In Bolivia, seven out of ten women state that they have been subjected to violence in a close relationship and since 2013, one woman has been murdered every three days in the country. The pandemic, and the restrictions it has brought, have further aggravated the situation for women as many women have been quarantined with their perpetrators.
Even before the pandemic, men's violence against women, not least in close relationships, was a widespread problem in Bolivia. The country stands out in South America due to the high rate of homicide - or feminicides as it is called in Spanish. Since 2013, 840 women in the country have been murdered.
Violence against women has increased
In many places in South America, and not least in Bolivia, demonstrations and campaigns aimed at drawing attention to the high incidence of feminicidios have taken place in recent years. Some measures against the widespread violence against women have been taken in the country. The Swedish Embassy in Bolivia, together with Diakonia and the EU, has funded one investigation report which has mapped the prevalence of violence before and in early 2020. The report has been made by the network Alianzas Libres sin Violencias, which consists of about 50 organizations that fight for women's rights in the country.
In 2013, a law was enacted in Bolivia to guarantee women a life without violence, and in 2019 an action plan was adopted that several institutions in the country had worked out. The action plan included a number of efforts to prioritize murders of women and sexual violence, which have otherwise often remained unsolved, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Unfortunately, political unrest in the country at the end of 2019 led to the cessation of activities to promote the action plan. 2020 came the pandemic and Alliances Libre's Violencia report shows how widespread violence against women increased and female homicides increased.
In quarantine with the perpetrators
On March 21, 2020, the country was placed in total quarantine and the community was shut down until May 31. Once a week between seven in the morning and twelve o'clock people were allowed to go out, otherwise they were allowed to stay at home. The national statistics on registered murders of women and violence against women decreased during the first half of 2020, which indicates that quarantine would mean that violence against women has decreased. But the statistics in this case are misleading.
The violence did not decrease. Instead, women's ability to report violence decreased and access to help was restricted, as institutions and organizations helping abused women to report and flee their perpetrators were forced to close their quarantine operations. Various activities that help abused women were not considered sufficiently necessary to be exempted from the quarantine requirements. Municipal surveys which has been made of Alianzas Libres sin Violencia to map the situation of Bolivian women during the pandemic shows, in contrast to national statistics, that violence against women has increased drastically during the pandemic.
The largest increase concerns psychological violence, but there has also been an increase in physical and sexual violence in several parts of the country. The "Stay at Home" campaign may have protected against coronary heart disease, but it did not protect against but rather contributed to the second pandemic - the violent pandemic. Not only did it deprive many women of the opportunity to report the violence they were subjected to, the women were also quarantined with the perpetrators. The home, the place where one would be safe during quarantine, became for many women the most dangerous and threatening place to be.
Alianzas Libres sin Violencia recommends in the report that institutions that help women exposed to violence should be considered so important to society that they should always be available in emergencies where violence against women tends to increase. It should also be possible for reports of violence to take place without the woman's physical presence. In addition, institutions that help abused women need increased financial support, the organization writes in the report. At the beginning of 2022, Bolivia will leave through one fourth wave of infection and have more infected than ever. If the country is to be quarantined once again or if new restrictions involving isolation are introduced, there is a risk that the already widespread violence against women will increase further.