When Etta Projects began training local women from rural Bolivian villages to serve as community health promoters our goal was to bring skills and health supplies directly to isolated areas that would allow them to effectively respond to local health needs. Over the past three years, these newly-trained women leaders have risen to the challenge! Today they tend to the sick and injured, maintain community health kits, coordinate with local health centers, and host health fairs and events. Some of the health promoters have even returned to school to become nurses and others have earned leadership positions on municipal health councils. Each and every one of the health promoters have become protagonists of change in improving community health.
The health promoters have brought light to many issues faced by women in their communities- one of the biggest being domestic violence. Natasha Loayza of ONU Mujeres in Bolivia states, “Bolivia ranks 1st of the 13 Latin American countries in incidences of physical abuse of women and second in sexual abuse, after Haiti.” She adds that domestic violence is most prevalent in rural communities. Etta Projects conducted its own study with the 45 health promoters and found that 77.78% (35 of the 45 women) have been or are victims of some type of domestic violence. A woman from the village of Rio Viejo shared, “My husband is very jealous. He makes me stay at home and care for him and the children. One time, he abused me so badly I lost my unborn baby.”
Etta Projects has recently responded to this pressing issue by offering workshops to health promoters (and at times their spouses too) to promote gender equality, eliminate domestic violence and emphasize strong, positive values in relationships. We aim to include both men and women in the process of advocating for women’s rights and against domestic violence. Participants reflect on the importance of respecting the rights of women- not just for women, but for the entire community.
On November 25th hundreds of men, women and children as well as municipal representatives and local doctors came together from 15 villages to celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The event, which was led by the 45 community health promoters, included presentations and songs from health promoters and male leaders, traditional dances by women and children and a large march where all the attendees chanted the rights of women. Our goal is to not only strengthen justices circles among women in the community, but to also include male partners, adolescents, local leaders, reproductive health providers and local social welfare agencies in a collaborative process of change.