Bolivia experienced a transition from authoritarian military rule to democratic governance that provided a window of opportunity to re-shape the role of women in political, civic and economic life.
Feminist women’s groups led the way, advocating for significant reforms to protect the rights of women and expand economic opportunity, culminating in the creation of a new constitution in 2009, which enshrined the rights of women and encouraged gender-responsive policy-making through the creation of a strict quota system for female representation in the legislature
As a result, Bolivia has seen a significant increase in its female labor force participation rate, improvements in women’s political participation at both the national and local levels, and overall improvements in girls’ education completion rates and delayed childbirth
The fertility rate among young women age 15-19 declined from 90 births per 1,000 girls in 2000 to 70 births per 1,000 girls in 2015.
In 1996, the government passed the Bolivian Land Reform Act (Ley INRA) guaranteeing equal access to property for men and women. Additional reforms led to government distribution of 10,300 property titles to rural women between 2006 and 2008.
Element: Property and assets
Indigenous women’s organizations led the engagement and advocacy in the process to adopt the new Bolivian constitution in 2009, which included 23 articles on women’s rights and expanded a quota system for female representation in the legislature to raise the required proportion of women on party lists to 50 percent.
In 2009, the Bolivian government initiated the Juana Azurduy Voucher Program, a conditional cash transfer program to encourage the use of preventive health services by pregnant women for themselves and their children aged under two.
The Bolivian government partnered with several international organizations to generate pilot programs that would empower women economically. This included the launch of the the “Productive Patrimonial Assets Building and Citizenship Programme,” with the UN which targeted poor women in rural areas in a multi-pronged approach that included seed capital, business skills training, identity-document provision, and civic education.
Oxfam also partnered with the government to build the case for an agricultural insurance program that would protect poor rural women from the effects of climate change
Indigenous women’s organizations led outreach and advocacy efforts in the run-up to the new Bolivian constitution in 2009. The enacted document included 23 articles on women’s rights and increased the mandated proportion of women in the legislature from 30 percent to 50 percent.
The process of drafting a new constitution brought together a coalition of groups with varying interests and agendas. For example, indigenous groups that typically focused on indigenous rights (rather than women’s rights in particular) allied closely with feminist women’s groups and NGOs to lobby for reforms. Increased engagement and collective lobbying also played a crucial role in advancing the cause of gender parity in legislative representation.
Bolivia’s new constitution specifically addressed the rights of women and established a strict quota system for women’s representation in legislature. Meanwhile, a shift toward more gender-responsive policy-making can be seen in Bolivia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (2001-2003), which recognized the feminization of poverty (i.e., increased prevalence of poverty among women compared to men) as a key factor to consider when crafting policy, and in the 2002 creation of a Vice Ministry for Women to formulate policy on behalf of women and implement gender-mainstreaming policies.
Increased women’s political participation in the legislature and civil society played a major role in expanding the rights and economic opportunities of women in Bolivia. Civil society organizations worked with the government to create an implementation monitoring mechanism when the 2001-2003 National Gender Equity plan was passed. New gender parity requirements for legislative representation prompted an increase in the number of women politicians, who championed legislation protecting women from political harassment and violence (with mobilization and lobbying support from the Bolivian Association of Councilwomen and Bolivia’s Political Rights for Women Action Committee).
The Women’s Coordinating Office (Coordinadora de la Mujer or CM), a network of Bolivian NGOs, has played a pivotal role in organizing and mobilizing diverse women’s groups and leveraging the influence of international NGOs. Between 2010 and 2011, the CM worked with 19 women’s organizations and the National Assembly to propose 20 laws supporting women’s empowerment and mobilized grassroots support via extensive public radio campaigns. These actions ultimately resulted in the passage of five key gender equity laws. The CM has also helped keep politicians accountable by lobbying for greater gender parity in the civil services and working directly with political parties and other women’s groups to ensure sufficient numbers of women candidates are included on party election lists.