Portrait of young girl

Portrait of a young Bolivian girl by Vic Briggs


About this image: I do not know the story of this child. Her portrait was mine to capture, yet beyond the smile of a Bolivian girl there is a narrative that ought to be told, for in many ways she will become a part of it. She is a part of it already.

I would like to think that she would go to school, that her childhood will be filled with dreams and that one day she will grow up to find those dreams fulfilled. Perhaps hers will be a successful career and a loving family. Or perhaps…

The truth is that wishful thinking oftentimes remains just that, and reality will have its say. For in Bolivia women are at a disadvantage when it comes to equity in all wakes of life. The rates of illiteracy are higher amongst women than men. There is a high degree of discrimination at an institutional level with women receiving both quantitatively and qualitatively worse education than their male counterparts. Where education fails, the opportunities of working your way out of poverty are few and far between.

While women have been increasingly active on the jobbing market, more than half of their number continue to be out of work and the majority of the work open to them is neither highly productive nor is it well paid. Low income amongst Bolivian women, particularly those of indigenous origin, is endemic.

So much for the dream of an illustrious career.

The traditional misogynistic culture that persists in this country subdues women to a life of dependency and subordination. The 1830s civil code of Bolivia that required women’s obedience to their husbands may have been overruled, but its ethos is very much alive. Women are expected to bear children and take care of their family, having almost exclusive responsibility for domestic work. Meanwhile, the maternal mortality rate in Bolivia is one of the highest in the world and in rural areas – particularly the altiplano where this girl resides – it is more than double that of cities.

She may get lucky, but that is another uncertainty awaiting her ahead.

Although the Bolivian constitution guarantees gender equality, effective equity is yet to be reached. Legal change is insufficient in and of itself. This is a battle for hearts and minds. It is a struggle for cultural change, which is far more difficult to accomplish.

I will continue to harbour hope and maybe – just maybe – this little girl will be part of that much needed change.

Daily Prompt: Young At Heart

20 thoughts on “Portrait of young girl

  1. A beautiful post, incredibly poignant and uplifting. The photo is enchanting…I’m hoping that her broad but tentative smile portends a positive future for this little girl and her compatriots. 🙂

    • Thank you, Lee-Anne. It is a tentative smile, is it not? She was very sweet. Took a liking to some very colourful hair bands I was wearing at the time so I let her choose her favourites. It was humbling to see how much pleasure she took in such a small gift. I hope time will be kind to her, and that she will enjoy a brighter future than that of her parents.

    • There are so many problems in Latin America when it comes to equity. The culture of machismo has a lot to answer for in this respect, but I think a lot of it may have to do with the issue you mention: the near non-existence of a strong middle class. I am certain that the economic downturn did nothing to help matters.

  2. Wow. I hate it took me so long to find this.That’s a powerful piece there.

    I’m just looking at my twitter feed after being away from it for almost two days, and I found the link.

    Idk what to say about it, really. That situation you’re describing short-circuits my brain when I run across an accurate picture of it (and I believe this is). It makes the problems I’m concerned with seem small.

    • I wrote this post in many ways as a result of the discussion we had on your blog. I think the problem we are looking into is important, certainly, but I think it is also important to keep in mind the broader context. Those who – like that person trolling our discussion – believe that feminism should die, are either wilfully ignorant of the depth of inequality that women continue to experience all over the world, or if they are aware of them must believe it acceptable.
      It took women in the West decades, if not centuries of struggle and two world wars to achieve the cultural and economic changes we now all benefit from. Yet there in so many countries these changes are yet to take place.
      And this is not just a matter of intellectual debate. I wrote a couple of posts that illustrate on-the-ground realities for women – realities that I believe are directly connected to the kind of misogyny we are attempting to eliminate.
      If you are curious to read further, I’ve included the link below. If you believe we could incorporate these into our discussion, I would be very interested to know the best way we can do this. It is all a part of our broader project for gender equality:


      • I will definitely read those and think about ways of incorporating them.

        Thanks for telling me these came out of that discussion. It’s generated so many posts on so many different blogs at this point I’m thinking I need to index them all in a post, or build a page for them.

        I’d like to have links to them all in one place. This discussion was such a good idea. I didn’t expect to still be talking about this today, but I am glad we are.

