Remembering Domitila:
Working Class Militant in Bolivia

Apr 16, 2012

Domitila Barrios de Chungara, a militant in Bolivia, died at age 75. She grew up in a miner’s village. The tin miners of Bolivia lived in dire poverty under extremely harsh conditions. They waged constant struggles against the government-run mines.

Domitila became involved in the Housewives Committee of the mining town of Siglo XX. The housewives committee began when the miners were locked up due to their struggle. The wives got together to protest. Many men said that women shouldn’t get involved in such things, they belonged at home with the children and in the kitchen. Some miners beat their wives for taking part. But the women continued, in support of the miners’ struggles, over problems in the store, over the condition of kids in the schools and over the care in hospitals. Their persistence won the respect of the miners, so the women won their place in the struggle.

Domitila engaged in many struggles. She was thrown in jail and tortured, and lost a child. But her involvement only became deeper.

As a result of an interview Domitila had given to a film maker, she was invited to the U.N.’s 1975 Year of the Woman Conference in Mexico City. She shocked the bourgeois feminists there by saying that in a society divided into classes, the division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat extends to women. Between a professor and a domestic worker, a magnate’s wife and a miner’s wife, between those who have everything and those who have nothing, there is a deep class gulf. “For us, the first task doesn’t consist in fighting against our companions, but with them changing the system in which we live for another, where men and women have the right to life, work and organization.” As a result of this contact with 5,000 women from around the world, she affirmed that “the interests of the bourgeoisie have absolutely nothing to do with our interests.”

Domitila’s life is explained in her book Let Me Speak, which is still available in print. It is the powerful story of the condition of Bolivian miners and their families, harsh class struggle, and the revolutionary awareness of militants like Domitila.