Organization empowers women through protests, direct services and sisterhood.
Our Lady of Desires, a three-story culture center that concentrates and bolsters the voices of Bolivian women, sits boldly between beige and brown buildings with its gaudy scarlet exterior walls. It is the headquarters for Women Creating, a feminist, anarchist movement and an organization that provides services for women such as childcare and legal assistance.
Outside, a large wiphala, a national symbol and representation of the numerous Indigenous groups, hangs and flutters a message of solidarity. The black gate and doors seem to warn passersby of how defensive Women Creating is of those inside. A vivid, cartoonish mural of children lends a sense of calm to the scene.
Our Lady of Desires serves as a restaurant, bookstore and hotel to foreigners. These sections provide money for the center's viability. For locals, it's a refuge for women of domestic violence, a consulting office for legal services, a clinic, a radio station and a day care called My Mommy Works, a nod to women who work to sustain their families.
Inside, at one table, a group of five young women with hand-held recorders, paper and pencils wait to interview Maria Galindo, co-founder of Women Creating. At another table, a man from a local television station waits with his video camera and a list of questions.
Galindo, who is always busy with back-to-back meetings, finally comes out from the Women Creating offices in her everyday attire. The kind of attire that demands attention. She is immediately noticeable among La Paz's people who dress in multicolored clothes. She wears black. Thick black eyeliner and mascara. Heavy black lipstick. Black nail polish on her long fingernails. Skinny black jeans and a black shirt. Black leather military-style boots. Jet black hair, which is partly shaven on the left side.
The reporters wait patiently in the restaurant area, but she only gives them about 10 minutes.
Though she gives interviews, Galindo refuses to consider herself the voice for Bolivian women. But it's hard to say she's not a spokeswoman for those who seek autonomy from a chauvinist society. After all, she co-founded Women Creating, and every weekday morning, people can hear her ardent voice on Desire, the radio station housed in Our Lady of Desires.
Women Creating is where Galindo's story begins, largely because she won't talk about her early life. She was inspired by the women's social movement when she was 18 years old. She said becoming involved in the feminist movement was an existential question, and she knew it would cost her.
"I have always been a person full of initiative, always," she said. "I've always been able to find accomplices. I have never been afraid that the people involved would be very few."
The group began leaving its mark on the streets of La Paz in 1992 with its recognizable cursive graffiti. Messages like "A woman who organizes herself irons more shirts," and "We are Indians, whores and lesbians unified and in sisterhood," were spray painted around the city.
Later, the movement escalated from spray-painted notes to large-scale demonstrations. Two of the demonstrations were hunger strikes. In 2001, Women Creating held a demonstration that lasted 100 days and included 15,000 microcredit borrowers, many of whom were women who had borrowed money at interest rates of 30 percent or more. The demonstration strived to show microfinance institutions' abuse of the impoverished. Among all of the social problems concerning Women Creating, abuse of microcredit borrowers tops the list.
Aside from its hostility toward patriarchal society and microfinance, the organization has also protested neoliberalism, President Evo Morales, racism and poverty, to name a few. It promotes creativity, education and self-management.
"What the crux of all of that is, is the idea of creating that feminism," Galindo said. "Not just from the 8th of March [Women's Day] and 25th of November [International Day of Elimination of Violence Day], but real feminism that exists and appears daily. To base everything around that, not just in a discussion but a concrete policy."
- Piledriving the patriarchy
The crowd cheers. One wrestler slams another to the mat. The fighter stands and adjusts her skirts.
- Turned away
Nearly 10 percent of Bolivian children have been abandoned by impoverished mothers out of shame, taboos and fear.
- Risk and respect
Home births remain common among Indigenous women, who fear their cultural practices will not be honored in hospitals.