From a development perspective, gender equality is not a “women’s” problem but rather a matter of economic and social development in countries. This cross-cutting issue must be naturally integrated into all development work throughout all the productive sectors.
Bolivia has made considerable progress towards gender equality in recent years, especially in education and female representation in the public sector. However, gender inequality and discrimination persist in daily life, as evidenced by the indicators that link women’s situation with a lower quality of life and less access to resources compared to men.
At the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), we support Bolivia in strengthening its policies and strategies to close gender gaps through projects in various areas that incorporate gender strategies and approaches.
Work that illuminates with equity
The electricity sector represents an essential source of work and income in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, women represent less than 20% of all employees in this sector. Bolivia’s data coincides with this percentage, showing little participation by women in the energy sector and particularly in the electricity sector, with less than 20% of women working in this field, and only 13% on the technical side.
With the municipality of La Paz, the IDB is currently preparing a project to replace 53,000 lights with LED technology. An important part of this project will include the training of 300 women, in electricity and renewable energies, for this purpose.
Water and women’s participation
In the countries of the region, there is also little participation of women in water management decisions. However, women spend more hours sourcing for drinking water than men. When there is no water or access is limited, women bear responsibility for providing water for the home (64% Vs. 24% men, 8% girls, and 4% boys). Likewise, diseases caused by contaminated water represent an additional burden and risk of contagion for women, traditionally responsible for caring for the sick at home and in the health system.
For this reason, the IDB supports the Government of Bolivia to increase the coverage, quality, and continuity of drinking water services, by financing a Multipurpose Project for drinking water, irrigation, and water resources for the municipalities of El Alto, Batallas, and Pucarani. This project also includes an entrepreneurship program for women, which seeks to increase their resilience and empowerment through economic income with activities such as crafts.
This project, together with the Lake Titicaca Sanitation Program, through the Inter-Institutional Platform of the Katari Basin, supports groups of women organized for advocacy and decision-making regarding water and pollution prevention.
Plant, harvest and sell
Access to quality water sources for irrigation in rural areas is essential to guarantee safe food production. Water pollution in various Bolivia regions represents a challenge for farmers, a significant part of which are women.
The National Irrigation Program with a Basin Approach financed by the IDB promoted an adequate irrigation system and boosted the leading role of women in planting, harvesting, and selling the product. This initiative encouraged their active participation in decision-making within the community and positively impacted the household economy.
An impact evaluation of the program indicated an increase in total household income between 35 to 45%, improving their production, their connection with the markets with the highest sales, increasing the use of complementary technologies, and formalizing their irrigation associations, where the participation of women was encouraged.
Women in the Integral Management of Solid Waste
There is no specific data on the number of people who recycle the garbage in Bolivia. However, estimates indicate that more than 80% are women, and many are older adults. Sometimes they carry out their daily tasks in unhealthy environments accompanied by minors under their care.
Given the imminent closure of the municipal dump and the loss of income source for many women, the Riberalta Social Inclusion Plan (PISO), financed by the IDB, made it possible to improve their working and economic conditions. The initiative implemented with the municipality’s support had a positive impact on creating new job opportunities for these women, and improving their self-esteem, providing training and equipment opportunities to start ventures.
Based on the training received, a group of women formed an association that performs cleaning services and solid waste transportation in a district of the city. Another group individually reoriented its economic activity in other areas (such as beauty services, sale of food prepared by them, or a neighborhood store). At the end of the project, all the partners work with control and safety standards, and their income and working conditions significantly improved.
Health, when warmth is part of the culture
In rural areas, the national health system’s limitations deepen. Inhabitants face cultural, geographical, and linguistic barriers that prevent them from receiving optimal care—for example, situations at the time of child delivery.
Faced with high maternal mortality figures in the department of Potosí, the IDB financed the incorporation of 26 obstetrician nurses assigned to rural areas of the department. Sensitized personnel has meant overcoming cultural barriers and providing an adequate and timely service.
The Ministry of Health, with support from the IDB, has been executing the Program for the Improvement of Access to Hospital Services in Bolivia, intending to strengthen the capacities of the health personnel of the Hospital Norte in El Alto, and the Red de Salud de Los Andes in Potosí.
The Hospital del Norte staff in the city of El Alto received training on issues of fair treatment and interculturality to better serve patients from indigenous communities. Training also included information on detecting and intervening appropriately in domestic violence cases and understanding Bolivia’s regulation.
In Bolivia, as in the entire region, there is ample space for promoting gender equality and female empowerment, through the economic participation of women, in all sectors. The ministries of labor and private companies indeed have a role to play, but so do those institutions and companies dedicated to education, energy, water, and health. We all can and must contribute to the advancement of our economies and societies through gender equality.