LA PAZ – Violence against women is not on the increase in Bolivia, President Evo Morales said Friday, attributing growth in the number of reported cases to a greater willingness of victims to come forward.
Addressing students in the Amazonian city of Cobija, Morales encouraged young women to focus on their studies so they can grow up to be economically independent.
“These days we hear with great concern about women being killed, women assaulted by their partners,” he said. “It is not that domestic violence didn’t exist before. It has always existed. But now we tell women to report it, not to hide it. Now they are reporting it.”
Bolivia leads all Latin American nations in violence against women and is second only to Haiti in the Western Hemisphere in sexual violence, according to data from UN Women.
Morales talked about women who endure their husbands’ infidelities because they can’t afford to leave.
“Because she is economically dependent on her husband, she has to endure everything, including physical and psychological aggression, and cheating,” he said. “But if this comrade knows she can have a better life alone, she can separate easily.”
“The husband will know his wife can leave him at any time and there will be more respect by the husband toward the wife,” the president said.
Morales, the never-married father of two children by two different women, acknowledged that he may “not have much moral authority to talk about marriage.”
Even so, he said, it pains him “to see sisters physically and psychologically assaulted and even killed.”
Last year, the government enacted a law against domestic violence making murder of a woman punishable by 30 years in prison, the maximum sentence under Bolivian legislation.
Bolivia has experienced 169 “femicides” – the killing of a woman because of her gender – so far this year, yet courts have handed down only eight convictions for femicide, the Women’s Information Center says.