Elections in Bolivia: women miners submit their political agenda to candidates

Women play important roles within artisanal small scale mining (ASM) and in their communities, accounting for at least 30% of the ASM workforce globally, according to estimates provided by DELVE. However, too often women are confined to low-paid or secondary roles. Historically, mining has been “dominated by men” and, although this trend is slowly reversing, women continue to face social norms and prejudices that affect their work. This situation is not alien to Bolivia, where women face these disadvantages on a daily basis.

This month, the 2020 general elections in Bolivia will finally take place after a year of political turmoil.  The National Network of Women and Mining presented its sectoral proposals to candidates and institutions on October 6th. The online meeting was attended by 80 participants, including candidates for the Legislative Assembly representing mining districts as Cochabamba and La Paz.

Enabling conditions for responsible mining

In preparation for the meeting, Solidaridad systematized the inputs of 120 mining women into the report “Mining that shines. Contributions to the construction of a political agenda for women miners in Bolivia”. This document consists of a participatory diagnosis of the situation faced by women miners in Bolivia and raises recommendations for public policies. In addition, through our partner Cumbre del Sajama, and in coordination with Red UNITAS, Solidaridad trained the mining women to manage their own website and social media, thanks to the sponsorship of the Netherlands Government.

“Through this kind of initiatives, marginalized groups can express their voices and concerns to demand safer and fairer conditions within the value chain, especially in contexts where such channels are hampered. To develop inclusive chains, it is necessary to amplify the voices of the excluded”, explained Mauricio Winkelried, Solidaridad gold programme manager.

Women miners presented proposals during the virtual meeting

>> Read more about Solidaridad support to the National Network of Women Miners

1st proposal: women mining census

Among the most urgent needs, Gladys Bravo -representative of the association FENCOMIN- stressed the importance of carrying out a census to know specifically how many mining women there are in Bolivia, typify their work, and classify their places of residence. Without this, policies cannot be properly implemented in their communities. “The needs of gold miners are different from non-gold miners. In addition, it is also necessary to make visible the efforts of the barranquilleras, which today are not recognized, ”she commented, making allusion to women who work in alluvial mining.

2nd proposal: work conditions

Sinforosa Rodríguez, a member of the network from Potosí, pointed out that mining women have fewer opportunities to access work areas. For this reason, the network urges to achieve equal opportunities by providing enough work space and adequate facilities for women.

3rd proposal: health conditions

Gladis Ergueta, from the Federation of Gold Mining Cooperatives of the North of La Paz (Fecoman) detailed the main diseases suffered by mining workers: uterine prolapse, spinal disc herniation, loss of vision and different kinds of cancer. These are not treated due to poor medical care and lack of health insurance. Therefore, their proposal is for the State to include them in the public health system.

4th proposal: education

Magalí Sardinas, from the Departmental Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Potosí (Fedecomin), mentioned the need to expand access to education in mining districts and communities. In order to fight the high illiteracy rates and provide training in areas that help generate entrepreneurship, she proposed applying alternative education methodologies. Alternative education in Bolivia seeks active participation and involvement from students, encouraging the generation of knowledge, and its practical implementation in daily life.

5th proposal: environment

Miroslava Gonzales, member of Fecoman, commented on the contamination of the environment and water sources resulting from mining activities.. She proposed to the authorities to ensure the supply of drinking water in the regions where mining work is carried out, while focusing on the treatment of toxic waste and garbage within the sector to prevent further pollution.

6th proposal: violence prevention

The last speaker, Isabel Aguilar, from the Bolsa Negra Cooperative in La Paz, emphasized that gender-based violence threatens mining women both physically and psychologically, clearly breaching their fundamental rights. She demanded the socialization and compliance with current laws that promote the rights of women to a life free of violence (Law #348), and against political harassment (Law 243). According to Aguilar, these actions must include men so that they also understand and comply with the legislation. .

Political commitments

After the presentation of these proposals, candidates from Movement for Socialism (MAS) and Civic community (CC) political parties pledged to carry out actions aimed at realizing mining women’s needs, in case of being elected as legislators.

“Honestly, I had not included these topics in my programme. But, now that you have raised these issues, once we are in the Legislative Assembly we will prioritise them, especially those related to social security and health services,” declared Silvia Salame from CC, running for a seat in the Senate representing Chuquisaca.

“I am going to address, as a woman de pollera (term that refers to the traditional long skirt aymara women wear) in the Legislative Assembly all the needs in terms of services, the environment, garbage, and health system, so that all sisters have access to mandatory public health assistance. Likewise, we are going to work so that our sisters have a ration of milk every day, through the Proleche programme”, promised Virginia Velasco from MAS, running for a seat in the Senate representing La Paz.

I am going to address, as a woman de pollera (term that refers to the traditional long skirt aymara women wear) in the Legislative Assembly all the needs in terms of services, the environment, garbage, and health system.” – Virginia Velasco, running for a seat in the Senate

Others, such as Cecilia Requena, CC candidate running for a seat in the Senate, or Estefanía Morales from MAS, running for a seat in the Deputy chamber, also received the proposals. They expressed that, if elected, they will take steps to ensure that health and employment concerns are addressed, but in particular they committed to ensuring a life free of violence for women working in mining.