New Constitution for Bolivia Means New Reality for Women and Girls

Teresa Lanza

Bolivia's new Constitution is a victory for the women's movement, including my organization, Catholics for the Right to Decide Bolivia.

Early
this year, the new Bolivian Constitution entered into force, after a
process that lasted more than two years. At a referendum held on
January 25th, 61% of Bolivans  approved the new Constitution, which for the first time dedicates a chapter to women’s rights.

The new Constitution contains several clauses that uphold the health and rights of women including:

  • a clear separation between State and Church
  • the entitlement to sexual and reproductive rights for men and women
  • the
    right to life not limited by the expression "starting at conception,"
    which was proposed by conservative groups and would outlaw abortion in
    the country
  • the right to physical, psychological and sexual integrity
  • the right of women to live free from discrimination, violence, sexual coercion and emotional abuse
  • a provision that guarantees pay equality for women and women
  • the economic value of women’s work in the home as a source of wealth
  • the right of women, married or unmarried, to land ownership.

 

The
new text is a victory for the Bolivian women’s movement, including my
organization Catholics for the Right to Decide Bolivia, which started
working together towards a new constitution even before the Constituent
process started. Women’s groups identified the most controversial
topics and developed a strategy on how to place them in the public
debate. One of the first decisions was to educate leaders about the
importance of the Secular State, which lays the groundwork for ensuring
sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America.

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In
Latin America, a powerful force for change is the rising activism of
indigenous peoples, which helped elect our first indigenous President,
Evo Morales.  Often doubly marginalized,
indigenous women suffer from extremely poor reproductive health and
extensive violations of their sexual rights.  Nevertheless, the connections between indigenous leaders and the women’s movement was not very strong in the country yet.  For that reason, during the Constituent process, some
indigenous leaders saw a dichotomy between collective rights, endorsed
by indigenous peoples, and individual rights, such as many women’s
human rights. By respecting our  the view of
indigenous leaders and carrying out deep discussions, we succeeded in
finding common ground to ensure that individual and collective rights  have their place in the new Constitution.

Advocating
during the Constituent process was very challenging. First of all, the
Constituent process took place during a time of mounting political
conflicts between the President’s Party and the opposition, which
governs rich states in Bolivia. The divide in the country often ended
up in violence and even death. Also, women’s advocates were
particularly targeted by conservative groups, including through
threats, insults, and physical aggression during formal sessions that
discussed the right to life.  

The new Constitution lays the groundwork to ensure that all Bolivian women have the right to freedom and to make decisions about their own bodies. This victory
keeps our dreams alive. We will continue working towards a world of
equality and equity, a world without violence, discrimination and
prejudices.

Government
and Congress will now start issuing norms regulating the implementation
of the Constitution. Catholics for the Right to Decide Bolivia will
continue working in collaboration with other women’s organizations to
ensure that these norms respond to the interests of women and girls.

This post first appeared on Akimbo.

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