Following a referendum yesterday, Bolivia has a new constitution, with initial results suggesting
that almost two-thirds of the turnout voted in favor. The news has delighted
Bolivian pro-choice advocates, as it follows an arduous battle to ensure that early
promises concerning women’s rights and reproductive rights made it into
the constitution’s final draft.
There are many things about the result that
make us feel proud and happy. Throughout the process, we overcame numerous
roadblocks and experienced several dark moments. However, we prevailed and the
rights of all Bolivians have been extended and improved considerably, thanks to
the work of groups of feminists, human rights advocates and the many social
movements that are committed to this cause. Among other things, the
constitution now includes gender inclusive language, a significant victory for
the feminist cause. In fact, 33 individual articles relate to the rights of
Throughout the constitution, there are many
references to values we cherish, including unity, equality, inclusion, dignity,
liberty, solidarity, reciprocity, respect, complementarity, harmony,
transparency, equilibrium, equal opportunities, and social and gender equity.
Some key issues that we lobbied on and that
were included in the final draft include:
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- A respect for and
guarantees of freedom of religion and spiritual belief and an explicit separation
of church and state
- Guarantees for the sexual
and reproductive rights of women and men
- A ban on discriminating
on the basis of sexual orientation
- Guarantees for the
protection of physical, psychological and sexual health
- Protections for women
against physical, sexual or psychological violence
- A guarantee of equal
pay for equal work between men and women
- A recognition of the
economic value of homemakers, as a source of wealth for the state
- A guarantee that women
– married and single – will have access to land, including the transfer
of land to women
It must be said that, similar to what has happened in other
countries which have revised their constitutions, conservative Catholics and the political right-wing conducted an
aggressive campaign against many of these changes. These groups argued, among other things,
that Christianity would be banned and replaced by indigenous practices such as
adoration of the Pachamama (Mother Earth) as the only "religion," and
that abortion and gay marriage would be legalized (Article
266 of the Bolivian Criminal Code states that abortion is illegal except in
cases when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s health or life, in cases of rape
or incest and when a woman is abducted, made pregnant and the abductor does not
marry her. The reality is that abortion in any circumstance is difficult to
obtain). None of the claims made by the opposition were true, but
they did cause us some problems.
Many, many people helped us in this
journey, in constructing sound and clear arguments that both moved the process
forward in a direction we were happy with, as well as uniting the many different
organizations that were involved in the process. We are grateful to them all.
Of course, this is just the beginning – we have much work that
lies ahead, especially including reforms to the abortion sections of the Criminal
Code. But we are energized and ready for those challenges.