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Column 021813 Brewer

Monday, February 18, 2013

Violence against Women in Bolivia is Pervasive

By Jerry Brewer

Last week in La Paz, Bolivia, in front of the presidential palace, women demonstrated against gender-based violence. Clashing with police, a hundred or more women led in part by female government ministers, human rights activists and female journalists demanded to be heard.

Although Bolivian women cite decades of what they describe as high levels of violence, exclusion, and discrimination against them, they had a recent atrocity to voraciously echo into the streets. They wanted to call on the government to move an anti-violence bill forward.

On February 12 journalist Hanali Huaycho (36) was viciously butchered, allegedly by her husband -- police officer Jorge Clavijo Ovando, who fled the scene. She had been stabbed at least 15 times.

The incensed mob of mostly women was quickly met by riot-geared police, who fired pepper spray at some demonstrators in attempts to block the women from advancing on the government house of leftist President Evo Morales and his administration.

The history of discrimination, violence, and exclusion against women in Bolivia remains high.  As well, they suffer one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, high illiteracy rates, and low income generating capacity. Poor and indigenous women in rural areas especially suffer discrimination “more acutely and are often marginalized from positive social changes,” according to London-based Womankind Worldwide.

Bolivia also suffers from being one of the poorest countries in South America. Approximately 37.7% of the population lives below the poverty line, “with poverty rates being the highest among its indigenous female population.”

Furthermore, it is reported that 7 out of 10 women have suffered from some kind of violence, most of which has occurred in their own homes. It is also estimated that “four out of ten women and one out of four girls are victims of sexual violence in Bolivia, and in most cases this assault was done by a male member of the victim's own family.”

This culture of violence against women in the Western Hemisphere occurs throughout Mexico, Central, and South America, and it is a persistent and universal problem that occurs in every culture.

Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime -- most often by someone she knows, including a member of her own family, an employer or a co-worker.” Violence against women has been called “the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world.”

It is estimated that one in every two or three women in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay experiences gender based violence, mainly women from rural areas (especially indigenous and Afro-American women). Most of the violent crimes committed against women are not reported and consequently go unpunished.  The saddest and most frustrating hemispheric facts show near mecca's of homicidal mania.

Mexico is (possibly unfairly) consistently labeled as the main purveyor of the tragic phenomenon known as femicide. Equally disturbing to Mexican government officials are the accusations of “state tolerance -- and with a high degree of impunity.”

Probably the best definition and description of “femicide” relates to the context and motives for the crime as key factors for labeling it as such. The common ingredient in the term encompasses the relationship between the murdered women and their killers. The differential status of power and subsequent motive that exists between the two appears to become a common ingredient in the modus operandi of the killers. More broadly defined, femicide is quite simply any form of gender violence that ends in the death of a woman or girl.

The facts are that sexual abuse and violence against women remain prevalent across Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina. Although acts of femicide have been common and reported throughout the world, they have reached horrifying extremes in Guatemala and Mexico. The enigma and infamy of the culture of violence against women defies the belief of those with a moral compass.

A new constitution in Bolivia shows concern at the government level. However an appropriate framework cries out for action. Words and promises to address the underlying causes affecting women’s rights alone will simply be continued impunity and result in much more destruction.

The Bolivian government acknowledges that laws protecting women are not enough to protect them. “Poor publicizing of the laws” is blamed for the problem, and officials state that this is “causing lawyers to not use the laws in court.”

Bolivians are aware of the laws, but officials, often male, chose not to enforce them. President Evo Morales has some important work to do.


Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at

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