Over ten women a month lose their lives for being women in Bolivia. This statistic makes Bolivia the leader in femicide in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, Valeria Flores Sandoval, special projects manager for Tarija’s Secretariat for Women and the Family, observes something is unique to her community of Tarija. She says, “There’s been a 117 feminicdos this year in Bolivia but in Tarija there have been none.” Sandoval believes programs implemented by such groups as the Secretariat for Women and the Family have helped Tarija combat the gender violence which affects 7 out of 10 women in this country. These programs have been aimed at teaching people how to talk about subjects such as sex, a taboo subject in Bolivian discourse. Sandoval specifies, “For example, there is a national plan to prevent teenage pregnancy and they feel they have prevented these unwanted pregnancies and they are dealing directly with violence and sex and giving the tools for a healthier sexual education that includes the parents being able to talk about it.”
Sex was not discussed in the past. Sandoval remembers, “Sexuality and gender were things you were not able to talk about because not talked about in Tarija because the population is beyond 60% Catholic but in a conservative sort of way so before a few years ago, it was impossible to talk about these sorts of subjects.” She also recalls noticing an obvious lack of female leadership within her native Tarija. She says, “When I was 16, maybe seventeen, I used to belong to all these groups and I never saw a woman as a leader, so she started asking herself, ‘why can’t I be a leader?”” Sandoval answered this question by pursuing her studies in sociology in Santa Cruz de la Tierra and returning to Tarija with not only an education but also a daughter to raise.
Thanks to efforts such as Sandoval’s, Sandoval’s daughter is growing up in a different Tarija. Sandoval believes programs she has designed have helped provide preventative measures to curb the gender-based violence in Tarija. She says people have come a long way and make more denuncias, they go to the police and tell the what is going on inside their house. “We feel we have improved a lot when it comes to human rights, women rights and LGBTgroup of people. Before with the misogyny, these groups were left out but now…not with a 100% of acceptance but with at least enough acceptance to be able to talk about it. In the end, this empowers everyone.”
Sandoval sees Tarija’s success as only the beginning. She says her organization’s goal is, “to change the whole structure of their society.” She laughs a laugh of joy, a marking of the people from Tarija, she knows this is may take a while Yet, Sandoval says just like the culture of Tarija, which is known for its wine and song, she knows this goal may take a while to achieve. She says, “I feel like step by step and every day we are going to keep working against misogony and against the patriarchy, against the gender-based violence and feminicidos.” Her efforts are carving out a better world for all including her own little girl who Sandoval hopes grows up to be an activist like herself. Let us hope she does, so she can carry on the change which is protecting Tarija from suffering at the hands of Bolivia’s feminicide epidemic.
For more on Ms. Sandoval’s organization, please visit https://www.facebook.com/Secretar%C3%ADa-de-la-Mujer-y-la-Familia-Gobierno-Municipal-de-Tarija-537116536483563/
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