“They told us that abortions didn’t exist”
“In our culture, we’ve always heard that a good woman should have 12 children, the same as the number of disciples Jesus had. They told us that abortions didn’t exist, but that’s not true, and silencing it meant that many women were exposed to danger. Luckily a lot has changed,” says Maricela Pachauri.
Today she works with sexual and reproductive health and rights, SRHR, along with Diakonia’s partner organization Colectivo Rebeldía in Bolivia.
A subject that nobody talked about
During her upbringing, Maricela saw how young women were subjected to sexual violence in her hometown in southern Bolivia, and since then she has wanted to work to improve the situation of women. Women’s rights to their own bodies was a subject nobody talked about, and the violence that women were exposed to was hushed up. Due to cultural traditions, sexual health and the use of contraception were taboo.
When a friend of Maricela invited her to a meeting with Diakonia’s partner organization Colectivo Rebeldía, she took the plunge.
“At the meeting they told us about our sexual and reproductive rights, and about the right to decide over our own bodies. I thought that this was the type of information we were lacking,” says Maricela.
“In my village, there have always been contraceptives but it was forbidden to buy them.”
Reached many women
After the meeting, Maricela started organizing herself and other young women in the village. They invited their friends in secret and met in parks.
“In the beginning I was shy and thought it was embarrassing to talk about these subjects, but now I have no problem with it,” says Maricela.
“We’ve managed to reach out to many women. There are always around 20 people at our meetings, and we notice that there is greater openness towards these issues.”
A large part of the work that Maricela’s group – supported by Colectivo Rebeldía – has done has involved influencing local institutions by presenting statistics and testimonies from women with experience of abortions. They have used the material to put pressure on local politicians.
Guadalupe Peréz, head of Colectivo Rebeldía, says that ever since she was little, she has felt that “a lot of things aren’t right with the world”.
“When I read my first feminist book, I thought ‘this is for me’. I feel very grateful to have discovered feminism because it gives me freedom and happiness, a strong will to fight and energy to effect change.”
“But working with these issues also generates a lot of anger, as there’s still so much inequality and discrimination that bothers me and makes me upset,” says Guadalupe Pérez.
“I’ve learned everything myself”
Maricela thinks it is important to not be afraid of talking about sexual and reproductive rights at a young age in order for the work to have a preventive effect. Her parents have always supported her, but she never had any discussions with them about how to take care of her body or how to protect herself.
“I’ve learned everything myself, through this work, and I decided myself that I wanted a child when I was 25, and that’s what happened. I planned it and had a baby when I wanted to,” says Maricela.