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Graffiti Art and Grassroots Organizing:

Bolivian Women Build a Feminist Movement

by Jordan Namerow

The phrase “We will not make Eve from Evo’s rib” is scrawled in thick, black paint on a concrete wall in downtown La Paz, Bolivia. The slogan—a play on the biblical story of how woman was created from the rib of man—refers, ironically, to Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president.

This graffiti art is just one public expression of Bolivian feminist discourse in a politically complex country. The conversation began in 1992 when a group that became known as Mujeres Creando— “women creating”—gathered together to address the needs of Bolivian women— needs that had been historically ignored.

Alarmed that Bolivia’s social, political and cultural leadership was dominated by men, Mujeres Creando sought to build an inclusive anti-racist feminist movement— no easy task in a country defined by sharp social class and cultural divisions. But members of Mujeres Creando quickly recognized that diversity was an asset— not a threat—in helping women build a feminist movement and improve women’s quality of life.

Knitting together a wide range of identities, causes and interests, Mujeres Creando’s work is as diverse as its members: lesbian and heterosexual; married, divorced and single; indigenous and mixed-race; young and old; domestic workers and sex workers; graffiti artists, filmmakers and radical activists.

In its 18-year history, Mujeres Creando has changed Bolivia’s political and cultural landscape and pushed feminism into the mainstream through public art campaigns, education, innovative media and grassroots activism.

“We were tired of the traditional model of change in which everything was organized from the top down,” its leaders explained. “We didn’t want to be part of mainstream politics in which women only served tea or were nothing more than secretaries. We wanted to do something different to challenge the patriarchy and shift the balance of power.”

They set out to build programs that put women’s interests first. With AJWS’s support, Mujeres Creando established a public day care facility open to Bolivian women seeking a shared, safe space in which to raise their children and explore the cultural and social demands of motherhood. They launched a weekly radio program dedicated to reporting and analyzing incidents of gender-based violence against sex workers, domestic workers, lesbians and women in indigenous communities. They conducted outreach workshops in prisons and orphanages for women and girls who were victims of sexual assault. Using art as a vehicle for expression, workshop participants shared their own stories and self-knowledge to expose gender-based violence that would otherwise remain absent from media reporting.

They also launched Mi Mamá Trabaja— “my mother works”—a nursery and feminist pedagogical project designed for mothers who work in the home or who support their families through sex work.

In 2005, Mujeres Creando opened a selfmanaged community center that provides accommodations for women who are victims of domestic abuse. The center has since become a nexus for feminist thought and for helping women launch incomegenerating projects by selling goods, and by hosting social and cultural events to bring feminism into the mainstream.

More recently, AJWS has supported Mujeres Creando to establish a free legal service called Mujeres en Busca de Justícia—“women seeking justice”—to aid women who are trying to escape the cycle of violence, but who are often overlooked by Bolivia’s traditional legal system. In its first year of operation, the service processed more than 800 cases.

Mujeres Creando is unique in Bolivia for providing such a comprehensive, grassroots approach to addressing women’s needs. Through its diverse programming the organization has reached many different communities of women and supported them in taking control of their lives.

By representing a strong voice for Bolivian women, Mujeres Creando sends a powerful message to society that women are rewriting their creation story. No longer content with being ‘Eves’ in service of Bolivia’s ‘Adams’, Bolivian women are being creators themselves—shaking up their country’s power structures in a way that people never thought possible.

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American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization motivated by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice. AJWS is dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. Through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, AJWS fosters civil society, sustainable development and human rights for all people, while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship within the Jewish community.

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