Bolivia Challenges Laws Under New Constitution

In 2009, Bolivia decided to update their Constitution to reflect Bolivia’s shift to a secular nation. In their new Constitution, Bolivia recognizes protections and rights for women including prohibiting discrimination and reproductive rights. These new rights contradict numerous laws that are still on the books today.

Deputy Patricia Mancilla of the Bolivian Congress has presented a legal challenge of several laws that violate the new Constitution. Deputy Mancilla’s challenge comes after the story of a Bolivian woman who was arrested and handcuffed to her bed at a hospital in Bolivia because she was seeking an abortion after being raped. Her doctor reported the woman because she was seeking emergency treatment for taking pills that would induce an abortion. Currently abortion is illegal in Bolivia, like in many other Latin American countries.

Abortion access isn’t the only law keeping women from realizing their rights. Some other fun ones include: reduced criminal penalties for men who claim his crime (killing her, usually) was to preserve a woman’s honor, immunity from criminal prosecution currently granted to rapists that marry their victims, and sanctions on men for abandoning a pregnant woman outside of marriage.

As Deputy Mancilla explains her reasoning for the challenge,

“Because of the deaths of so many women as a result of our country’s underdevelopment. With the new constitution we are now able to modify laws, codes, and policies and improve our society for the wellbeing of Bolivian women.”

A piece of paper won’t guarantee that this violence against women will stop. The numbers show that. Bolivia has the second-highest rates of domestic violence and second highest rate of sexual assault in the region. Also, between 2007 and 2011, only 51 alleged assailants of 247,369 reports of violence against women received a final sentence.

In a country where violence against women remains prevalent, Bolivia made progress in addressing the importance of women’s rights by changing their constitution and emphasizing the importance of equality under the law. Although the situation in Bolivia is improving for women, it still isn’t enough. Most women don’t even know that their Constitution grants them these protections and immunities. But how would they know, given that the statutory penal code is still ripe with inequality?

Bolivia’s codification of a new constitution in 2009 was the first step toward ensuring equality for women. Hopefully Deputy Mancilla’s challenge will be another step in the right direction and a precedent for granting gender equality in Bolivia and the entire region.