LA PAZ – The 130 young women who were the first of their gender to serve in the Bolivian armed forces during the institution’s 198-year-long history completed their enlistments on Tuesday.
The female volunteers, hailing from all nine of Bolivia’s regions, received discharge papers alongside their male comrades during a ceremony at the Army Military Academy in La Paz led by President Evo Morales and the armed forces commander, Gen. Williams Kaliman.
“For the first time, 130 valiant women are discharged,” Williams said, calling female participation a “fundamental pillar” for the construction of the nation.
“We feel thankful to these young women for their courage and commitment, as military service was not obligatory for them, but they demonstrated their nobility and honor to serve their homeland,” he said.
“Thanks to the people’s struggle,” Morales said, “there is participation of the most marginalized sectors in the history of Bolivia, who were women and the indigenous movement.”
Speaking on behalf of the women, Cpl. Sandra Cachaga expressed gratitude to the armed forces for welcoming female recruits and for ensuring “the highest level of gender equity to fulfill the sacred military duty.”
The law allowing 18-year-old women to volunteer for the military was enacted in June 2017 and enlistment was opened to females last year at 10 designated bases across Bolivia.
The term of service is 12 months.
Bolivia’s constitution requires males to serve in the armed forces and men must present their discharge papers to be eligible for certain government services, licenses and permits and to apply for a job in the public sector.
Since 1996, Bolivian males in their final year of high school have had the option of signing up to attend military training on weekends and spend their school vacations in the barracks instead of serving an entire year on active duty after they graduate.
With the 2017 law, that program was also opened to young women.
Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was himself drafted into the army at 17, before he could complete high school.
Because the cohort of men reaching military age in any given year usually far exceeded the number of soldiers the army could absorb, conscription was in practice limited to poor, indigenous youths.