Yaminahua women attend a seminar on women rights in Pando, Bolivia.
Photo: Julia Ekstedt
Indigenous groups take action
Through leadership and capacity building, Bolivia’s most vulnerable indigenous groups have managed to strengthen their political participation.
Most people think of Bolivia as an Andean country where people live in cities and villages in the high altiplano, often more than 3 000 meters above sea level. But Bolivia is also a country with tropical rainforest that creates totally different conditions for life.
Some of Bolivia’s most vulnerable indigenous groups live in remote areas within the Amazon region. They live under precarious situations in a region where the state is practically absent and are often affected by natural disasters, such as yearly floodings. The indigenous groups live on fishing and agriculture and are mainly made up of small populations, such as the Yaminahuas on the Bolivian border of the river Acre that runs between Bolivia, Brazil and Peru.
Despite the fact that the Bolivian national legislation establishes a strong framework for indigenous rights, those rights have only partly been fulfilled in practice. Protected land, such as national parks, are exploited and deforested for the extraction of natural resources, or for the building of infrastructure by both the state and private actors.
“Many of the increasing social conflicts in Bolivia, are on territorial rights and natural resources, often with the indigenous group against the stat”, says Julia Ekstedt who until recently was Counsellor at the Embassy of Sweden in La Paz.
In 2014, a law was passed that shall give protection to the 15 most vulnerable indigenous groups in Bolivia. The new law stipulates, among other aspects, the political participation of these groups, and it goes beyond the Constitution that already established the participation of indigenous groups in local authorities.
Pando is the first out of the country’s nine departments with autonomous indigenous representation. During the regional and municipal elections in March 2015, three indigenous assembly members were elected by direct vote in the communal assemblies in accordance to the group’s customs.
“The populations do not only have a number of representatives among decision-makers, but they now also have increased capacity to advocate for, and demand, resources and services, increased protection of their lands etc. The support from Sida through the UN program UNFPA, is vital to facilitate and transfer knowledge of human rights and legal orientation”, continuous Julia Ekstedt.
One of the persons who have taken part in the project is Aida Yubanera, president of the organization CIMAP.
“Before, I had very little interest in knowing more about women’s rights, because we lived so far away from everything, anyway. We did not know what the constitution was or, anything. Now, thanks to the project, I have started to learn more about our rights and the laws that are actually supporting us as indigenous women”, Aida Yubanera says.
Parallel, a work with the population in the communities to strengthen women and children’s rights is carried out with the organizations and the local state authorities and the ministry for autonomies. Last year, several of their communities were flooded and they had to leave their lands. In this case, the organizations have been a very important resource for the populations.
“Thanks to their improved organization, they managed to act quickly, advocate for support and organize shelters in the regional capital. During this time the project changed route. Focus was totally on the protecting of especially children and women in these new circumstances, says Julia Ekstedt continuous.
As a result of the project, the leadership capacity has been strengthened in five indigenous populations in Pando district. De populations have also strengthened the cooperation and coordination between themselves.
Trained community leaders are now becoming trainers themselves, sharing their experience with other communities. The access to health service and the knowledge in health issues has also improved in the communities.
The project has been executed via the UN agency UNFPA. The total cost for the project (2014-2015) is approximately 10 MSEK.