Bolivia: Demanding a Political Voice for Women

The Problem

Participants from the Indigenous Women Parliamentarians Conference at the 2nd inauguration of Evo Morales - c.Natalia Caruso, MADREUntil the 1990s, women’s participation in Bolivia’s government was uncommon and generally unwelcome. Though the number of women candidates has since increased, most significantly during the recent 2009 elections, Indigenous women are still significantly underrepresented in Bolivia’s government.

President Evo Morales has pushed for reforms to Bolivia’s Constitution that have created unprecedented opportunities for poor and Indigenous peoples to hold political office. But for women who have been systematically denied education and formal leadership roles, the mere opportunity to stand for elections is not enough.

Without the skills and resources to mount successful political campaigns and govern effectively, Indigenous women will continue to be disenfranchised and Bolivia’s bold experiment in advancing participatory democracy and human rights will falter.  

The Solution

MADRE is partnering with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (better known by its Spanish acronym FIMI) to equip women leaders in Bolivia with the skills they need to succeed in politics. The project will bring Indigenous women leaders from around Latin America to conduct trainings with Indigenous Bolivian women who want to run for public office. The topics of training will include:

  • Running a successful political campaign.
  • Building consensus across political and ethnic divides.
  • Addressing the needs of communities through the legislative process.

In order to reach the greatest number of Indigenous women leaders, FIMI and MADRE are working with Bartolina Sisa, the largest Indigenous women’s organization in Bolivia, to train Indigenous women for leadership roles at the local, national and international levels.

The Results

  • In the December 2009 elections, the number of women elected to parliamentary positions rose from 14% to 28%. Six Indigenous women who had participated in the workshops were elected to parliament.
  • In January of 2010, a national conference of Indigenous Women Parliamentarians drew close to 100 participants from across Latin America.
  • A larger number of Indigenous women will be elected to governmental positions, bringing meaningful self-determination for a traditionally repressed population.
  • The workshops will encourage communication and friendship between women seeking leadership positions in Bolivia and ultimately strengthen the social and political position of Indigenous women.

For the first time in history, the leadership of Indigenous women is being formally recognized in the political arena in Bolivia.

Serving as elected officials, Indigenous women are enacting a historic shift in state power to Bolivia's poor majority, bringing much-needed social services and delivering on the promise of democracy for Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia and beyond.