Womb Rights: A Reflection on Bolivia’s Proposed Law of Mother Earth

Author: Carol Kingston-Smith, Associate Lecturer in Mission, Redcliffe College


On December 4th 2010 the work of 1,500 representatives of Bolivia’s active social
movements representing the voices of the 36 indigenous groups, the membership of which
accounts for 60% of the 10 million citizens of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, culminated in
a radical and historic proposal.
This proposal, presented at the Cancun World Climate Summit, called for a law on “Mother
Earth” founded on the indigenous principle of “vivir bien” (living well). It aims to establish
harmony, balance and a communitarian economy based on the principles of solidarity,
reciprocity and fairness. It is expected to pass into state legislature shortly and stands as a
particularly evocative legal landmark in a region where the indigenous national
consciousness never strays far from the memory of exploitative colonial mineral extraction.
The proposal is one of many signs of Bolivia’s explicit resistance to the Western capitalist
economic model which has been tarnished as exploitative, destructive and irresponsible. It
forms a significant plank in the Indigenous Movement’s own reassertion of agency as part of
a decolonising project which has grown significantly in momentum since the country’s first
Encounters Mission Journal Issue 37 June 2011 2 of 6
indigenous president, Evo Morales, came to power in 2006. The proposal claims that it is
“time to stop Mother Earth’s agony and treat her wounds…reverse all the damage
caused…and re-establish harmony and balance between all living beings.” It is based on the
accord of intrinsic rights to Mother Earth as a living being who is “sacred, fertile and the
source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb…she is the home of all
living beings, ecosystems, biodiversity, natural societies and their individual components”.

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