain gender equality in political representation at a national level.
Women’s rights groups, however, have denounced growing threats and attacks against female officials, especially in rural areas.
Those who are found guilty of harassment against female officials can be sentenced to three to five years in prison, while those found guilty of physical or psychological violence can spend five to eight years in jail.
“We are at a crucial turning point in the country in which this reality must be changed. We will do everything we can so that new generations will not have to endure what we did as young women,” said Milena Torrico, an official from the Equal Opportunities government agency.