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Chauvinism Is Alive and Well, and Not Just In Bolivia

I have tried not to let the treatment of women get to me. I’ve fought injustice on the one hand while teaching female-wallflower-living on the other. I’ve worked to increase the opportunities available to women and then turned around and told them (and myself) that the church doesn’t offer those opportunities.

I can’t do it anymore.

Bolivian mom and child

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

The stories I’ve read as ancient history… stories about wives being beaten by husbands and daughters either abandoned or used as sex toys… these stories are still today’s news in places like Bolivia. The fear is palpable in their communities. The women hang back, eyes down, bodies curled up in defensive posture. They have no grasp of their value as humans and bearers of the image of God.

But here’s the ugly part… the truth that we want to bury. Abuse and discrimination against women are today’s news in the United States and other first-world countries, too. We just cloak the dehumanization we do behind caricatures of religion, paternalism, and the good-ol-boy culture. We paint the abuse and control of women in terms of God’s plan for them and pile on the guilt when women fail to call it beautiful. (A word about men, if I may? We are guilty of dehumanizing them as well when we paint all men as potential rapists and abusers. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying all men, or even most men, are scum.)

Bolivian mothers

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

Today women are bought and sold as property to be used and discarded. Today women are valued solely on their ability to produce children. Today women are told they are acceptable only when they make themselves invisible – unseen and unheard.

But while I’ve seen first-hand the fear in the eyes of women and girls in Bolivia, I’ve also seen first-hand the possibilities when a community embraces the values and teachings of Jesus.

Gherson is the manager of the Viloma ADP (area development project), and he is also a pastor in the community. After welcoming us to the World Vision offices in Viloma, he described the challenges faced by the community in Viloma.

“Bolivia is a very chauvinist country,” he said. “We have a lot of family violence, discrimination against women, and lack of opportunities for women. We have mostly male pastors, but here in Viloma, we have a real privilege — a female pastor. And she is going to give the devotional today.” It was matter-of-fact, casual.

Bolivian pastor Janet

I heard a man, a conservative pastor, put the lack of female pastors into the same category as chauvinism and violence against women.

I am just going to say it. Why did I have to go to Bolivia to hear this?

Janet spoke in quiet but confident tones as she gave the devotional – “Eyes That See.” She talked about Elijah, his servant, and the invisible army of God surrounding the enemy army. She said, “Today we can pray just like Elijah that God open our eyes to see what God wants us to see. We can go out and face the troubles in our community like the prophet – quiet, confident, unafraid.”

And that’s what World Vision does. While the treatment of women and children in Bolivia is awful, the Bolivian Christians I’ve met are far ahead of us when it comes to women’s empowerment.

Bolivia girl teaching

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

When World Vision comes into a community, they train all children, both boys and girls. And Bolivian Christians make sure that girls learn to speak publicly and get practice teaching the Bible to their peers.

They educate both men AND women, training them in business and agriculture, equipping them with skills they can use to better feed, clothe, and care for their families. They seek mother-friendly business opportunities for women with children so they can work, earn an income, and still care for their children.

Bolivian women sewing

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

They provide marriage classes and counseling to couples who desire a healthier relationship. They teach how to live as true Christians in their homes in front of their kids so that their lives teach the Truth about God.

I’m so proud of my Bolivian brothers and sisters in Christ today.


[To read posts from my  team members, check out World Vision’s Bolivia blog.]

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