The Frontlines of My Life

Maria Pena
Posted March 3, 2016 from Bolivia

It was late at night when I was with friends walking to a food stand. Suddenly we heard shouting, a lot of shouting and we couldn’t decipher what was going on so we got closer, slowly, almost reaching the corner… there was a man, fiercely swiping a woman’s face and she fell to the ground. As he got hold of her blouse he pulled her up from the ground and she began screaming again. We immediately started running towards the man but another witness got there first and held the man back trying to stop the attack. Amazing and incredible as it may seem to read this, the woman began hitting the protector, told him to go away, to let go of her husband, she said “he has the right to beat me, he is my husband!”

My heart dropped, how can it be that a woman thinks she deserves to be mistreated, beaten by anyone! This episode marked me strongly and until this day I remember it with great pain. It made me feel so powerless and impotent for this woman with such low self-esteem and such erroneous beliefs…And so I realized first hand, this is the way millions of women are brought up in my country and all over the world.

In Bolivia, women are exposed to extreme machismo. Research shows:

  • “Gender violence causes more death and disability in Bolivia among women aged 15–44 than do cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, or war.” (FSD- Foundation for Sustainable Development).
  • “Maternal mortality and illiteracy among women rate as some of the highest in the world.” (FSD)
  • “Bolivian women’s school attendance rate is one of the lowest in South America.” (FSD)
  • The Center for the Information and Development of Women (CIDEM) says that 70 percent of Bolivian women suffer abuse of some kind.
  • The World Bank states that only 2-8% of sexual abuses against women are reported.

In the rural areas of Bolivia most girls are only allowed to attend school until the 3rd grade. After that, they are needed to perform household work, including taking care of their younger siblings. I believe this is where the problem starts, lack of education. Women in my country play a secondary role in society, which results in women with low self-esteem and no voice.

I think we need to give priority to the women of our country, we need to promote their self teem and give them a proper education. Women are the mothers of the future of a country. A mother’s education, attitude and self-esteem has direct impact on their children and the people around them. Parents need to teach their children about gender equality but first, men have to respect their wives in order to make a good example for their children. What good does it make to teach your children gender equality and then beat their mother in their faces? Men have to be taught to respect women and women need to be taught to respect themselves and get the respect they deserve.

It was only 3 years ago that a comprehensive law (Law#348) came out to protect women against violence in Bolivia but the problem is that women are not even aware of their own rights. We need to make them aware of their rights and spread the word. The woman equality problem is improving but not fast enough.

Comments 14

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GetRude
Mar 03, 2016
Mar 03, 2016

Hello Maria I like how well rounded your vision is. It is not enough to teach the women only their rights but rather also help the men to know what their role is in protecting their wives sisters mothers and daughters. Here for moral support and all the best

Maria Pena
Mar 07, 2016
Mar 07, 2016

Dear GetRude,

Thank you for reading my story.

I truly believe that education is the key to adress many issues. 

Thank you for offering your support. 

All the best,

Maria

Amalie
Mar 06, 2016
Mar 06, 2016

Dear Maria, Your story is very touching. It is sad that women believe they deserve to be treated that way and accept it as a fact. It happens everywhere in the world where children are mistreated and bullied physically and verbally at homes, communities, and schools without proper supervisions and ignorance of the adults who don't understand the impact of their behaviors towards the little human beings who grow up believing that they deserve to be treated that way. Awareness and education are the best things we can do in order to minimize bullying.

Maria Pena
Mar 07, 2016
Mar 07, 2016

Dear Amalie,

I am happy to connect with you and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

It is heartbreaking to see women in that situation. Changing the machismo/patriarchal culture will take a lot of patience and effort and togetherness.

Thanks again for engaging in my story and I hope to talk to you soon.

Best,

Maria

Stephanie Auxier
Mar 08, 2016
Mar 08, 2016

Hi Maria,

When I read the story of the women you saw being beaten in the street, I was so hopeful when reading that someone stood up for her. But my heart also dropped when I read that the man abusing her was her husband and she justified and allowed his beating. I am sure that was not the first and will not be the last time he beat her. 

I worked for a few years in a homeless shelter for women in the U.S., and some of our residents were in abusive relationships. I experienced exactly what you are describing - that women justified the abuse they were experiencing because they didn't believe in their own value. It is heartbreaking, but I agree that education is one way for women to start learning about their value and seeing their potential. And that it is absolutely necessary for everyone - men, women, boys, and girls - to believe in the value and rights of women in order for violence towards women to end. 

Thank you for sharing your story with us, I look forward to learning more about the ways you are working to end violence against women in your community. 

Best,

Stephanie

Maria Pena
Mar 12, 2016
Mar 12, 2016

Hi Stephanie, 

For some reason I didnt see your message before. Thank you for engaging in my story. 

Helping the homeless poeple but have been a great experience, knowing that you can actually make a difference in their lives first hand. But also I know that you have to have a strong heart to be able to see that and show strength for them and I admire you for that. 

