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Rights of Indigenous Women in Bolivia

Content by: South-South News

11 August 2017, New York, USA | South-South News — Bolivia, and especially the capital city of La Paz, is undergoing a "building boom." And with an increased demand for labor, many of the workers new to the construction industry are women, especially indigenous women from Bolivia's countryside.

These women arrive in La Paz with a desire to work, but with limited knowledge of their rights, they are vulnerable to abuse and discrimination.

Anelise Melendez, who works for a local organization helping indigenous women in the construction sector, said, “Obviously for women who come from a rural area to live in a city, discrimination becomes more complex. It is not only because she is a woman, but also because she is indigenous and because of her level of education.”

In Bolivia, the International Labor Organization (ILO) works with trade unions, local government and employers to increase awareness about the rights for indigenous women and also provide training in occupational safety on the construction site. Natividad Velasco is one of the indigenous women who received the training. “Safety is very important at work,” she said, “There used to be a lot of accidents. Now that we have had the safety courses we know what safety is and we take care of each other.”

Perceptions are beginning to change. There is a trade union specifically for women who work in Bolivia's construction sector. “Ten years ago, you would rarely see a woman in construction work, maybe one or two compared to the number now - there are more,” said María del Carmen Cáceres, the General Secretary of the Association of Women Constructors Bolivia (ASOMUC).

The trade union has energized local government and employers to help ensure indigenous women have a voice in policies that affect them. Sergio Siles, of the Autonomous Municipal Government of La Paz, said, “We are happy to see that more women are involved in these associations, and it is evolving in a favorable way. Their voice is being listened to and included in different policies, programs and projects not only on a national level but especially the local level.”

The ILO also provides business and entrepreneurship skills training for indigenous women. A "virtual platform" of women construction workers in Bolivia who have been trained and certified by training centers helps them enter the job market. Rodrigo Mogrovejo, the National Coordinator of ILO Bolivia, said, “Why do women move into this labor market? Because incomes are better than in other sectors in Bolivia. We are on that path, we hope to achieve this in the short term, and there is the will among all the actors involved so I think we are moving in the right direction.”

Indigenous women like Natividad still face many challenges. But providing skills and making them more aware of their rights helps ensure they won't be left behind in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. In Bolivia, indigenous women, increasingly, have a voice. Empowering them is making a difference in their lives. “I want to tell my partners who are women and have suffered like me, when they still feel that discrimination, I want them to keep going and I don’t want them to fade,” she said, “They have to get ahead. They have to be a rock that cannot be bent.”

Indigenous peoples are five per cent of the world's population but 15 per cent of the world's poor. As a result of exclusion and discrimination, indigenous women are often the poorest of the poor.

August 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and this year marks the tenth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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