“I was born a shoemaker”
The sun burns our necks as we walk up the hill to Soledad Perez’s house. El Alto is 400 meters up, and the sun feels so close that you could touch it. “I was born a shoemaker,” says Soledad, “but I never thought I’d become a leader and pursue the fight for our rights. Not because I don’t have the ability, but because I’m a woman.”
“Wait here a second,” says Soledad. “I’m just going to lock the dog in. He’s not so used to visitors.”
After a while, she returns. She smiles and shows us in. Inside the gate are two small buildings. One is a house and one a workshop. Soledad’s entire family works here: her husband, his brother and a sister.
“It’s as if I was predestined to work with this. I was born on shoemakers’ day, 25 October,” says Soledad. “It’s true,” she laughs.
“But I also inherited this beautiful craft from my dad. Since I was a little girl, I’ve helped make shoes. I can hardly remember how I learned to do it. It’s as if I’ve always known the craft.”
First woman chairperson
Soledad is sitting on a stool surrounded by shelves full of shoes that are to be sent to Argentina the next day. They are all her own designs. There’s everything from tiny children’s shoes to sneakers and walking shoes. “Made in Bolivia” says a sign hanging from the ceiling.
Soledad talks about her commitment to shoemakers’ rights, that she is chairperson of the shoemakers’ association in La Paz. The first woman chairperson ever. The majority of the association’s members today are women.
“I’d never have thought I’d be leading the association, not because I don’t have the experience – because I do – but because I’m a woman,” she says and continues:
“To be able to talk to institutions, you need to know how to express yourself. I’ve had help in doing that.”
“I want them to be proud”
Through Diakonia’s partner organization Gregoria Pasa, Soledad and other women in the association have learned to refine their arguments and become familiar with the rights they have as small business owners. On the same weekend that we visit Soledad, she is organizing a demonstration in favour of these rights.
“I’ve been chairperson for six months now. It’s been a hard struggle but we’ve managed to arrange a meeting with the president next week where we’ll talk about the right of small business owners to healthcare and the high taxes that we have to pay,” she says.
“I want my children to stay in Bolivia. I don’t want them to have to move anywhere else due to the economic situation. I want them to be proud of coming from a shoemaker family.”