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BOLIVIA: Work Comes First for Women

Bernarda Claure

LA PAZ, Aug 6 2007 (IPS) - The role of self-sacrificing wife and mother who stays at home is no longer the main goal of many Bolivian women.

The National Survey on Women’s Perceptions of Exclusion and Discrimination found that in the life plans of most women in Bolivia, work comes first, and a decreasing number have plans based exclusively on marriage or motherhood.

The survey, carried out by the non-governmental Coordinadora de la Mujer, indicates that barely seven percent of the interviewees said their priority was having a partner and children, “which was the main characteristic of the life plans of Bolivian women two decades ago,” the study says.

In contrast, working or studying was the top priority for 56 percent of respondents.

However, 28 percent said they thought combining work, a partner and children was the formula for happiness. “This is important, as it shows that being a wife and mother is an integral part of being a woman,” said the Coordinadora de la Mujer.

That traditional women’s roles are being displaced by other aspirations is an important step towards gender equity, the head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)’s Women and Development Unit, Sonia Montaño, told IPS.

This is happening throughout Latin America, she said. Women’s participation in the labour market and in politics has increased, and most countries now have policies for the active promotion of gender equality.

“But women still carry the heaviest burden of work at home, they are still a minority in decision-making positions, they earn less than men and they suffer the effects of sexist violence,” Montaño said.

Working women and their contribution to the economy is actually one of the issues to be addressed by the 10th Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, convened by ECLAC, and taking place in Quito from Aug. 6 to 9.

The share of women in waged employment is one of the indicators for monitoring achievement of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2000, with most targets to be fulfilled by 2015 with respect to 1990 indicators.

The MDGs are a worldwide commitment to halving hunger and extreme poverty by 2015, and include the goal of gender equity.

According to information available to the Women and Development Unit directed by Montaño, by 2015 women’s participation in Bolivia’s labour market will have risen.

This will not happen by chance, but will be a hard-earned right which should be supported by policies promoting employment and respect for labour rights, Montaño said.

In Bolivia, 51 percent of the country’s 9.3 million people are women, and according to the National Institute of Statistics, 1.8 million women work. They are mainly employed in livestock raising, agriculture and fishing (37 percent), services and trade (25.7 percent), unskilled labour (15.2 percent) and manufacturing and industry (11.4 percent).

Women’s access to paid work is one of the four indicators used by the MDGs to measure gender equity and the empowerment of women. The goal in Bolivia is to achieve the inclusion of 50 percent of women of working age in remunerated employment.

A researcher for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Milenka Ocampo, told IPS that 32 percent of Bolivian women work in public administration, financial institutions, communication, transport, hotels and manufacturing, among other occupations.

Bolivia has a similar proportion of working women to Peru, where 33.4 percent of women work.

“But we must look into the quality of employment for women,” said sociologist Marcos Cardona.

The 2006 report by the government’s Social and Economic Policy Analysis Unit and the Inter-Institutional Committee on the Millennium Development Goals said that while women’s participation in the labour market has increased, many women have had to take low-qualified jobs.

Indeed, most Bolivian women work in the informal sector, especially in services and trade, Cardona pointed out.

The Coordinadora de la Mujer said that employment quality is “something that needs to be worked on.” But it found positive aspects in the results of the survey, which involved interviews with 2,985 women between the ages of 15 and 65 in Bolivia’s main cities.

In their analysis of the results, the Coordinadora de la Mujer emphasised that the survey showed that including work as a central aspect of personal fulfilment is not only about self-esteem, independence or wider opportunities. “It must also be understood as a means to social recognition and worth. And, ultimately, to becoming full citizens.”

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