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.
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.
Teresa Lanza is the Executive Director of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir en Bolivia.