EUNIC kick-started a project that looks at empowering the Bolivian cultural sector to promote equality, gender equity and sexual diversity and to strengthen its link to civil society organisations. The EU delegation to Bolivia is a partner. In the interview cluster representative Sabine Hentzsch talks about the goal to change public opinion, the challenges of ‘machismo’ and in Bolivia, and that the cluster almost became a cluster of friends during the preparation of the project.
How did this first large EUNIC Bolivia project come about?
Bolivia has been through a number of important changes over the last 13 years but there is still a lot to be done. Human rights in general are a very big topic in Bolivia, but until now not so much in the cultural sector. We were in touch with the EU delegation, who invited us to apply for a special fund dealing with human rights and development. There are already initiatives on these issued in the whole of the country but they mostly work isolated from each other. We also realised that many of our own activities take place in big cities but not in the rest of the country. We will therefore start with a mapping looking at who are the actors and then we will sit together to analyse the results. Bolivia has nine departments and a problem a with its geography, lack of infrastructure – travelling in the country is quite a challenge, so we will aim to host a national meeting where representatives from the most important actors and institutions will come together for the first time on this level, ever. We are clear on our messages: We do not want to have to say to those actors “this is what you should do”, but we want to help them with networking and we want to create spaces which they can use for meetings, actions, programmes and projects.
Gender equality is an important topic in many countries today, but why particularly did you go for it in Bolivia?
First of all there are some contradictions. On the one hand Bolivia as the rest of continental South America is influenced by what we call a “machismo”, which means it is a mainly masculine dominated society, far stronger than Europe. But on the other hand, there is a law that allows you to change your gender. The changes over the last 13 years have included the involvement of women in the political sector as well as in communities of indigenous people. The country refers to itself as plurinational – which to me was a completely new notion. These are somehow conditions which are ahead of their time, but society remains conservative. This means change at the political level has not quite yet changed public opinion.
Speaking of change: What change is this project trying to bring about?
This is always hard to say before we have the first meetings but we want to network and create a safe space for the sharing of ideas and to develop what we can do together. But of course, we want to create awareness of human rights and the best impact would be if we manage to change public opinion. How will the project be evaluated? This is always the biggest question! We have to evaluate, that is for sure, given we are receiving an important amount of money. We have to be sure to document every step. We will observe reactions, talk to our partners, and document publicity on the project.
Can you talk a little more about how you will engage with local actors and what part they will play in the project?
This is exactly the reason why we are starting with the mapping. We didn’t want it to be “oh, who knows someone”. This is not professional and it will not work. We want to do it rightly and identify actors, partners and stakeholders who we will then approach and ask to work with us. The idea is that a network will be created and that will exist when we are gone.
What does your partnership with the EU delegation to Bolivia look like on a practical level?
There was already a relationship when we started the cluster as there were other projects in existence with the delegation and cluster members. The cluster was formed in 2016. This proposal was the first and biggest step into a more structured form of cooperation which is very interesting for all of us. The delegation has different departments, different contact points, and first of all when you start out with something like this you need to understand how your counterpart works internally and what processes are in place. I have some experience working with EU funding which helped a lot; however, some practical things differ in every local EU delegation. It was a long process. We are very happy we are starting our first big venture with the EU delegation – nationwide! We think it is important that our first action as a cluster together with the delegation is an action across the whole country.
The Bolivia cluster is quite a small one. What are the pros and cons of this?
Pros are based on my experience in other countries with other clusters. For me the pro of being small is that it makes it far easier to coordinate. The bigger the cluster the more complicated it could be as each member has its own guidelines and structures, making it sometimes difficult to create a structure for a project.
This was also our experience during this process but the communication between the EUNIC members in Bolivia is a very positive aspect to our work as we are almost like a cluster of friends. From both sides – directors and operational colleagues – and between these levels, when a problem occurs it was very easy to come together and find a solution. With the regulations from the European Union we needed to decided on who would take the lead. In the end it is the Goethe-Institut because we already have similar processes. Also we needed to look at our capacities. The Goethe-Institut has a match funding process which will contribute to our co-financing rate. Staffing too was thought of – we thought it was important for the lead organisation that the same personnel would be there at the beginning of the project as at the end for continuity in order to help lower risks.
What has been the benefit of working together rather than as sole institutes on this topic?
I think it was quite clear for us that we all couldn’t have dealt with dealing with such a project alone. With nine departments of the countries this is quite a big project for us. At the Goethe-Institut for example we wouldn't have tackled it as we alone do not have the capacity. Together with our EUNIC colleagues we all have agreed that it is far more effective to bring our cooperation to another level. There is a committee which takes the decisions – this is the directors – and an operational level for implementation.