BOLIVIA: A New Dawn in Bolivia: Constitution Extends New Protections for Women

Tuesday, February 10, 2009
South America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Following a referendum on January 26, 2009, Bolivia has a new constitution, with initial results suggesting that almost two-thirds of the turnout voted in favor.The news has delighted Bolivian pro-choice advocates, as it follows an arduous battle to ensure that early promises concerning women's rights and reproductive rights made it into the constitution's final draft.

There are many things about the result that make us feel proud and happy. Throughout the process, we overcame numerous roadblocks and experienced several dark moments. However, we prevailed and the rights of all Bolivians have been extended and improved considerably, thanks to the work of groups of feminists, human rights advocates and the many social movements that are committed to this cause. Among other things, the constitution now includes gender inclusive language, a significant victory for the feminist cause. In fact, 33 individual articles relate to the rights of women.

Throughout the constitution, there are many references to values we cherish, including unity, equality, inclusion, dignity, liberty, solidarity, reciprocity, respect, complementarity, harmony, transparency, equilibrium, equal opportunities, and social and gender equity.

Some key issues that we lobbied on and that were included in the final draft include:
* A respect for and guarantees of freedom of religion and spiritual belief and an explicit separation of church and state
* Guarantees for the sexual and reproductive rights of women and men
* A ban on discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation
* Guarantees for the protection of physical, psychological and sexual health
* Protections for women against physical, sexual or psychological violence
* A guarantee of equal pay for equal work between men and women
* A recognition of the economic value of homemakers, as a source of wealth for the state
* A guarantee that women - married and single - will have access to land, including the transfer of land to women

It must be said that, similar to what has happened in other countries which have revised their constitutions, conservative Catholics and the political right-wing conducted an aggressive campaign against many of these changes. These groups argued, among other things, that Christianity would be banned and replaced by indigenous practices such as adoration of the Pachamama (Mother Earth) as the only "religion," and that abortion and gay marriage would be legalized (Article 266 of the Bolivian Criminal Code states that abortion is illegal except in cases when a pregnancy threatens a woman's health or life, in cases of rape or incest and when a woman is abducted, made pregnant and the abductor does not marry her. The reality is that abortion in any circumstance is difficult to obtain). None of the claims made by the opposition were true, but they did cause us some problems.
Many, many people helped us in this journey, in constructing sound and clear arguments that both moved the process forward in a direction we were happy with, as well as uniting the many different organizations that were involved in the process. We are grateful to them all.

Of course, this is just the beginning - we have much work that lies ahead, especially including reforms to the abortion sections of the Criminal Code. But we are energized and ready for those challenges.