Issue - May 2009

May 2009


In this issue Christina Moore interviewed the manager of Th'uruch'apitas library; an invitation for CEBID of a National Photography Competition; with mother's day fast approaching, Rachel Dakin writes about Heroinas; a Legacy; Jess Gardner tell us about Proyecto Horizonte in Uspha Uspha; Walter Sanchez with Women Dressed to Enter into History; and finally our Cultural more...

May 2009

Heroinas; a Legacy

In the lead up to Mother’s Day Rachel Dakin reflects on the role of women in Cochabamba. Are they as strong as the legacy claims?

Rachel Dakin
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Leeds, England

195 years ago the women of Cochabamba sacrificed their lives to defend their “sacred home”. Armed only with their bravery, the blind woman Joesefa Gandarillas led elders, women and children into battle against the brutal Spanish Army. Little did they know that this act of heroism would go down in history.

Almost two centuries later their display of bravery is still remembered. The valiant spirits of the Heroinas de la Coronilla are eternalised by the monument that stands on San Sebastian hill. The braveness of the Heroinas has been passed down through generations of women to produce a modern society of strong females in Cochabamba.

Despite this legacy of bravery, many people believe that women in Cochabamba do not live in conditions equal to men. I decided to investigate the role of modern Bolivian women in order to discover whether they are as strong as the Heroinas of 1812. An interview with Maria Galindo (Centro de Estudios y Trabajos de la Mujer) sparked a debate between two conflicting opinions: women are subjugated versus women are strong.

Galindo stated with certainty : “Women are not equal to men. Women are subjugated. Women do not have equal access to education or work.” UNICEF supports Galindo´s opinion: “illiteracy amongst women is greater, they have a low income generating capacity and the maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.”

A traditional misogynistic culture exists in Bolivia which restricts social change and hinders women’s ability to fully participate and benefit economically and politically. Women are assigned a subordinate and dependent role based on reproduction and caring for the family. According to the Human Development Report on Gender in Bolivia 2003, “men receive better education than women, better health assistance than women and the possibility to generate greater income while working less, if we consider that women also have the responsibility for domestic work”.

Studies show that Bolivian women work more hours than men. The International Poverty Centre (IPC) has research illustrating that “the average Bolivian woman commits 26 hours p/w to paid labour and 35 hours p/w to unpaid labour, whereas men dedicate 42 hours p/w to paid labour and 9 hours p/w to unpaid labour.” Galindo explains that women wake up at 3 in the morning and work all day, domestically and agriculturally. “Men, they do nothing. They go out to bars.” IPC explains that on average women work more than men “due basically to a double shift of work, that is, an accumulation of both paid and non-paid work responsibilities.”

Nona Pachaeider (Mujeres Creando) raises the point that “the situation of women is always very different in rural and urban areas, Heroinas; a Legacy In the lead up to Mother’s Day Rachel Dakin reflects on the role of women in Cochabamba. Are they as strong as the legacy claims? 5 in all aspects; education, healthcare, work, domestic violence etc.” The rural women lead very different lifestyles to women in the city. Galindo believes “there are more opportunities in the city; women are stronger and have more influence.” Whilst rural Cochabamba remains entrenched in the conventional patriarchal culture, the city offers women a more modern, independent role.

This contrast is illustrated by comparing the daily lives of different women. It is impossible to simplify the groups, but the examples help to demonstrate this geographical discrepancy. An indigenous Quechua woman describes a typical day in a rural area:

“I wake up at 4 in the morning and my husband wakes up at 8. Icut and collect the alfalfa, then I go and feed the animals and I collect water in a bucket to drink. I check that the children have done their chores. I never rest. If I urge the children they hurry, if I do not urge them they do not hurry. At 8 I go and sow potatoes and catch the sheep. After breakfast I take the children to school. Then I cook lunch and dinner. I milk the cows to make cheese. At 12 we eat in the field and I feed the animals. Throughout the afternoon I tend to the small shop we have in our house. At 21:00 I sleep because I am tired. Here the women work constantly. The men throw their legs up and relax. Men have only one job. Women have to do everything else.”

Contrastingly, a professional city woman describes her day. It is clear that she has access to better work, increased support and leads a more balanced lifestyle:

“I wake up at 6:30 and I turn on the TV for the news. I wake up my son, have a shower and get ready for work. At 8:45 I have breakfast with my son and then I leave for the office at 9. I live with my parents so they help to look after my son. At 13:00 I return to the house for lunch with my daughter. I watch TV and have a small siesta until 15:00. Then I go back to work until 19:00. When I return home I help my son with his homework, have dinner and then put him to bed. Then I have time to watch TV with my parents or go to the cinema. At 22:30 I read my book and go to sleep.”