I look forward to connecting more with you and hearing about your experiences too. 

All the best always! 

Maria 

ARREY- ECHI
Mar 11, 2016
Mar 11, 2016

Dear Maria, The opening of your story shows how many women around the globe have been made to believe their husbands have the legal right to beat or maltreat them. It made me remember a discussion with a friend a few years back. According to her, the husband is akin to a god and her dad and since she could never talk back to her father, she dared not do same to her husband. Women's voices are suppressed and many are made to believe if they are beaten, it is their fault reason why many tend to justify the actions of their abusers. To change this mindset, it is just as important to educate the men and teach them to love and respect the women in their lives. All the best, Arrey

Maria Pena
Mar 12, 2016
Mar 12, 2016

Dear Arrey,

Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts.

It is truly almost ubelieveable that women would think they have no value and that other poeple have the right to maltreat them. What is even more sad is that the communities and cultures are the ones shaping these thoughts in girls since they are little, even their mothers teach them that men have the right to maltreat them beacuase that is the way they were brought up too.

This is why I believe that we need to teach all, girls and boys to respect equally, no matter the gender.

I am excited to keep connecting with you.

Thank you again and I wish you all the best always,

Maria

Hannah B
Mar 12, 2016
Mar 12, 2016

Hi Maria,

Thank you for sharing this powerful story!  It must have been a very difficult assault to witness, and also difficult to realize that the situation of women in your country is so serious.  I agree with you that it is essential to educate men and women, boys and girls about equality, violence, and consent in order to work towards a safer community for all --especially women and girls.

I hope you will find support and inspiration for your work through World Pulse!

Best to you,

Hannah

Maria Pena
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Hi Hannah,

Thank you for engaging in my story. It is very sad to see women in that situation and I believe that together we can make a change.

Thanks again for reading my story and I look forward to connecting more with you :)

Love,

Maria

Rahmana Karuna
Mar 14, 2016
Mar 14, 2016

Dearest Maria, i loved Bolivia when i visited there for 8 wks traveling without itinerary with a backpack and Barbara Harpers book hot off the press in Spanish "Gentle Birth Choices" in 1996, hmm or was it '97? The yr there were 18 or 19 people running for president. I used public transit and had made three connections in the country prior to arriving. Maternity oriented. I showed the video "birth into being" at 2 hospitals and had pleas by doctors wanting me to stay and train the nurses. I wanted to stay, i was loving the people, especially grandmothers who surrounded me with my book open to women giving birth in natural hot springs. Domestic violence is tragic, worldwide, and holding humanity down. Education is a huge factor. Religious education even more so, usually! Being a midwife and seeing/experiencing the pervasive abuse in maternity wards everywhere run by doctors is another causation, when one knows the research on perinatal psychology=what happens during pregnancy and birth have effects on our life. This is a very important cause and so glad you are working on it. Keep strong and loving Rahmana Karuna

Maria Pena
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Dear Rahmana,

Thank you so much for reading my story and for helping in Bolivia!  I am so happy you visited Bolivia, I guess you know me a little bit better since you know where I grew up.

I am excited to connect with you more and to hear about your experiences.

Love,

Maria

Carolyn Seaman
Mar 18, 2016
Mar 18, 2016

Dear Maria,

Thank you for such an engaging article. My constant disappointment with gender-based violence issues is the fact that there is very little or no knowledge of the rights of the victim. And it is important for the victims to know their rights so they can challenge the abuse of their rights. Also, the knowledge of the rights would prevent the perpetrators from abusing the victims. 

I don't know how effective your laws are in Bolivia. But, poor implementation of the laws in Nigeria endorses and promotes gender-based violence. Impunity on the part of the perpetrators continues to institutionalize violence against women.

I also loved your reference to the fact that women feel that the men have the right to beat them, simply because he's a husband or fiancé or boyfriend. In Nigeria, religious and traditional customs force women to bear the abuse out of submission and respect. But, we must challenge this. 

You have a good approach to this by enlightening women about their rights. This knowledge would certainly set them free. Best wishes for success and impact.

Maria Pena
Mar 22, 2016
Mar 22, 2016

Dear Carolyn,

Exactly, one of the biggest problems is that women are not aware of their rights, which leads them to be very unprotected. There are equality laws in Bolivia but in practice, not really. The society is very 'maschista' and pratriarcal and men are the providers of the families. Most unpriviledged women are illiterate and this is why women are often afraid to fight for their rights because if they do, they will be left out in the streets because their husbands will stop providing for them and it will be very challenging to find a job so they put up to it.  Also they are problably more prone to tolerate violence against themselves since that is how they saw her mother being treated.

It is a complicated situation but we must challenge it one step at a time.

If women are aware of their rights, at least they have the option to act on it.

Thank you Carolyn and I am looking forward to keep connecting with you.

Love,

Maria