      • That would be a great idea, Gene’O. I’m trying to follow the links you attach to your posts when referring to other articles, but I imagine there must be many ping backs from bloggers inspired by the discussion thread to write more extensively on the subject.
        I’ve been searching for my notes on feminism, but without much luck. I must have given them to someone and forgot to ask for them back so will have to start from scratch on the history side which will take a little longer. Still, it will be good to refresh my memory of early developments and I hope it will help move the discussion forward as well when I get around to writing the article.
        Thank you, Gene’O

    • Thank you. Bolivia is such a beautiful country, but unfortunately it has so much more to do when it comes to its people, and despite recent attempts at rectifying the worse of inequalities… I am afraid that it will take time, generations perhaps.

      • Despite limitations in both resources and willingness perhaps, with each generation we manage to overcome at least in part some of the difficulties that appeared insurmountable to our forebears. It will take time, certainly, but I am certain that the situation will not be always quite as hopeless.

      • The US is going backward, there is so much hate and distrust. It’s the me first and maybe I’ll help you if I have time. Or if you bother me I just might shoot you mentality.

    • Thank you, Gene’O. I really appreciate it, and in reading the comments today I noticed that many had rape and FGM at the top of their list for key issues feminism needs to address.

      • Yes. Those two and education as part of solutions to many of these problems are my three choices for the next discussion.Here’s what I’m thinking:

        At some point we need to devote a thread to FGM, but we need more groundwork before we do. Your piece on FGM in the UK makes me wonder how much of that is going on in the U.S., and that requires research. Also, that discussion will need to be closely moderated. Every time we mention it we get two or three people who try to join in and have to be corrected either in follow-up posts or post-length comments. Until I started this, I had completely open comment threads and wasn’t all that concerned about people staying on topic. So I think it makes sense to hold off a bit and spend a little more time establishing boundaries before we dive into that discussion.

        Rape, and especially rape culture, are more promising because Diana’s written quite a bit about it, so we have those links. And it’s easy to frame as an immediate problem for people in developed countries.

        There’s much of talk about the need for better education about these issues going on on that thread. I get the sense that lot of people seem to think that improved education would produce measurable improvements. The problem is, setting up a discussion of education will take a lot of work, and I’m not sure I can get it done this week. So, likely, rape is the next topic.

        I’m going to do one more round at Sourcerer, and if we get an adequate level of engagement with it, I’m going to offer a few other bloggers the opportunity to host the discussion and offer to promote it just the same as I do when it’s on my blog. It really doesn’t matter what blog we talk about this on, as long as we talk about it consistently enough for the regulars to get to know one another and we keep bringing a couple of people in every time we have one.

        I’m so pleased with the level of engagement this is getting, I haven’t even looked at my traffic numbers from yesterday. This is the sort of activity that builds community organically, and it seems to be working. The reason I think so is that it’s not just generating long threads. If you look at the threads, you see people aren’t just giving it a thumbs up or talking to me. They’re leaving long, thoughtful comments, they’re talking to one another, and they’re writing about related topics on their own blogs.

        Feel free to drop me a link if you write something you want me to see, or Tweet it at me.

        Also, don’t know how much you use the reader. But take a look at what this has done to the Feminist Friday tag, if you’re interested in such things. Before we started this, that tag was so meager I couldn’t even count on it for decent reblogs. This discussion is dominating that tag right now.

      • I will certainly check out the tag you mention. I haven’t so far, but it will be worthwhile I’m sure. Like you, I am very pleased by the level of discussion your posts have generated and of course its quality is very encouraging.
        Regarding moderation, in view of the sensitive nature of the topics under discussion, I think it is key. If any commentators attempt to sidetrack the discussion in a way that is either disrespectful or counterproductive, this would constitute trolling and we could well do without it.
        I agree too that the education aspect, while important, will take a lot more ground research than the other two topics, especially since some of the regular contributors have already written on the topic.
        You’ve already read my post on FGM, and I have several articles that approach the topic on rape, but unfortunately I am yet to take on the topic of education. Since that appears to be the case with other bloggers as well, then certainly we can formulate the follow-up posts in that order: rape first, FGM next and then take on the issue of education once we have narrowed it down to key subjects.
        Thank you for getting the discussion off the ground. I look forward to the next step.

  3. Pingback: Feminist Friday Discussion Thread, Round Two | Sourcerer

  4. Pingback: Bottoms Up for the Warrior God | vic briggs

  5. Pingback: Daily Prompt–Young at Heart | Tina Pumfrey

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