“I have seen women mentor and support each other in so many ways. This is the real power behind our power.”
As I progressed through the 2009 World Pulse Voices of Our Future training program, my mentor Yvonne Bryant was always asking me questions: Why is it important for you to be on the Internet? What does it mean to you to become a Correspondent for World Pulse?Yvonne passed away some time ago, but her encouragement continues to guide me throughout my life. By asking the right questions, she helped me realize that she couldn’t do the work for me. I had to do the work by myself.
This year, I was the one in a mentor role, posing questions to Jimena Costa, a woman I hoped to help rise as a leader in Bolivia’s opposition movement—and maybe one day become president of our country.
I have never thought of myself as someone who could be part of the history making of a country. But, through mentorship, it turns out I have, in the last year, been part of developments that could change Bolivia forever.
I met Jimena Costa shortly after she presented herself as the only woman running in Bolivia’s first primary elections. While she lost the presidential primary election, she secured a place as the congressional leader of the Democratic Unity opposition party. She offered me a position to help her in the first months of her work. In addition to advising Jimena Costa, I coached and encouraged a number of rising opposition leaders this year, including a new national assembly member, a local assembly member, and an opposition mayor. When I saw them take office after local elections in March, I was proud to have supported them.
Since our work began, there is new hope. Even though opposition parties did not win the national election, they won the local elections in eight out of ten big cities. And we are opening the path for feminizing power in the opposition, with the hope of change for the better in the coming years.
Entering the world of Bolivian politics has been quite a ride for this locally brewed middle class woman. My background contrasts with Jimena Costa’s family dynasty of politicians, writers, singers, and other creative relatives that make her so special. But I realized that I too have something special to offer.
It doesn´t matter how poor or how rich you are. Or if you have been recognized before or not. Or if you are a professional or not. What matters is that you find yourself a mentor, or that you become one. I have seen women mentor and support each other in so many ways. This is the real power behind our power.
It was through grassroots activism on social networks that I first began to recognize my power to create change. I started groups on Facebook. I turned the groups into communities. And I started coaching the communities. I saw that I could use the skills Yvonne, my World Pulse mentor, taught me to help other women reach their potential.
When I began raising my voice online in 2008, my country was in the middle of a very violent stage of silencing voices. In the beginning, people were really afraid of speaking out. Many were posting online under assumed names, and many more were afraid to post anything at all.
This was a time when you couldn’t say something like “I don’t like this government” or they would beat you. That’s how bad it was. People were being tortured through the legal system. Opposition leaders were exiled and jailed. Some leaders faced as many as 20 baseless lawsuits against them that still haven't been sentenced today, 10 years later. If you wanted to ask for justice, they could put you in jail for going against the revolution, and throw away the key.
When we started this new conversation online, I could never just say: “You are torturing people.” Instead, as my mentor Yvonne taught me, I would ask the right questions to develop a new line of thinking. I would ask questions like, how do you define torture? I would call into question cases like that of Mr. José Maria Bakovic, who was sued 72 times up until his death.
It was important for me to have people from the government listen to us. It wasn’t going to work if we only coached and mentored each other and the ruling party didn’t hear us. So I risked my security to include government leaders in the conversation we were having online.
When we started seeing the Vice President addressing our concerns on TV the day after we posted about an issue to Facebook, I knew we were becoming successful. The government was spending money on propaganda to counter the issues we were raising. For the first time, the new opposition was influencing the country’s agenda.
Our politicians see themselves as powerful. They rarely want to give any credit to social media or the people who are behind their power. With every politician I meet, I try to help them understand that they are not powerful on their own. The moment they realize their power comes from the people, then they will start doing the work they are called to do.
I see women in the opposition, like my friend Jimena Costa, leading the way. She has learned to listen to women who are so different from her, and to recognize the power of united feminine voices.
The opposition parties, just like the party in power, have traditionally been led by men. But I see women becoming leaders in many areas. We are finally understanding that even while men still dominate the most powerful spaces, our roles do not depend on men, but on ourselves.
Women with guts are coming together to make unity of voices possible, taking into account the huge power that we are fighting against. We are fighting to defend the right that people have to debate, to oppose, and to freely say their word. Women in Bolivia and around the world are connecting through the Internet, through social networks like World Pulse, with a purpose. All united, all dreamers—walking, running, or crawling—we thrive. And we are making history.