Coming Together Against Sexual Violence in Bolivia
From 13-16 February 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 171 Period of Sessions in Sucre, Bolivia.
Equality Now was there meeting with the Commissioners and supporting partner organizations and young survivors of sexual violence to tell Commissioners about the problem of sexual violence against girls, boys and adolescents in Bolivia, and the barriers to justice and care they face. In parallel to the IACHR sessions, Equality Now convened and facilitated a coalition building workshop of Bolivian organizations that work on the issue of sexual violence against girls, boys, and adolescents.
The convening that Equality Now facilitated brought together eight different organizations from all parts of Bolivia to discuss the most urgent issues facing child and adolescent survivors of sexual violence, and the best ways to confront them as a coalition. Bolivia has one of the region’s highest rates of sexual violence against women and children but victims face often insurmountable barriers when trying to access justice.
The Coordinadora de la Mujer, CIES, Red Tu Decides, Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensas de los Derechos de las Mujeres (CLADEM), Oficina Jurídica de la Mujer (the Legal Office for Women), Centro una Brisa de Esperanza, the Breeze of Hope Foundation, and the Red de Niños, Niñas, y Adolescentes contra la violencia sexual (Network of Boys, Girls, and Adolescents Against Sexual Violence) all took part in the convening. Participants included activists and service providers, women, and men with years of experience in this work, as well as young survivors and allies with great creativity and strategic thinking. Specific obstacles in accessing justice for victims of sexual violence and how these could be overcome, as well as how to raise awareness of the issue in the country were discussed during the convening. It was an excellent workshop, and we are excited to be moving forward with all these partners in a new coalition which is already planning actions together for later this year.
On the morning of the 13th, Equality Now organized a breakfast meeting with IACHR Commissioners Margarette May Macaulay, Rapporteur in charge of the Rights of Women, and Esmeralda Arosemena de Trotiño, Rapporteur in charge of the Rights of Children, to meet the organizations participating in the convening, and to hear directly from young survivors of sexual violence about their experiences and the barriers to justice they face. The Commissioners were deeply impacted by the stories of the survivors.
When Equality Now and the other organizations arrived with the survivors at the Civil Society Dialogue session later that evening, the Commissioners remembered them, and made space on the closed list for a survivor to speak, despite a packed room and a long line of organizations already signed up. Speaking through tears, one survivor shared her story and that of many other girls, while still being very clear about what change she and others want to see in Bolivia, and what she hopes the Commission will do about it, including urgently issuing recommendations on a sexual violence case that has been before them for many years. Her words garnered a standing ovation from the crowd and the Commissioners, along with a commitment to do something about it.
Equality Now met with the commission the next morning to ensure the emotional promises made were going to result in action.
As one local news report put it, the survivors, in addition to being the only ones to receive applause during the Civil Society Dialogue, they were also “the only ones who got a promise from the Commission: to follow up on the cases.” Indeed, Commissioners committed to directly look into the issue of sexual violence in Bolivia and take the case of Brisa de Angulo forward.
Beyond the concrete promises from the Commission, the experience of sharing their stories was extremely powerful and empowering for the young survivors. They have all had to share painful details over and over again with detectives, medical examiners, social workers, and lawyers to advance their cases. But never before had they had a chance to tell their stories to people who could make a difference not just for them individually, but for all victims of sexual violence in Bolivia. Reliving their pain took a lot out of them, but for once they were repaid and replenished with the healing knowledge that they were changing the future for others.
The other key impact of the week was the formation of a new national coalition of organizations which will be working together to magnify impact on issues of sexual violence in Bolivia. All the organizations have been doing amazing work individually for years - providing legal and support services to survivors, training allies and front-line professionals, engaging in strategic litigation and campaigning - but now we have the chance to learn from one another, and our strengths will be combined and amplified to make lasting change in the country.