LA PAZ – Seven years after the promulgation of a regulation putting Bolivia in the front rank in Latin America in drafting legislation to halt political harassment and violence against women, the big challenge remains in implementing it to guarantee that all female officeholders can carry out their duties without any kind of pressure.
Although Bolivia is a step ahead of many other nations in terms of legally ensuring that gender parity prevails, women – particularly in rural areas – often cannot exercise positions of responsibility or raise their voices without fearing reprisal from men.
“Women councilors – and there are more female councilors than mayors – put up with assorted attacks that are silencing them, but there comes a point where it becomes overwhelming,” the executive director of the Association of Female Councilors of Bolivia (Acobol), Bernarda Sarue, told EFE.
Acobol is tasked with defending the right to political participation and legal advice for councilors when they want to launch a formal complaint, protected by the law against harassment and political violence toward women promulgated in 2012.
The case of councilor Juana Quispe, whose body was found in 2012 in a river in La Paz after a series of political threats, was the precedent for pushing for this law, although it has proved to be insufficient to quell the problem.
Many councilors remain silent and endure harassment from their male colleagues or from people in their communities without making their situations public, but others complain that they are still awaiting guarantees, protection and justice in freely exercising their functions.
According to Acobol’s legal adviser, Sandra Silva, many of the councilors who denounce their situation to the organization are being threatened, physically attacked or prevented from working their land, sometimes even having their crops burned.
In other cases, their children or husbands are not allowed to take part in community activities, they are not advised where official activities will occur or they are not allowed to enter those meetings or events, thus applying pressure on them to resign or sign documents with which they are not in agreement.
Silva told EFE that when female councilors investigate these activities or complain about them, often additional harassment – and sometimes violence – is perpetrated against them.
By mid-May of this year, Acobol had registered 28 complaints from female councilors who said they had been prevented from fully carrying out their responsibilities.
Last year, Acobol received 117 complaints of harassment and political violence, a 35 percent hike over the 64 complaints received in 2017.
“They say that we’re a very advanced country in terms of the rules, and that’s true. The issue is how they are applied,” Sarue said.
According to Acobol’s Attention and Monitoring Center, of the 50 criminal investigations opened as a result of harassment complaints in 2018, just two have resulted in formal indictments and seven were rejected outright by the Public Ministry because it claimed that there was insufficient proof of an infraction or crime.
The case of councilor Quispe is stalled despite the fact that it was the one that gave the impetus for the promulgation of the law, and seven years after her death there has been no progress toward holding anyone responsible, Silva said.
Given this situation, politically active women still must become acquainted with the laws that protect them, demand that they be complied with and that their free exercise of their political rights be respected, Sarue said.