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.