Water, Privatization, and Conflict: Women from the Cochabamba Valley


Beltrán, Elizabeth Peredo. 2004. Water, Privatization, and Conflcit: Women from the Cochabamba Valley. Washington, DC: Global Issue Paper, Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Author: Elizabeth Peredo Beltrán


This investigation analyzes the conflict that was provoked by the privatization of water services in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000. This case is a paradigm of the processes of privatization in countries of the Global South, because it brings together diverse factors and tensions around which water, environmental rights and human rights are debated. This case is an example of how financial policies and the tendency to commercialize water affect local communities, making evident one of the contemporary world’s central contradictions: privatization versus the common good with, on the one hand, business-oriented visions and concepts of globalization which promote the policy of privatization associated with profit making and, on the other hand, visions, ideas and community practices of local societies that emphasize common use of water and solidarity as part of a long standing socio-cultural fabric.

This study also describes the fundamental role of women in taking steps to obtain water, both as farmers and members of communities. In particular, their role has increased as a result of policies of market liberalization which have generated a sustained process of outward migration, and hence the feminization of rural areas and agricultural work. As part of their domestic labor, women reproduce love and care and in many contexts, exhibit rationality in seeking accessible resources, and this necessarily puts them in the role of defending water and life. Their tasks are usually invisible within neoliberal societies and not considered in macroeconomic calculations, which are limited to citing data about commercial and monetary activities such as the circulation of money.

Multilateral banks are pushing for the privatization of natural resources by imposing tough financial conditions. They argue that public systems are inefficient and corrupt and that by subjecting resources, including water, to the function of broadening markets and the influence of big business, these resources will be better distributed and conserved. However, theirs is an economic strategy that favors profitability over social and cultural considerations and environmental sustainability, and it reduces citizen participation in water distribution and environmental concerns by privatizing services.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Economies, Gender, Women, Rights, Human Rights Regions: Americas, South America Countries: Bolivia

Year: 2004

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