I remember the first time I returned to my home country after I had left to live in France. “Welcome to La Paz, Bolivia. You are now 3,600 metres closer to the sky”, said a sign at the airport exit.
What is not mentioned in this country of mountains, jungles and breathtaking landscapes, is that if you are a woman, you could also be taking a step closer to being killed by your partner.
One woman in Bolivia is murdered every two to three days.
The country has one of the highest femicide rates in Latin America. In 2020, at least 113 women were murdered. These numbers uncover terrifying truths about a society in which many media outlets still refer to such killings as “crimes of passion,” as if this was a legal term.
In Bolivian culture, love and violence go hand in hand. Losing one’s temper is a demonstration of love, and irrational passion is dangerously romanticised.
In Bolivian culture, love and violence go hand in hand. Losing one's temper is a demonstration of love, and irrational passion is dangerously romanticised. Labels such as crimes of passion are just another way to justify the actions of murderers and perpetuate a toxic idea of love, in which a man believes he owns a woman’s life.
“She had herself killed… she had herself raped.” I have heard these phrases so many times. This language is so deeply rooted in our society, as well as many others, that people don't even realise it is wrong. It is part of the structural nature of violence against women.
In Bolivia, violence against women is part of life, it’s everywhere. It was there when my ex-boyfriend got angry because my dress was too short. It was there when he took pictures of me without my knowledge and shared them with his friends. It was there whenever people called me a slut.
As a Bolivian woman, I consider myself lucky to be able to share my thoughts. The voices of the girls and women who are murdered every day are missing perspectives that we have lost our chance of hearing.
I didn't realise the level of gender-based violence in Bolivia until I left. Now I know, and I still want to go back. Because I hope that, in the future, my country will be a place where a woman can feel emancipated, a place where I’ll be able to achieve my dreams, and where I won't be likely to be killed by someone who asks: "Why did you make me do this?”