The murder of over 70 women as of July 2019 in Bolivia has prompted the government to take emergency action. With only 11 million people, Bolivia finds itself in the difficult position of being one of the most dangerous countries for women in Latin America, the region with the highest rate of femicide in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines femicide as the murder of women because they are women and more broadly as any killings of women or girls. The term can also refer to low rates of prosecution and conviction of the preparators of these homicides for reasons such as police inaction, legal loopholes and sexual discrimination.
The femicide rate in Bolivia is now at a six-year high and is a stain on President Evo Morales’s administration as he seeks a fourth term in October. On 15 July 2019, Bolivian President Evo Morales posted on Twitter, “it’s time to end impunity, and tackle problems as a society.”
- 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean where 98% of gender-related killings are not prosecuted; some 15 countries in the region have introduced laws against femicide in recent years.
- According to a 2016 national government survey, seven of every 10 women in Bolivia said they had suffered violence inflicted by a partner.
- According to a Bolivian government report on gender-based violence released in 2016, about 40% of Bolivia’s police cases involve domestic violence and alcohol is involved 90% of the time.
- Only about 15% of all femicide result in a conviction in Bolivia; of the 627 cases recorded since 2013, 288 remain open without a conviction.
- Bolivia’s new constitution of 2009 refers to gender equality in over 30 articles.
The disturbing rise of femicides led the Bolivia’s Women’s Affairs Commission to convene an emergency meeting. The Commission demanded the allocation of more resources to combat gender-based violence. In response, the government announced a 10-point “emergency plan” and declared femicide a national priority. The plan includes an increase in budgetsfor programs to guarantee protection for women, funded by a tax on fuel. It also is set to launch new partnerships between police and prosecutors to deal with the high impunity ratesof these crimes.
Symbolically, it considers declaring femicide as a crime against humanity. Morales insinuated the creation of an “international treaty” to properly address this “plague” around the world. This plan is besides the government setting up this year a special women’s defense cabinet comprising of seven ministries to counter violence against women and children.
Patriarchy and violence
Violeta Dominguez, head of UN Women in Bolivia, said to Global Citizen that she believes “that this increase (in femicide) is related to a patriarchal system that appropriates the bodies and lives of women.” The findings of a 2016 report by Oxfam supported the factor of sexism and machismo in gender-based violence in Bolivia, but also recognised the country’s ineffective justice system and the government’s lack of institutional capacity to enforce laws designed to protect women.
Tania Sánchez, director of the Justice Ministry’s Plurinational Service for Women and De-Patriarchization, told Reuters that the new plan “takes into account prevention, as well as care to victims and punishing violence, macho violence.”
The ‘emergency plan” laid out in July is not the first time Bolivia has sought to address its affliction with femicide. In 2013, Law 348 was passed by the national legislature titled “Comprehensive Law Guaranteeing Women a Life free of Violence.” It aimed to prevent and protect women, incorporated femicide as a criminal offense, and raised the criminal sentence to 30 years for femicide. It alsocalled for special prosecutors and courts for gender-based crimes and created shelters for women.
The passing of Law 348 in 2013 was in response to the historically high femicide rate. It also sought to quell the backlash from the release of a report by the Pan American Health Organization, which designated Bolivia as the worst compared to 12 other countries in the region for intimate-partner violence against women.
The violence against women in Bolivia is in stark contrast to women’s position in the country’s legislature. Women hold nearly half the current seats, which is second in the world only to Rwanda for female representation in parliament. However, female politicians are often physically and verbally attacked, threatened, or kidnapped.
Over 80 percent of female councillors report at least one case of violence or political intimidation while in office, most often carried out by other municipal authorities. Even two women municipal councillors have been murdered since 2012. Impunity reigns in these cases, with only 4.7% of cases of political violence against women ending up in court.
More than words
In October, Morales will compete for a fourth-term as Bolivia’s president in the national elections. This in despite of voters rejecting it by a national referendum in 2016 to permit his candidacy by constitutional amendment. It is clear that the work of his administration and the progress made by the 2009 constitution has improved women’s representation in political life. However, this political progress has not translated into physical security of women, not even for politicians. If recent history is any sign, it seems the root causes of the violence against women in Bolivia will require much more than new legislation and political posturing.
Image: Paranomas (link)