As women's roles expand in Bolivian politics, so do attacks

As women's roles expand in Bolivian politics, so do attacks

Few countries in the world have advanced so quickly toward gender parity in politics as has Bolivia, where women now hold almost half the seats in congress and laws mandate gender equality at lower levels too.

But some male Bolivian politicians have resisted the change, and women's rights activists report a sharp increase in violence against female politicians as their numbers rise.

Mary de la Cruz, a city councilwoman in a town on the outskirts of La Paz, said the town's mayor accosted her as she walked with colleagues through a plaza in Achocalla and punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground. She said he was apparently angry she had complained of irregularities in public works contracts.

"It hasn't been easy for me to get where I am," said de la Cruz, who complained the mayor also had been spreading false rumors about her sex life. "And the man thinks that we are inferior creatures, that a punch isn't anything, that's its normal."

Bolivia began addressing gender imbalance in politics in 1997 with a law that at least 30 percent of candidates for many races be women. The Andean nation subsequently refined the laws to guarantee parity.

A decade ago, women held only 4 percent of posts in municipal assemblies. By 2015, they held 50 percent — a group that included De la Cruz, 38.

But women's rising profile "has also led to problems related to discrimination, manipulation and violence," a report by UN Women said.

Monica Paye, was arrested and suspended from her position as councilwoman in the La Paz-area municipality of Callapa in May when officials accused her of losing two city-owned laptop computers, even though she offered to replace them. Paye, 34, who has remained under house arrest, had feuded with the mayor over public works contrasts in the town.

Paye said the pressure is especially strong against women in the countryside. She said pressures include false allegations of infidelity and withholding of salaries, as well as physical violence.

In some elections, candidates are required to have a running mate or alternate of the opposite sex. If a woman wins, sometimes her male alternate will seek to oust her to take power.

Sometimes women come under attack even from a male politician's family or friends.

Escoma town Councilwoman Marcela Mamani Huanca had accused the mayor of corruption shortly before he died in a car crash. His family blamed her for the death.

"Right after the mayor's wake, his sister and brother dragged me by the hair in the town square in front of my children," said Huanca, a 35-year-old butcher.

Text from AP news story As women's roles expand in Bolivian politics, so do attacks by Paola Flores

Photos by Juan Karita