[News] Bolivian Women’s Right to Land Thwarted by Patriarchal Traditions

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 15 12:45:59 EST 2010

Bolivian Women’s Right to Land Thwarted by Patriarchal Traditions

Written by Franz Chávez interviews land reform consultant GABY GÓMEZ-GARCÍA

Thursday, 14 January 2010 12:48

(IPS) - Bolivian legislation on land ownership is 
highly favourable to women, but a lack of 
awareness makes it difficult to enforce these 
laws and ensure that women are able to obtain - 
and maintain - control of the land they farm.

This country's legislation establishing women 
farmers’ right to land ownership is among the 
most advanced in Latin America, yet women 
continue to be forced off of the land to which 
they are legally entitled and expelled from their 
communities, according to Gaby Gómez-García, a 
consultant at the governmental National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA).

Patriarchal social traditions in indigenous 
communities and the high rate of illiteracy among 
rural women are the main obstacles to 
successfully enforcing the legislation, said 
Gómez-García, who stressed the need to raise 
awareness in order to harmonise the country’s 
laws with the customs and practices of indigenous peoples.

Roughly 60 percent of the population of this 
South American country of 10.4 million people belong to indigenous groups.

And although women make up just over half of the 
indigenous population, they account for only 47.6 
percent of the 3.5 million Bolivians who live in 
rural areas, according to official statistics.

Gómez-García is co-author of the book "La tierra 
tiene nombre de mujer" (The Land Has a Woman’s 
Name), published by INRA. The book highlights the 
fact that property deeds for 164,401 hectares of 
land were allocated to 10,299 women between 
January 2006 and January 2009, as part of the 
government's land reform efforts.

Evo Morales, the country's first-ever native 
president, first took office in January 2006, and 
was re-elected on Dec. 10 to a second term that begins on Jan. 22.

By comparison, only 4,125 land ownership deeds 
were granted to women between 1997 and 2005.

But although significant progress has been made 
over the last few years, a great deal more still 
needs to be done, Gómez-García said in this interview with IPS.

Q: What guarantees and protections does the 
current legislation offer to women with regard to land ownership?

A: Legislation favourable to women has been in 
force since the adoption of the National Agrarian 
Reform Institute Act in 1996, which established 
recognition of women’s right to land ownership.

Under the Community Reorganisation Act of 2006, 
the government’s policies have targeted 
disadvantaged sectors, and therefore encompass 
the recognition of women’s rights, but the 
progress made in this area has never been measured.

Q: Have the advances made with regard to legislation been sufficient?

A: We have come to realise that while progress 
has been made in terms of formally recognising 
women’s rights through property deeds, this is not enough.

Beginning in 2010, the government officials who 
go to local communities to carry out field 
studies will demand active participation by 
women, but greater awareness is needed of the 
importance of this additional task in order to 
transform the structure of land ownership.

Q: Does INRA’s work end with the granting of property deeds?

A: Even after the deeds have been awarded, women 
are still unaware of their rights. Many of them 
do not know how to read and write, and they do 
not realise that the land is not exclusively owned by their husbands.

This is a very sensitive issue in communities in 
the Andean region, where the structure of land 
ownership is patriarchal. We do not even know 
exactly how many indigenous cultures adhere to this patriarchal model.

Q: In marriages between two people from different 
cultural groups, is women’s right to land recognised?

A: When women get married, they leave their own 
communities and move to their husbands’ villages. 
There are cases where women are abandoned and 
expelled from their former husbands’ communities, 
and then try to return to their home communities 
when they are old, but they are not allowed back 
because their children have a different surname 
(indicating membership of a different indigenous community).

When marriages break down, there is little 
tolerance in the communities and women are left 
without protection. INRA can’t do anything about 
it because communities must rule themselves 
within their own territory, under the system of 
autonomy and self-determination.

Q: How much resistance is there among the men in 
communities against the granting of ownership deeds to women?

A: In the case of smallholdings, there is a great 
deal of resistance and women must fight hard to 
be recognised as owners. But when they achieve 
this recognition, they gain social prestige, and 
their husbands cannot beat them anymore.

The biggest challenge is when community property 
is involved and the state cannot do anything. 
Women are powerless when the community 
intervenes, because only a husband or nephew can 
assume ownership of the land, and women are 
relegated to the role of domestic workers and subjected to greater poverty.

Q: How much still needs to be done to ensure 
recognition of these rights by society at large?

A: There is a need to work with women to help 
them realise that they have rights. They cannot 
exercise their rights if they are not aware of 
them, and this is a way to prevent them from 
being expelled from their communities.

INRA ends its involvement after turning over 
ownership deeds, but we want to foster spaces for 
dialogue, because we cannot simply impose our own 
rules and override the cultural practices of indigenous peoples.

There has to be a process leading to the 
community’s recognition of women and their 
relationship to the land. But financial support 
is needed in order to raise awareness and ensure 
respect for women’s rights, while recognising the 
rights of indigenous peoples at the same time.

Q: Are the existing laws sufficient to achieve these goals?

A: The current legislation provides ample formal 
recognition of women’s rights, but we have to 
work on harmonising the laws with community norms and practices.

For example, in the (central) highlands valley 
region, there is little likelihood of women being 
forced off of their land because they have a 
great deal of power. Many of them are the heads 
of their families, and the plots of land are 
small. They have fought hard for what they have.

In the lowlands (the plains and Amazon jungle in 
the north and east), I saw for myself that 
inter-ethnic marriages involve a great deal of 
violence. Women must tolerate a lot of abuse and 
are not defended by the community.

But among the Cavineño indigenous people (based 
in the northern provinces of Beni and Pando), 
women can have three husbands, and a woman with 
three husbands can very successfully administer 
her land with three men working for her.

Q: What experiences have emerged from the 
workshops aimed at listening to women’s demands?

A: One was held in November in the city of Oruro, 
with the participation of judicial authorities 
from the National Agrarian Court. It sparked a 
great deal of interest in learning more about 
women’s rights in their communities.

The new Bolivian constitution (in effect since 
February) states that each community should be 
ruled and regulated in accordance with its own 
customs and practices, and this is important, 
because the rights of the weak must not be violated.

These meetings allow for dialogue between the 
government authorities and indigenous leaders, 
who concur that discrimination against women is 
unjust, and have promised to seek ways to bring 
national laws and community traditions into line 
to ensure respect for women’s rights.

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