Bolivia has passed through a series of dramatic political, economic and legal changes over the last decade. In the course of the social upheaval and reforms of this period, Bolivia was recast as the world’s first “plurinational” state. As a result, by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century plurality had ostensibly become a central political dynamic in Bolivia and constituted an integral part of ongoing efforts to re-establish the state in a way that addresses the realities of the majority indigenous population and its persisting conditions of exclusion and poverty. This effort to transform the social democratic basis of the country has in large part been founded on the historic struggles and growth of indigenous movements in the country during the 1980s and 1990s, and of the particular relationship and dialectic that exists in Bolivia between class and identity. In the new national constitution (Asamblea Constituyente/Congreso Nacional 2009) it is the meeting of these forces that has determined the centrality of plurality, the expansion of citizenship rights including those of women and the radical enshrinement of indigenous peoples’ rights. This not only includes the recognition of international conventions and cultural rights such as language, but of women and men in the definition and practice of indigenous autonomy, political leadership structures and customary law. As a result of the constitutional sanctioning of these elements, a transformation of ideas about justice and a revalorization of indigenous leadership and law are now taking place. Recognizing the little studied and controversial nature of changes that link

civil and political rights with the cultural, this chapter aims to consider the practical significance for gender justice of the recent constitutional recognition of legal pluralism in Bolivia. As such, the chapter seeks to follow at the local level some of the nascent impacts of legal changes that determine “plurinational” parity between indigenous and state law on gender relations. Our research, carried out by invitation in the little-studied, but now renowned,1 lowland Isobore Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (Territorio Indígena Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure, TIPNIS),2 demonstrates

the social significance of these national legislative changes and reveals the continuing spaces of misreading (de Sousa Santos 1987) that exist between local and national ideas of indigenous and gender justice. The chapter highlights the need to avoid easy assumptions of clear-cut boundaries and temporal divisions, and stresses instead the processes by which gender and sexual relationships between men and women are being thought through, if not fought through, in the light of changing social and political pressures brought about by constitutional and legal reform. As such, the chapter adopts a critical realist approach (Bhaskar 1998, 1993) in which groups and individuals participate, but also meet structural limitations, in the construction of their own social nature. We highlight the important formal advances taking place in terms of gender justice in Bolivia, but also the need to temper political claims of democratic revolution and success with recognition of the persistence of political contradictions and conflicting interpretations of rights within and at the margins of local communities. Moreover, we emphasize the possibilities that exist for misunderstanding and violent retribution – something we refer to as “an accumulated rage” – in a period of rapid legal change. We therefore attempt to demonstrate the linkages that exist between con-

stitutional and legal reform at the national level and local understandings and situated practices of gender justice. As well as outlining the immediate history and content of reforms, the chapter draws on particular examples in order to characterize the inter-linkages and difficulties of communication between national reform and local legal and gender practices. The chapter is divided into two sections, with the first largely focused on the controversies surrounding a case of customary punishment. Although not disconnected from the first, in the second section emphasis is given to an awakening conception of gender justice and to the specific case of female local leaders (corregidoras) testing the limits of local social norms. Both of these cases exemplify the complex manner in which recent reforms for gender justice are “vernacularized” at the local level (Merry 2006). As such they demonstrate, in line with the intentions of this volume, both the challenges (misreadings and the necessities of bargaining) and possibilities for expanding human dignity (self-determination and gender justice) that result because of the power dynamics within legally plural constellations of governance.