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BOLIVIA
“Being part of the left doesn´t mean you don´t face machismo”
Juan Nicastro
1/28/2010
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Interview with women´s leader Dunia Mokrani Chávez

Dunia Mokrani Chávez is a political analyst and a member of Grupo Comuna, a civic group, composed mostly of academics, critical of the government. She is also one of the founding members of Samka Sawuri, or “Dream Weavers”, a women´s collective that promotes gender equality. Mokrani is a researcher at the Center for Andean, Amazonian and Mesoamerican Studies and coordinator of the Conflict Monitoring Committee of the Latin American Social Observatory.

Latinamerica Press collaborator Juan Nicastro spoke with Mokrani about the deeply rooted oppression of women in Bolivian society.

Why are women´s organizations necessary in Bolivia?
There is a very specific form of patriarchal domination here. That is what´s being discussed now, and the good thing is it´s not just a discussion reduced to some feminist circles; it´s widespread. If women didn´t organize to confront this kind of oppression, it would never end. If other types of oppression will be reduced, patriarchal [oppression] won´t just disappear on its own.

That´s an important issue within organizations themselves, such as the Bartolina Sisa Campesina Women´s Union, in which they decided to make themselves visible as campesina women, not just as members of the United Union Confederation of Campesino Workers of Bolivia. But this has been questioned too: many popular and labor organizations feel that the feminist discourse creates divides and their class or ethnicity is most important. Our compañeras say that our fight is not against men, but just so our voices are heard.

What are some of the worst examples of patriarchal domination?
Violence is probably the clearest form – daily violence, including political, economic, sexual and social. For example, there are many cases of female town councilwomen who have been forced to resign so a male alternate can take her place, and even cases of physical violence when they refused to resign. This is because there was a quota law that required political parties to have a certain percentage of female members. Often, those women entered into public life despite the patriarchal structure that gave them titles, only to take them away later.

Or perhaps a compañera tells us that being a lawmaker has resulted in divorce, as while a male deputy will never have problems for not being home, the woman will. Those are problems that are pending.

Another issue is invisible labor, such as the productive work at home. One of the reasons this kind of work is not considered a job is because it is in the domestic sphere.

Also, 99 percent of the country´s organized retail workers are women, but they are led by two men. In the case of nurses, most are women but a man is their association´s leader. And why is that? The women themselves say that men handle certain spheres well. There are many cases in which female leaders have been looked down upon by the very community members they represent, just for being women. Some lectures, debates and meetings are held in bars. Union representatives meet in bars and if a woman comes in to discuss, it´s frowned upon. So they don´t look down at them, or for their children or husband´s sake, the women leave their posts.

Is there discrimination against women?
Women had been beaten or killed in October 2003 [during the gas protests] or beaten in Santa Cruz [in August 2008, during protests against the central government], or beaten in Sucre [in May 2008 in strikes against campesino and indigenous groups], or killed in Pando [during a paramilitary massacre against a campesino and indigenous march in October 2008]. They were indigenous campesina women, and for the aggressors, their lives were worth less than a professional woman in the city or that of a man. There was particular cruelty against women in the middle of a new racism sprout. There, we saw machismo and fascism together.

The women have participated actively in assemblies and in social mobilization, but that did not translate proportionally into seats in Congress, in institutional decision-making spaces.

A male deputy spoke of the men´s supposed superiority and the proof of his theory is that labor groups are mostly women but supposedly have always needed a male leader. Our compañeras are told that women don´t have the ability. And we tell them that this is what the dominant classes have always told the indigenous throughout history and, and now it´s being reproduced by men against their own partners in the struggle.

What´s being done to change this?
Within our collective, we believe that in order to decolonize, you have to also get rid of the patriarchal structure. A lot of this colonial state is run by the patriarchy. From the government itself, the question is subordinated; it doesn´t receive enough attention. You run the risk of believing that other struggles are going to take on women´s struggle. There aren´t easy conditions to work on the gender issue. Being part of the left doesn´t mean you don´t face machismo.

We see that there is something that´s not being discussed enough: the liberal structure in the social sphere has led to a series of ministries of indigenous issues, gender issues, generational issues. So it´s clear that a government like this one is not going to have an indigenous issues ministry, that´s the first thing President Evo Morales said: “we indigenous are no longer an issue.” We´re in everything, but little by little, this has translated to the issue of women, and is simply resolved saying that women are also involved in everything, something that´s just not true. Just uttering that women are involved in everything does not give us access.

So it´s not clear how this process of change assumes women´s struggle. We have heard deputies of MAS [the ruling Movement to Socialism] party tell fellow lawmakers that women are not able to represent the people. So there is something that is still unclear, that is, how this process can assume these struggles, not subordinate them. We´re missing a clearer position to fight this kind of oppression.

What is your view on the current state of the process of change?
This process of change has been the project of an alliance of organizations and it has now become “the power” in a dispute over whose is the process of change, whether it´s the MAS or the organizations that have been left on the margins, sadly, because all of them have been subordinated by the MAS, and they have wanted to snatch that process of change from us. We all wanted that change and it shouldn´t be trapped by the state, by a political party. I think there are small advances but great steps back as a result.

Sometimes we don´t know what to do, because we want to have changes and the women need those changes faster. At any rate, despite small steps, we´re united to continue dreaming. The name “Dream Weavers” has been questioned ... [but] I think we´re still dreaming.

There is a change, from nothing to something, and it´s above all hope because an indigenous man has risen to the presidency. As many old women in the countryside say, one of their sons is now running the state. But this change has created other ways of doing politics. The present state is a colonial state in all of its old forms. It had always been run by the dominant classes, and now it is run by other players, but not necessarily to change itself. You see some compañeras who are now empowered, but some times they are empowered against their own compañeras. - Latinamerica Press.


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Dunia Mokrani Chávez (Photo: Juan Nicastro)
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