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Indigenous Gender Relations » Women's Courage

Indigenous Gender Relations

February 28th, 2013 by magalis Leave a reply »

62 percent of Bolivia’s population is indigenous and in rural areas, indigenous languages are spoken by 72 percent of the population. Illiteracy affects one of every four women over the age of 35, and only 30 percent of indigenous women give birth in hospitals, as compared to 55 percent of non-indigenous women (1). The differences between indigenous and non-indigenous populations lead to vast disparities in access to healthcare, education and decent jobs. In previous posts, I’ve focused on discussing how already established gender relations affect women’s health. For this post, I will focus on indigenous women, and how gender differences have unfortunately become more pronounced to illustrate the changes that occur in populations that to the development of inequality between men and women.

In the Andes, the rural, indigenous, Aymara community established the concept of thakhi, otherwise known as the “path of duties”. The  idea of the “path of duties” is a manifestation of the structure that provides cultural context of gender relations in the Aymara society. By focusing on the changes to the path, the transformation processes accompanying the dynamics of gender concepts can be noted. Previously, the pareja (Spanish word for couple, or husband and wife) was the most important unity as it guaranteed the reproduction of society. Individuals could only accumulate prestige if a man and woman married and live jointly in a partnership. This partnership expressed gender relationships based on the duality of gender complementarity (2).

However, recent migration of men has resulted in changes in the design of the partnership, and has created a gendered division of labor. Increasingly hierarchy of gender differences takes away the original idea of equality of the thakhi. For example, society has undergone a reorganization in the division of labor, causing differences in cash income, social prestige and fluency in Spanish, which helps and individual become more prepared for the workforce (2).

Eventually, the function of dualism falls apart as the wife substitutes for her husband’s public duties in the village community. Advancement of couple begins to conflict with advancement of an individual, usually the husband’s. As men advance into the urban labor market, the women take the roles of a substitute in the village, and no longer function as a couple. In order for husband to be successful, he relies on the wife to accept smaller duties. The general social responsibility of the thakhi is gone, replaced by aspect of individual qualification.

While Bolivian women have been increasingly marginalized, a radio project has developed to reach indigenous women in their own languages. In 2003, Radio Atipiri was founded by Tania Ayma Calle with help from the Center for Education and Communication for Indigenous Communities and Peoples (CECOPI). The radio provides critical analysis of women daily events. The station also empowers women to be reporters and make their voices heard. Women write soap operas or act out dialogues that share their experiences in sexual reproductive health, gender relations, and violence (3). As Tania said, “It doesn’t matter if only the life of one woman is touched by the program, for sure this woman will change the life of her sisters and daughters. That is how we will achieve our goal”.


  1. (2004) Bolivia – Highlights. World Bank. Retrieved from http://go.worldbank.org/ZX284CZC80.
  2. Blumtritt, Andrea. (2013) Transloclity and Gender Dynamics: The Pareja and the Thakhi System in Bolivia. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 32(1): 3-16.
  3. Preston (2010). Indigenous Women in Bolivia Have a Voice. World Pulse. Retrieved from http://worldpulse.com/node/19742.




  1. Casey says:

    I really enjoyed hearing about the cultural foundations that can lead to inequities. If we are to really change the marginalization of women we need to fully understand the background from which it stems. I also think the blog points out the crucial point that there are many cultures and societies within a country and we often overlook that when looking at a global scale.

  2. Linh says:

    It is saddening to learn that a community that valued equality and was functioning is slowly changing to increase segregated and unequal gender roles. Considering that this community is indigenous, it makes me wonder how many “more urbanized” men moved into the community and initiated this change in culture. I can’t imagine that it was very many. This would unfortunately highlights the fragility of indigenous cultures that may already have functioning and equal gender roles. Still, thanks for writing on such an interesting topic!

  3. amanorot says:

    I think your post brings up an important phenomenon that indigenous populations face. How do they adapt to perserve culture and traditional way of life with urbanization and globalization causing migration for economic opportunities. The radio project that empowers women seems like a great idea to perserve their indigenous language and reduce stigma against it as it provides an outlet for women in these communities to have their voices heard by people elsewhere. It saddens me to hear a culture that values gender equality is being challenged by urbanization and I hope they are able to perserve gender equality and the partnership mentality between husband and wife despite the changes.

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