Take Five: “I truly believe it takes a revolutionary process to achieve equality”

Date: Monday, March 11, 2019

Photo; UN Women/David Villegas

Adriana Salvatierra, a role model to many, became the fourth woman to be elected as the President of the Senate Chambers in the history of Bolivia this year. The 29-year-old is also the youngest to hold this position in the country, and in Latin America. Politically active since her adolescence, Salvatierra drew inspiration from her parents, who were politically involved and introduced her to political debates. In the October 2014 general elections, Salvatierra, 25 at the time, experienced her first win, as the deputy senator of the Department of Santa Cruz. She hasn’t looked back since. In the last decade many young women, as Salvatierra had the opportunity to enter into formal politics, since there were laws that guarantied women political equal participation. UN Women contribute to this positive change by providing technical and financial support, in order to promote the compliance of international recommendations.

Why is it important to include women’s voices in politics?

Including women’s voices in politics is a starting point of a process that questions the privileges and biases that exist, based on gender and social class. It’s a process to break down the patriarchy that frames the construction of this State. Power has been traditionally wielded and preserved by men. When we look back at Bolivia’s Independence Act firm of 1825, there were 48 signatures, all from men. These were professionals, and military men, from a privileged economic class. The Republic of Bolivia was founded on this basis. It took hundreds of years to finally understand that this part of history—our independence—was also a product of women’s efforts. Only after 184 years parity and gender equality became a tangible reality. It’s still hard for women to get into politics today, especially if you are a young woman, because of all the prejudices we face. For example, there is the prejudice that women handle public services based on their emotions. Women are underestimated, which ultimately undervalues us.

What will it take to get more women involved in politics? How can we encourage young women to participate in politics?

Building equality is a process. If you believe yourself to be a feminist, you must recognize that you fight for the effective construction of equality between men and women. All women must have and exercise the same rights as other citizens. An indigenous woman, just like any other person, must have absolute clarity of the principles that make up her political points of views and principles.

What we have experienced in Bolivia is unprecedented –a democratic and cultural revolution was born out of the country’s core, from bottom-up, those who lived in oppressive conditions and faced inequality. And it transformed the economic base of the country. The transformation had to include those who were traditionally excluded –farmers, women, youth and indigenous people. I truly believe it takes a revolutionary process to achieve equality.

Bolivia has made exemplary strides when it comes to women’s participation in politics—currently, women account for 53.1 per cent of Parliamentarians, the third-highest percentage globally. How has Bolivia accomplished such high representation of women in politics?

Bolivia’s achievement in reaching gender parity in politics is an expression of both its political will and social mobilization by women. To achieve equality, in life and in politics, women needed to fully understand how they experience the inequality and identify with each other. You need to organize, you need to fight, and you need political will. It was possible to reach a high percentage of women in the parliament because there was a clear conviction that we had the obligation to construct conditions of equality under the government, at the same time as women were fighting for their rights. I don’t think feminist movements alone will create change.

Women political participation was an extremely relevant in Evo Morales government. The new Law on Political Organizations that was approved and debated in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly in 2018, emerged as a result of a long debate process, held between women's social organizations, the Plurinational Electoral Body, UN Women, the Coordinator of Women among other institutions that contribute to the construction of the proposals that became in this new norm that was promulgated on August 31st by the president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales.

This Law has managed to incorporate a de-patriarchalization regime, this means that for the first time in the history of the country, each party and citizen group will apply mechanisms to guarantee the exercise of parity and equality of opportunities between men and women within their parties and citizen groups, this norm also oblige political parties to act against harassment and gender based violence in politics. This proposal emerged as a result of a participatory inclusive workshop that took place in nine Bolivian regions. More than 500 women from different parts of the country, diverse population groups, participate in this process.

What are the priority topics on your feminist agenda?

My priorities are based on the implementation of a system that is already in Congress’s agenda, the Code of the Criminal System, whose proposal of law incorporated benefits for woman regarding their sexual and reproductive rights. It had a slight downturn, but it has an important focus on gender that is still relevant and that we will continue to push for it to pass.

The Universal System of Universal and Free Health (SUS) is another issue that we will work on. It is very important for us to shine a light on women’s health. The SUS aims to provide preferential attention in the provision of services and administrative procedures to persons in vulnerable situation, including women, girls, people living with disability, indigenous people, and Afro-Bolivian communities.

You have also spoken about the care economy. Why is it important to address the care economy as part of women’s economic empowerment?

In the gross domestic product (GDP), a woman who works at home, caring for her family doesn’t count as someone who is contributing. However, when a woman does this kind of work in someone else’s house, then she is paid. Bolivia has had great progress, but this topic is on agenda because it must be recognized by the State as an act of justice, and also by society in general. Without recognizing the value of women’s care work, we are undervaluing women’s contribution to the economy, by acknowledging it, we can also unlock better income and prospects for women who work in this sector.