By Aguayo Association and Foundation

How digitization affects rural communities in Bolivia and their rights? What needs do Bolivians who live in medium and small municipalities have in relation to digitization and their rights exercise? Are global debates on digital policies present in local realities? How can rural municipalities in Bolivia be supported to be included in these debates?

These questions were the triggers to reach places like Coroico, a municipality three hours from the Bolivian Government seat; Ayo Ayo, a town on the high plateau of the Andes, and other remote places. All of them share global problems such as personal data extractivism processes, cyber fraud and digital violence, but unlike urban centers and northern countries they are not taken into account in the global discussion on digitization.

Since 2020, from the Foundation and the Aguayo Association we have taken on the challenge of taking the debates on Internet access and personal data protection to municipalities far from urban centers in a double effort: going from the global to Bolivia and from urban to rural.

The COVID-19 quarantine context brought the digitization challenge to more places and surprised municipalities without strategies, regulations, public debate, or tools to face it. This led to increasing these territories populations vulnerabilities when using the Internet.

We did not want this tour to be done anyway, we decided that it should be local, feminist, and intercultural. We wanted it to be with diverse voices. Thus, we include women as fundamental actors in these processes, producers’ federations and young people.

This way, we faced two projects: the first called: “ Multicultural digital rights legislative frameworks for indigenous communities and municipalities in Bolivia: comparative analysis and legal incidence”, in which a diagnosis was made on Internet access and personal data protection in five Bolivia municipalities and an Indigenous Autonomy (Charagua Iyambae).

On this basis, two municipal laws models were designed:

  • Digital Inclusion Law, so that municipalities can project not only Internet access solutions, but also digital literacy programs, which until now have not been assumed by these entities.
  • Personal data protection law so that the municipalities guarantee this right in the procedures they manage. Although there is no national law, it is not an impediment for municipalities to assume this role.

Likewise, communication and training campaigns were implemented in three municipalities: Coroico, Copacabana and Villamontes.

In this process we had a first approach with the Coroico Municipal Government, its Municipal Council and social actors that influence local policies. Why? Because one of our objectives is elaborating laws that guarantee and protect the citizens’ digital rights. In this way, political will was generated to deliberate on a Municipal Law for the Digitization and Personal Data Protection in Coroico, which, if approved, would be the first of its kind in Bolivia, and even in Latin America and globally. In this link you will find the work done so far.

Our work did not end there, and in 2021 we have started the second project, “Women for digital rights and technologies in Bolivia” with the aim of strengthening the women incidence capacity in public policies on digital rights.

After a capacity-building process aimed at grassroots women, they designed public policy proposals with an impact in their direct context and the collective decalogue construction in which they expressed their concerns about the digital rights violations that they experience in their daily lives. Here you will be able to learn about seven grant proposals from the seventy received whose objectives are to influence their direct contexts in search of strengthening their digital rights and the voices from women’s who worked throughout the project.

In the various visits to the municipalities, naturally a group of young people, who were already working with the Aguayo Association in artivism and mass communication in other projects, began to accompany us. Art is a powerful channel to transmit social change messages and reach people who are not possible in traditional ways.

It was time to be creative! We supported the production of a play by the Coroico Art group made up of teenagers and young people from Coroico about their reality in digital rights, the risks of surfing the Internet without information, what virtual education had meant in the pandemic, and the importance of taking care of personal information. So important was the impact of this work that it became the most important cultural event in the first 2022 semester in the municipality, they took it to several communities and to the city La Paz in different events.

The young people from Coroico also put their enthusiasm into their weekly program on the local radio, which has a great reach in the area with interviews, jingles and spots on digital violence and personal data protection. Both for the play and for the radio, we did a very important job strengthening capacities so that they had inputs to carry out both proposals.

Throughout this process, doors were opened with the Coroico’s Mayor, the councilors, and the male and female producers’ federations where we were able to sow the debate on digital rights seeds that we want them to be able to reap and replicate in neighboring communities. Now several actors are ready to speak in national and local spaces.

Human rights in digital environments are a need for all people, including those who live in rural municipalities. It is necessary to integrate local views, territorialities, feelings and knowledge in national and global debates that do not always take this diversity into account.