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Chauvinism Is Alive and Well, and Not Just In Bolivia

I have tried not to let the treatment of women get to me. I’ve fought injustice on the one hand while teaching female-wallflower-living on the other. I’ve worked to increase the opportunities available to women and then turned around and told them (and myself) that the church doesn’t offer those opportunities.

I can’t do it anymore.

Bolivian mom and child

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

The stories I’ve read as ancient history… stories about wives being beaten by husbands and daughters either abandoned or used as sex toys… these stories are still today’s news in places like Bolivia. The fear is palpable in their communities. The women hang back, eyes down, bodies curled up in defensive posture. They have no grasp of their value as humans and bearers of the image of God.

But here’s the ugly part… the truth that we want to bury. Abuse and discrimination against women are today’s news in the United States and other first-world countries, too. We just cloak the dehumanization we do behind caricatures of religion, paternalism, and the good-ol-boy culture. We paint the abuse and control of women in terms of God’s plan for them and pile on the guilt when women fail to call it beautiful. (A word about men, if I may? We are guilty of dehumanizing them as well when we paint all men as potential rapists and abusers. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying all men, or even most men, are scum.)

Bolivian mothers

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

Today women are bought and sold as property to be used and discarded. Today women are valued solely on their ability to produce children. Today women are told they are acceptable only when they make themselves invisible – unseen and unheard.

But while I’ve seen first-hand the fear in the eyes of women and girls in Bolivia, I’ve also seen first-hand the possibilities when a community embraces the values and teachings of Jesus.

Gherson is the manager of the Viloma ADP (area development project), and he is also a pastor in the community. After welcoming us to the World Vision offices in Viloma, he described the challenges faced by the community in Viloma.

“Bolivia is a very chauvinist country,” he said. “We have a lot of family violence, discrimination against women, and lack of opportunities for women. We have mostly male pastors, but here in Viloma, we have a real privilege — a female pastor. And she is going to give the devotional today.” It was matter-of-fact, casual.

Bolivian pastor Janet

I heard a man, a conservative pastor, put the lack of female pastors into the same category as chauvinism and violence against women.

I am just going to say it. Why did I have to go to Bolivia to hear this?

Janet spoke in quiet but confident tones as she gave the devotional – “Eyes That See.” She talked about Elijah, his servant, and the invisible army of God surrounding the enemy army. She said, “Today we can pray just like Elijah that God open our eyes to see what God wants us to see. We can go out and face the troubles in our community like the prophet – quiet, confident, unafraid.”

And that’s what World Vision does. While the treatment of women and children in Bolivia is awful, the Bolivian Christians I’ve met are far ahead of us when it comes to women’s empowerment.

Bolivia girl teaching

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

When World Vision comes into a community, they train all children, both boys and girls. And Bolivian Christians make sure that girls learn to speak publicly and get practice teaching the Bible to their peers.

They educate both men AND women, training them in business and agriculture, equipping them with skills they can use to better feed, clothe, and care for their families. They seek mother-friendly business opportunities for women with children so they can work, earn an income, and still care for their children.

Bolivian women sewing

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

They provide marriage classes and counseling to couples who desire a healthier relationship. They teach how to live as true Christians in their homes in front of their kids so that their lives teach the Truth about God.

I’m so proud of my Bolivian brothers and sisters in Christ today.


[To read posts from my  team members, check out World Vision’s Bolivia blog.]

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  1. I’ve noticed that your pictures while in Bolivia are missing one thing: Males! Macho-ism, male chauvinism, and “dead beat dads” are universal problems. Alcoholism to be “macho” devastates families; power issues causing “chauvinism” strips women of their worth; and abandonment because lack of responsibility of “dead beat dads” undermines a whole culture and nation. The only answer is found only in “relationship” through Jesus! Only Jesus teaches there is no difference “between male and female”. He died for both and empowers both. The Church universal must practice this truth. Relationally – women are “doers” of the gospel; I have to admit it, men are “dictators” of the gospel for they “dictate” what they believe women can and cannot do. Like Joy, I will just say it – Let’s admit it men; it is a control issue. We don’t want an “equal” relationship with our women, our Christian sisters, especially our wives, even when the Bible says that the two shall become one. We want control, domination, and when legalistic, we will quote scriptures to back our Pharisaical claims! We must “release” our women from the bondage “we” have placed on them, so they can be all that they can be in Jesus Christ. In my Bible, all women did to Jesus was “serve” Him while men always were in conflict with Him. All Jesus did toward those women was “love”, “accept”, and “take care of them”. Nowhere did Jesus “dominate” over them or “control” them. There is no “men’s” section and “women’s” section in heaven! Get use to it guys, you just may be seated between two women at the “banquet” table in heaven as their equals! In fact you just may have to “wash their feet!” Guys, let’s do some “feet washing!” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, so guys let’s practice some heavenly grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, acceptance, etc. on earth that is and will forever continually be afforded to women in heaven. Men let’s get over our pharisaical attitudes, repent, and “relationally” place women where they have been created in Adam’s time and accepted by Jesus (the 2nd Adam) in His time, by their sides, not beneath their feet! Joy, Great Blog! Great Insight!

