The Situation of Women in Bolivia
Women in Bolivia do not live in conditions of equity with regard to men. Illiteracy amongst women is greater, they have a low income generating capacity, the maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world ... yet despite this, important progress has been made recently with regard to women's participation in economic and political decision making.
In Bolivia, a traditional misogynist culture persists where women are assigned a subordinate, traditional and dependent role, mainly the roles of reproduction and care of the family.
According to the Human Development Report on Gender in Bolivia 2003 (PNUD): "Bolivia treats men better than women". The report continues, "men receive more and better education than women, receive increased and better health assistance than women, and have the possibility to generate greater income while working less (…) if we consider that women, as opposed to men, also have (…) the almost exclusive responsibility for domestic work".
According to the National Statistics Institute 2001, illiteracy is greater amongst women than men. In Bolivia, the illiteracy rate for women is 19,35 per cent, while the rate for men is 6,94 per cent. In the rural area feminine illiteracy is 37,91 per cent, while the masculine rate is 14,42 per cent. This data is the result of a survey carried out on a population group ranging from 15 to 98 years old.
The education of women is very important. The scolarity reached by mothers has a direct influence on the conditions of health, nutrition and survival of their children. It also incides on maternal mortality.
Maternal mortality in Bolivia is one of the highest in the world. According to the ENDSA 98 survey, the maternal mortality rate corresponds to 390 per 100,000 liveborn. In rural and indigenous areas the maternal mortality rate is much higher. In certain rural areas of the highlands (altiplano) the maternal mortality rate reaches 887 per 100,000 liveborn (UNICEF november 2001).
In this country, risks to women's health are related to reproduction and child care. The principal causes of maternal mortality are obstetrical complications: hemorrages, infections, complications related to childbirth and to abortion.
The state of health of a mother has a direct effect on her children, particularly on the youngest children. A mother with anemia suffers from exhaustion and does not have sufficient capacity to care for her children and look after their development. In the same way the deficient nutrition of a mother-to-be during pregnancy and after giving birth is the cause of a percentage of neonatal deaths, that is to say, those that occur during the first 28 days of life of the baby. Also, if the mother dies, the probability of survival for her child is reduced by half.
Participation in the economy and politics
In Bolivia, as well as in the rest of Latin America, the number of women working increases constantly. Between 1976 and 1992, women's participation in the economy increased from 22,5 per cent to 40 per cent (CNPV 1976 and 1999). At present, 44 per cent of women work (CNPV- INE 2002). In urban areas, women have incorporated themselves into the least productive and the worst paid jobs. This is due to discrimination and to the fact that their levels of education are lower than those of men. The situation of women in rural areas is even worse. Here they are doubly discriminated against: because they are women, and because they are of indigenous origin.
While women's participation in the economy has reached high levels, women have a low capacity to generate income. From the beginning of the previous decade to date, according to the Human Development Report on Gender in Bolivia 2003 (UNDP), the increased participation of women in the distribution of wealth has only grown by 3 per cent.
The participation of women in economic and political decision-making areas is very low. Despite all this, important advances have been achieved recently. According to the Human Development Report on Gender 2003 (UNDP), from the beginning of the 90s up to present, feminine participation in economic decision making, in both the public and private sectors, has increased by 70 per cent. Also, as from 1992, their participation in national and local political representation has increased by 16 per cent.
The progress of women in society has, in part, occurred thanks to legal reform and public policies which have contributed to improve equity between men and women.