It is also necessary to consider the large proportion of migrant women living in the urban areas surrounding Cochabamba. Most of the women are Quechuas and Aymaras but some migrate from other cities. The women are still left with most of the responsibilities but in the city the have access to support groups and training courses to improve their employment prospects and general standard of living.

“I wake up at 5:00 in the morning. Last night I helped my son with his homework and then I cooked for the Preschool. Then I wash myself, we do not have much water so we put the water in a small bathtub. After making breakfast for my children I polish their shoes. Children are like that, they find distractions with one thing or another and the do not polish their shoes. I prepare their sandwiches take them to school. At 8:00 I go and collect provisions for the kitchen. I return at 13:00. My son serves lunch to the children if I am late. Then I wash the pots and dishes. At 15:00 I make tea for the children. Then I wash everything again. From 19:00 to 21:39 I go to a plumbing workshop and then I go to sleep.”

Although the examples vary one aspect remains constant; women are always left with the majority of the domestic responsibilities often in addition to a paid job. Galindo adds that there are many single women in Cochabamba; “I do not believe men provide for the family. They often leave, providing no financial support. They go and make a new family with another woman.” Pacheider sustains this view stating that, “Many men have no responsibility for their wives and children. There are many single mothers in Bolivia”.

Education is similarly influenced by region. Pachaeider explains that “it is more difficult for females to have access to education in the rural areas around Cochabamba because they often live a long way

There is evidence to show that women have become aware of this cultural shift. The National Survey on Women’s Perceptions of Exclusion and Discrimination (WPED) found that in the life plans of most women in Bolivia work comes first and a decreasing number have plans based exclusively on marriage or motherhood. The survey, conducted by the Coordinadora de la Mujer (CDM), indicates that only 7 % of the interviewees said their priority was having a partner and children, “which were the main characteristics of the life plans of Bolivian women two decades ago”. In contrast, working and studying are now the top priorities for 56 % of the participants.

“The fact that the traditional roles of women are being displaced by new aspirations is an important step towards gender equality”, explains Sonia Montaño (Head of Women and Development Unit for the Economic Commission for Latin America). In the analysis of their results the CDM indicated that the survey showed work to be a central aspect of personal fulfillment. Work not only provides increased self-esteem, independence and wider opportunities, “It must also be understood as a means to social recognition and worth, and ultimately to becoming full citizens.”

Some people believe that in the context of this progression the women of Cochabamba are no longer subjugated. Instead they possess a subtle power and their legacy of strength remains. Alejandra Ramirez, (Directora de Desarrollo y Estudios del Hábitat en el Centro de Estudios Superiores UMSS) argues that women are not as dominated as we are led to believe. “The feminist view is that women are victimized and subjugated. When you see reality it is not that way, women really have a strong role.” Ramirez has done extensive research into the role of women in Cochabamba with many influential publications. “When women actively participate in their communities, in social work and organizations, they really have a big impact, more so than men.”

Walking through the streets of Cochabamba it is clear that women play a prominent role in this city. “Women control the streets”, states Ramirez, from the Cholas running stalls in La Cancha to high flying business women commuting in their power suits. Ramirez continues: “When you ask men and women who is the head of the family, they say men. But when you ask who makes the decisions, it is the woman. Categorically the man is the head of the family, but it’s the woman who makes the important decisions.”

Not only are women making decisions in domestic spheres, but they are becoming increasingly powerful politically. The percentage of parliamentary seats held by women is gradually increasing, currently at 30%. Bolivian administrations have made significant advances in supporting women’s rights and policies have been introduced to promote gender equality. One of the most progressive, the Law of Cuota, seeks to ensure that every 2nd candidate on a party list is female.

If I have discovered one truth about women – there are endless opinions. It is impossible to reach a definitive representation. Yet one aspect remains consistent; women work hard. Ramirez brings me back to the story that sparked my interest in this topic; “Like the Heroinas de la Coronilla, Cochabambino women are really strong; they are heroines.” Women are gradually gaining a voice amidst the Bolivian patriarchy and their increasing strength is inspiring. But the gradual move towards gender equality is going to require unity. Pacheider reminds us; “Women need to work together to create a change; they can not do it alone.” So like the Heroinas, gather your army fortified with courage and fight.

One community at a time with Proyecto Horizonte

At the southern-most fringe of Cochabamba lies the thriving
community of Mineros San Juan, Uspha Uspha. The
community is complete with public transport, electricity, shops and
water soon to be installed. Not too long ago, none of this existed.

At the heart of this community are two schools, Centro Inicial and
Colegio Educativa San Vicente de Paul, which have come about
due to the hard work of Proyecto Horizonte – Uspha Uspha, a
non-governmental organisation that has been working within the

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