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.