Summer 2011

In the Summer of 2011, four SFU students spent three months in Bolivia to conduct applied research with local nongovernmental organizations.

Deborah Carvalho

MA Candidate Latin American Studies, Development and Sustainability Studies Certificate
Organization: Centro de Capacitación y Servicio para la Integración de la Mujer (CECASEM)
Location: La Paz
Research title: Women’s Land Ownership Rights and the Limitations of the Land Titling Program in Bolivia

Bolivia has one of the most advanced gender-sensitive land laws and land titling programs in Latin America. The numbers of women landholders has increased substantially in the last ten years but the gap between the number of titles in men’s names and in women’s names remains substantial. Moreover many rural women in Bolivia continue to face several obstacles in asserting their land ownership rights and in securing a land title. This situation is particularly prevalent in the department of La Paz.

My field research in Bolivia consisted of understanding the extent to which the current land titling process has benefited rural women and what the current obstacles to securing a land title are. My findings were based on fieldwork research conducted in the city of La Paz and in rural communities of the department.

I found that socio-cultural and institutional factors are the main obstacles that rural indigenous women face in securing a land title. One of the conclusions of my study is that simply passing laws and land policies that address gender equality and women’s rights is not enough. It is vital to take into consideration the socio-cultural context of a society and address the influence it has on the success of a land-titling program.

Francisco Gallegos

MA Candidate Public Policy
Organization: Instituto de Investigación y Capacitación Campesina (IICCA)
Location: Tarija
Research title: Food Security and Food Sovereignty in Tarija-Bolivia: Public Policy Opportunities and Challenges in Rural Communities”

As a Latin American I have always been interested in the social, economic and political problems of the region. According to the recent studies conducted by the World Food Program and the Bolivian Ministry of Rural Development, Agriculture and the Environment, almost 85% of households in vulnerable municipalities are exposed to some degree of food insecurity. This problem is more persistent in rural communities, where the lack to water, seeds and other resources, has forced rural households to emigrate to the cities or other countries such as Argentina.

YuncharaThis Summer (2011) I had the opportunity to work with IICCA, a NGO that works with campesino communities in the Department of Tarija (South of Bolivia). My main responsibility was to investigate and collect information about the food security/sovereignty situation in the region. As part of my research I interviewed campesino leaders, mayors, agronomist and some NGO officials on the current levels food security. I also had the opportunity to travel to the countryside and witness the development of some campesinos community projects in partnership with IICCA, aimed at improving their levels of food security.

My current research explores the current condition of food security and food sovereignty of some campesino communities in Mancomunidad Heroes de la Independencia’. Using both qualitative (interviews) and quantitative (survey) research methods, the study identifies some of the variables that affect the level of food security (or food insecurity) and recommends some public policy alternatives to be implemented at the municipal level.

Isabel Bodrogi

MA Candidate International Studies
Organization: Instituto de Capacitación del Oriente (ICO)
Location: Santa Cruz
Research title: Determining the vulnerability of women to the effects of climate change: A study on the economic, social, and political implications of climate change on the women of three rural communities in the Valles Cruceños region of Bolivia

Climate change vulnerability is socially constructed; that is, economic, social, and institutional dynamics create constraints that contribute to people’s vulnerability to climate change.  Although all community members are affected by this change, women in particular have defined roles and responsibilities in the household and community levels that disproportionately affect their vulnerability.

My field research on the effects of climate change on women in three mountain communities in the Valles Cruceños region of Bolivia, in the department of Sta. Cruz, found that the absence of support from formal institutions and the presence of constraints from informal institutions contribute to women’s vulnerability to climate change.  Formal institutions, or state agencies, are legitimizing bureaucracies.  How they create, implement, and distribute entitlements directly influences levels of poverty and inequality; and indirectly, levels of vulnerability to climate change.  Informal institutions or structures include social and cultural norms, mores, ethics, and systems of knowledge that create social differentiation based on factors such as gender, class, and social status.  To the extent that these structures constrain the political and social empowerment of women, informal institutions contribute to women’s vulnerability to climate change.

The community development work of the Bolivian NGO – Instituto de Capacitación del Oriente (ICO) – is  making a difference in the lives of the citizens, with their ‘Escuela de Líderes’ especially making strides in raising women’s awareness of their social and political rights.  These necessary first steps to empowerment have been laid out by ICO, but a long-term, sustained commitment from the government is imperative if a meaningful solution to the plight of these women is to be realized.

To learn more about Isabel’s experience click here

Ana Molina

Geography Honors student, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Organization: Colectivo de la Mujer Indígena Andina, Amazónica y Oriente (COMAI-PACHAMAMA)
Location: La Paz

My experience in Bolivia consisted of working for a local NGO whose activities and areas of focus were human rights, gender and Community Economic Development. During the internship the organization was undertaking a couple of grassroots projects in the rural indigenous communities located in the vicinity of the capital city, La Paz. These included workshops in remote locations to inform community members of the changing landscape of rights and obligations for indigenous people under the new national constitution, workshops on gender and women’s access to land, and food sovereignty. A great part of my time was spent doing fieldwork, visiting rural communities and recording the proceedings of the various meetings and activities under way.

In addition, an important aspect of my work was participating in a CED project titled ‘Community Capitals Diagnostics’. The project aimed to uncover, through a participative process, the various aspects of human, economic, social, natural, cultural and physical capital present in a number of indigenous rural communities in the department of La Paz. The goal was to identify local perceptions, understandings and knowledge of community strengths or ‘haves’, as opposed to lacks, and through this identify areas that could offer potential for growth.

Overall, I found that CED maintains its potential as a vehicle for replacing a sense of lack for a sense of opportunity, with the Capitals Framework contributing positively to local community members’ ability to reframe their perceptions and see the potentials for development open to their community. I found that grassroots NGOs can play an important role in facilitating dialogue, helping to situate projects in ways that are sensitive to the local context. However, in Bolivia as elsewhere, institutional weaknesses and financial barriers continue to be some of the main challenges.


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