The women of Cochabamba, Bolivia, play a fundamental role in protecting water. Neoliberal policies have led to greater male migration, resulting in the feminisation of rural areas, with women carrying out much of the paid and unpaid work. This paper focuses on the conflict over the privatisation of water services in Cochabamba in 2000, where a popular movement successfully fought for their rights to the natural resource. This case was argued on the basis of privatisation being a violation of the rights of those who should have access to water as a common good, as well as being potentially harmful for the environment. The study reviews the impacts of privatisation and raises the following questions:
How much are water prices and rates increased as a result of privatisation? In this case the price rise was as much as 50 per cent, with the cost of water roughly equivalent to a quarter of household incomes.
What are the conditions that surround privatisation, and to what degree does privatisation affect the communal systems for safe drinking water?
Do private businesses have the right to utilise and commercialise water sources that have always been the main sources for rural communities and peasant irrigation systems?
What impacts do investment protection laws have on women’s rights?
The study shows how the changes caused by privatisation spurred the mass mobilisation of women in thearea. They fought for recognition of the right to manage water, engaged in confrontations with police, played an instrumental role in micro-level negotiating and participated in solidarity networks between urban and peasant people. They also played a fundamental role in raising public awareness of the campaign. As a result of popular pressure, the Bolivian government cancelled its contract with the water supply company. However, the situation is still not resolved.