Takes a Village
A request for a violence free life seems a reasonable one. Yet, this request has been historically squelched for marginalized groups such as women around the world. Bolivia addressed this issue in the form of Law 348. Law 348 was the first law in Bolivia to guarantee women a violence free life. A right given to Bolivian women in 2013.This law is overdue, because the issue of women and violence has been kept out of mainstream Bolivian discourse as Amanda Martin, Director of Etta Projects' Community Transformation Center, observes. “It’s a topic that is not talked about-it’s the violence against women, sexual assault, child abuse, abuse of little girls, abuse of grown women, rape- all of these things are just not discussed in Bolivia- no one wants to talk about it-it’s the dirty secret but something that affects all families,” she says.
This issue affects Amanda Martin as well. Gender-based violence interrupted her own life after arriving to Bolivia to work for Etta Projects, a Rotary based NGO that works and in hand in rural communities in Eastern Bolivia to improve their public health system. Her longtime partner, who was not Bolivian, turned violent. Martin says, “I was driving and he reached over and tried to strangle me and grabbed the machete I keep under the seat, because I live way out in the country side and often you need a machete to cut down vines to get down the road and tried to plunge the machete into my chest while he was strangling me. I was able to stop the vehicle, open the door, roll out into the middle of the highway and the oncoming pick-up truck stopped. Three guys got out of it and I told them to detain my partner, which they did.”
Keeping her partner detained was difficult despite Law 348. Martin shares, “That whole process, each step of that process, the incredibly difficult time I had trying to get anyone to do anything at the public defender’s office, at the police office, at the special forces for women office at the legal services office for women office, at the forensic medical office every single step of the way was incredibly difficult and as I went through that process, going through the process of losing a loved one as well as trying to be my own lawyer, social worker, therapist and accompanier, trying to get this person apprehended was absolutely exhausting.” Law 348, in the end, didn’t work in Martins favor. She says, “It was a torturous, tedious, exhausting process that led to nothing. There was no judgment against him. He was never convicted.”
Martin’s experience as well as the other stories she heard inspired her to create change. She says, “After hearing the testimony of women after women after women after women in community 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 I decided I needed to do something about it and I sat down I remember it was very late at night, a Friday night and I had one of our health promoters staying over at our office because she was afraid to go home because her husband was being extremely abusive so she was seeking refuge with us and I sat down with her and wrote a grant proposal for a program to train community health promoters in women’s rights to become women’s rights defenders to work along side the Defensoria de Pueblo or the public defender’s office here in Bolivia, every municipal government has one and to promote women’s rights so that women would know there is indeed an amazing law in Bolivia that guarantees the rights of women in Bolivia to live a life free of violence and to take this law that is so wonderful and written on paper and start educating people on what it is and what are the rights that this law defends, what are the rights that Bolivian women have.”
Martin’s work has helped her and others heal. She says, “I am in a much better place, much stronger. I do believe that these horrible things in our lives can be opportunities for us to awaken and to grow and become empowered and that has definitely happened to me. I’ve been able to take that situation and turn it around and help create more opportunities for other Bolivian women to find their voices and to stand up and speak their truth in a collaborative way, working together obviously from very different backgrounds and different perspectives but as women joining hands together and saying we have the right to live a life free of violence.” Efforts like Amanda Martin’s work for Etta Projects are important in a world where women’s’ requests to not be beat, battered or raped are often ignored. With efforts such as these, perhaps one day, the request for a life free of violence won’t be such a difficult one to grant.
If you are interested on learning more, volunteering or donating about Etta Projects and the Community Training Center, please visit them at http://www.ettaprojects.org/