By Claire Gillepsie
Like most other societies around the globe, the Aymara indigenous tribes from the mountains of Bolivia are heavily patriarchal, ruled mainly by males. However, the Aymara indigenous women are not simply passive victims of the gender hierarchy – many have fought back against those suffocating gender ideals.
The Aymara people rely heavily on tourism to the Bolivian mountains; the males guide tours throughout the mountains while the females cook and clean for the mountaineers at base camps. But some Aymara women weren’t satisfied with doing just that. These women, who had lived their entire lives in the Bolivia mountains, wanted to know what it’s like to reach the peaks of their awesome home.
In 2014, a group of Aymara women started their journey of home-discovery by climbing the Bolivian mountains. Though these women were armed with ropes and crampons rather than pots and pans, they still dressed in the traditional Aymara attire of brightly colored cardigans and multi-layered skirts. Since the start of their journey, the Aymara women, all aged 42 to 50 years old, have already climbed five mountains in the region. During the climb, they faced many difficult challenges, such as hiking six hours through snow while scaling Mount Acotango. But the women were well-equipped to deal with such challenges; after all, they did spend their entire lives living on the mountains.
In the short term, the Aymara women aim to climb eight mountains higher than 6,000 meters. As they have already completed five, they only have three more to go. This month, they will attempt the summit of Aconcagua, which is the highest mountain outside of Asia.
In the long term, the Aymara women hope to participate in the traditionally male job of tour guiding. Some of the women have already begun to charge for their services as guides on the mountains. Newsflash: women are equally as able to lead mountaineering groups as their male counterparts. Becoming tour guides will allow Aymara women to have a source of income equal to that of Aymara men as well as demonstrate their social and physical equality.
This mountaineering success story of Aymara women forms part of a larger narrative in which indigenous women are becoming more and more prominent in Bolivian society, from setting up their own all-female wrestling rings to partaking in the government cabinet.
Cholitas are leading the way for greater gender equality in Aymara society and in Bolivia as a whole. Indigenous women suffer the consequences of being part of a marginalized group in very unique and severe ways, so it is a hugely significant development to see them entering aspects of society, within traditional Aymara arenas and bureaucratic and political roles in Bolivia. We’re proud of you, cholitas!