  2. Wow – what a blessing. I don’t know if you read Tall Skinny Kiwi or not but he often writes about how the world is out ahead of the Western church on many of these non-issues-that-we-make-gigantic-issues. So often we come to our brothers and sisters, acting like we have something to teach, when, really, we have much to learn. Thank you for sharing this, Joy – very true.

  3. Oh, this is good, Joy. Something that’s really been on my mind and heart lately (Have you read Half the Sky and/or Half the Church?). I’m so thankful to have reconnected with you. God is teaching me so much through you this week.

    I loooove the 2nd picture of all the women and little girls. Beautiful.

  4. Fantastic! I love that they consider having a female pastor a privilege. That is just brilliant.

    I personally have gone round and round with my thoughts about the “place” of women in the Church. I grew up in a tremendously conservative church that didn’t allow women to be ordained or vote in church elections or participate in much of any way other than to cook or teach the young kids Sunday school classes. It always struck me as bizarre and I remember when I was going through confirmation classes, arguing with my pastor about those things. Later, I accepted them and really bought pretty full-sale into the idea of female submission, even adding “obey” into my wedding vows (yes, I did).

    I’m thankful that study of various other topics brought me around to the ideas that I intrinsically knew as a child. And I’m thankful that the folks in the Bolivian churches, who are surrounded on all sides by mistreatment of women, are able to feel privileged to have women serving their congregations!

  5. The lack of female pastors probably is a result of chauvinism. However, I think a re-evaluation of the western notions of leadership, hierarchy and spiritual authority in general is perhaps an even greater need for the Church. Abuse of authority is part of what has kept women (and other “subordinates”) down in the first place. Bringing more women into a flawed system is not the best solution in my opinion. Although it might be part of what it takes to turn the system around.

  6. I made a point of taking my youngest daughter to a church with a female pastor a number of times during what we called our “exploring churches” adventures back when she was 6-8 years old.

  7. All of my kids have some of my traits, but my youngest daughter is so much like me (or rather a relatively undamaged me) it’s scary.

  8. Robert Bouwens says:

    I am one who has seen the western, eastern, southern and northern churches all over the world, and I agree we in the USA have a lot to learn from these cultures. It is beautiful to see the growth, maturity, love, and joy all over the world – particularly in Bolivia where I llved for a year and a half.

    I saw true “macho-ism” in Bolivia – one where the men were living out the Ephesians 5 command to husbands, to love their wife as Christ loved the church. From the example of men in Bolivia and elsewhere in the world, it is clear to me that when maleness is lived out to the full in the husbands, it is for the benefit of the family, particularly the wife. This command, to love with a sacrificial love, is one of service out of a position of leadership. A servant leader is incredibly difficult, impossible even, but as to such Christ has called husbands.

    Transitioning to the general is more difficult. Men are obviously not in a position of leadership over all women. This is ludicrous and unbiblical. Women and men are equal in value, responsibility, potential and calling. However, there are clear differences in the way that men and women are made and the resulting roles that they are often best in. Reasons that men and women are excited by stories of princesses and knights and chivalry – all over the world. There are reasons that God made men and women different. There are reasons that men and women often have different roles in church and society. True, most of the time these roles are abused, misused, confused…because of our sinful nature – but please, don’t try to abolish the differences between the sexes. I fully support your continued fight against the suppression and subjugation of women, but don’t allow it to cause you to denigrate men – instead focus on uplifting women. Men get enough flak in the media and church as it is. Give men a break.

    In fact, women often are the glue that keeps churches running, and as such, have a very significant “leadership” position – even if it is not out in center (I don’t mind women speakers, or even pastors, for that matter by the way). Some of the men who have rubbed you the wrong way in the past are probably struggling to live the Christian walk and allowing their culture to dictate their attitudes. They may even be in the extremely difficult position of “leader” – see the following link:


    (notice Deborah is mentioned in the above passages…)

    Christianity is about laying down your rights, even as leaders. This is what is forgotten. The fight is for GOOD AND GOD’s GLORY, not RIGHTS. Keep and pray for this perspective for yourself and your leaders, whether male or female.

    Bless God.

  9. These are beautiful pictures of women … makes me proud 🙂

  10. This is a powerful post, Joy. Thank you. And you’ve hit on it – the empowerment and affirmation of women is absolutely key to so much of what is wrong in the world today. My denomination has had a successful fund-raising campaign for missions in Africa called, “Educate the Girls” – because it became clear that if women are given opportunities to learn and lead, EVERYTHING in the village, the province, the country, the continent – everything works better. I am thrilled to read that your Bolivian friends valued the presence of a gifted/called woman pastor in their midst. And I agree, sadly, that they are leaps and bounds ahead of many congregations/communities in the good ol’ US of A.

    These are such important, godly truths and need to be ‘preached’ again and again – not to the denigration of men in general, as they are also valued/chosen/gifted/called. But to the correction and calling-out of ANYONE, male or female, who denies basic rights (like safety, security, equality in the workplace, freedom from physical or any other kind of abuse) to an entire class of people. In this instance, the ‘class’ under discussion is women. Thank you for highlighting this all-iimportant issue.


  1. […] Last week’s trip to Bolivia cracked me open and exposed some of what I’ve stuffed for a long time. […]