Tackling gender-based violence in Bolivia - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Lent 2024 newsletter


Louise Locke, Bolivia

Louise at Buen Pastor

Louise with Luisa at Asilo Buen Pastor in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Asilo Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd Home) is a home for abandoned elderly men and women in downtown Cochabamba. For the past two years, I have been privileged to accompany some 30 to 40 women who now live or who have lived in this home.

Many of these women have faced extremely difficult circumstances in their lives, and they have the physical and emotional scars to prove it. As a volunteer, I do not have access to the circumstances of their admission to El Buen Pastor, but I do know that most of them have no family or their families can’t or won’t take care of them.

Intergenerational ‘magic’ at Buen Pastor

As I’ve gotten to know these women intimately and found ways to connect with them, I have developed such respect and love for each and every one of them. Having seen some of the terrible scars on their bodies has made me wonder what exactly they went through in their lives. At times I try to console them when they suddenly break into sobs or erupt in anger at some slight provocation.

According to a recent international report, “discrimination and violence against women and girls, including rape and sexual violence, remain a serious problem [in Bolivia], and domestic violence against women is also common. In 2021, Bolivia was ranked … first in South America regarding the number of femicides per 100,000 women.”

What is especially striking to me is the percentage of women in Bolivia that have suffered domestic violence in their lifetimes. According to a report from Bolivia’s National Institute of Statistics, “In 2016, 74.7 percent of women aged 15 years and above … suffered intimate partner violence.” This means that three out of four women I accompany have experienced this type of violence in their lives.

My fellow lay missioner Victoria Arce, who works with adolescent girls who have been removed from their families due to sexual violence perpetrated by a family member, is a witness to this reality in her ministry.

While recently doing research for the upcoming International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8), it was with hope and interest that I found out about a new campaign in Bolivia against violence toward women.

Called Sin máscaras, sin violencia (no masks, no violence), this campaign was recently launched during Bolivia’s national carnival on Feb. 12 and 13. Carnival is the country’s biggest celebration and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.

The objective of the campaign is “to transform gender stereotypes, through information, awareness and prevention of violence and to contribute to the construction of a culture of life.” The slogan alludes to the masks that abound at carnival parties and the desire to bring what is hidden out into the open. The primary activities undertaken are education and training of the folklore groups that participate in carnival and disseminating information about gender violence on a large scale.

Through these activities, the hope of the organizers is to raise awareness and challenge the normalization of gender violence in Bolivian culture. In addition, two hotline numbers were established and widely publicized for victims of gender-based violence to find safe, secure assistance.

The representative of UN Women in Bolivia, Nidya Pesántez, urged that the carnival festival be “a space for enjoyment, joy, respect and reconsideration of the relationships between women and men”.

As I think about this campaign and what it is trying to accomplish, I have mixed feelings: The women I accompany at El Buen Pastor won’t benefit from changes in laws or culture implemented by this focus on gender violence. However, I do have hope that the younger generation, especially the adolescents who are particularly vulnerable, will experience a greater degree of safety and freedom from all forms of violence through increased awareness and education of all Bolivians regarding the scourge of gender-based violence.

Please consider supporting my mission work in Cochabamba with a donation through the link below.

I invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 


Louise Locke
Based in in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Louise Locke provides care for older people at Asilo Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd Home), a nursing home and also serves at a men's shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity.