Rural women meeting in Bolivia: Overcoming the barriers

By Ilaria Firmian

Last week I was on a design mission for ASAP-ACCESOS programme in Bolivia, and I got the chance to participate in a meeting of rural women that the IFAD country office organised in La Paz on March 15th, in collaboration with FAO, WFP, UNIDO, UN-WOMEN and PRAIA.

The objective of the one-day event was to share, disseminate and replicate successful experiences of Bolivian women. Almost 80 participants came to present their managerial experiences that resulted in economic returns, to describe the processes through which they and their families went, and also to talk about achievements and difficulties.
The very first thing that hit me were the colours and the shapes in the room: from traditional hats to coloured fabrics, to babies carried on their mothers’ shoulders.

The meeting was organised around three sessions, focusing respectively on:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Food security
  • Traditional knowledge

All presentations, as well as interventions from the floor, were bringing to the table very pragmatic experiences from daily life (from dealing with child education to dealing with alcoholic husbands), and one intervention that did much so was the one from the Vice-Minister of Justice, Mrs Isabel Ortega, focusing on women's leadership, where she made clear that any form of leadership has to be based on traditional rules, knowledge and respect.

Actually, the debate in the last session was all on traditional knowledge, and participants admitted that they started realising even more the importance and the richness of their culture (both immaterial and material – in fact, presentations also illustrated traditional handcraft and ways of weaving and dyeing lama and alpaca wool) when foreigners showed interest to it.

Someone said that "their future comes from their past" – and this of course refers as well to the economic value that tourism and market attach to that “past”.What came out clearly from the event, is that women, especially when they get organised into groups, become economically powerful - especially by adding value to production -  and can play a big role in supporting the economic development of their families and communities. Therefore capacity building and technical assistance for value-addition are necessary interventions. However, there are still too many women who do not get access to trainings because of cultural or “logistical” reasons.

As Jaana Keitaanranta, the IFAD Country Programme Manager, said in closing the event, there is still a lot to do, and IFAD and partner agencies should continue collaborating in empowering women, as well as youth, and make their voice heard even more.

Events such as this one play a role in helping women feeling empowered, strengthened and recognised.