Bolivian Women: Leaders in Economic Recovery

PrintBy: Beatriz Muriel H., Ph.D*

As of December 2019, the world faced a health crisis as a result of COVID-19, which led to an economic crisis at the world level in 2020. In Bolivia, production (gross domestic product) fell by 8.8% in the mentioned year, as a result of a series of quarantine measures, both within and outside the country. However, beginning in 2021, with vaccination against COVID-19 and “herd immunity”, there was a reduction in movement restrictions and countries began to recover.

The crisis, followed by economic recovery at the world level, was also reflected in labor results. Some studies indicate that in this process, women workers were most affected, with a lower rate of participation in the labor force, difficulties in recovering jobs, and an increase in unemployment (see, e.g., UN Women, 2020; ECLAC, 2021; ILO, 2021). Notwithstanding, in the case of Bolivia, data indicates instead that women led economic reactivation through a more dynamic participation in the labor market.

Graph 1 presents the labor force participation rates by gender, measuring the economically active population (EAP) – i.e., that works or is actively seeking employment – as a proportion of the working age population.

Graph 1: Bolivia: Labor force participation rates, 1st quarter, 2019 – 3rd quarter 2022

(in percentages)

Source: Prepared by the author based on data of Bolivian urban areas, provided by Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE – National Statistics Agency), Employment Continuity Survey.
Note: From the 2nd to the 4th quarter of 2020, data at the national level was simulated based on data collected by INE at the urban level, as a rural survey was not performed.

The labor force participation rate was historically greater for the male population than for the female population prior to the pandemic (Muriel, 2019). In 2020, the rate fell for both sexes when a strict quarantine was applied in Bolivia from March to May. However, with a gradual reduction in the levels of isolation, economic activities recovered and the labor force participation rate returned to the levels prior to the pandemic, at the end of 2020.

All in all, the labor force participation rate continued to increase until the 3rd quarter of 2021, at a rate considerably higher for the female population: from Q4 2020 to Q4 2021, the increase was of 2.6 percentage points for men and 6.0 percentage points for women, with the gender gap going down from 15.4% to 12.1%. This seems to suggest that women entered the labor market with the aim of recovering the fall suffered in their family incomes (Muriel, 2021) and of thus conserving their living standards and those of their families which existed prior to the pandemic.

According to Muriel (2022), the extraordinary increase in the female population in the work force was reflected in a net rate of growth in employment higher for women as compared to men. Under this trend, however, other women were unable to find work, thus also increasing the ranks of unemployed women, and hence increasing the gap in unemployment by gender. Albeit, the unemployment rate was in general low at the national level, reaching its highest level in Q1 2021, with 6.3% of the total EAP – 6.7% for women and 5.8% for men -.

In summary, the information above indicates that women have led economic recovery in Bolivia, with greater participation in the labor market and, hence, in national production, a fact worthy of commemorating on this special day, March 8th.


  • ECLAC – Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (10 February, 2021). La pandemia del COVID-19 generó un retroceso de más de una década en los niveles de participación laboral de las mujeres en la región. Taken from
  • Muriel, H. B. (2019). Situación laboral boliviana: Factores cíclicos y estructurales. In B. Muriel and I. Velásquez-Castellanos (Coord.), Evaluación de la economía y del desarrollo en Bolivia: Avances, retrocesos y perspectivas (pp. 109-134). La Paz, Bolivia: KAS, INESAD and Plural Editores
  • Muriel, H. B. (2021). El contexto laboral y el COVID-19 en Bolivia: Un ensayo. La Paz, Bolivia: Fundación Vicente Pazos Kanki. Taken from
  • Muriel, H. B. (2022). Brechas laborales por género en las zonas urbanas de Bolivia: Pre, durante y post pandemia. Bulletin Summary No. 32. La Paz, Bolivia: Fundación INESAD
  • ILO – International Labour Organization (19 July, 2021). Fewer women than men will regain employment during the COVID-19 recovery. Taken from–es/index.htm
  • ILO (2015). Labour force participation rate [statistics and databases]. Key indicators of the labour market (KILM), 2015. Taken from–es/index.htm
  • UN Women (2 November, 2020). The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean. Taken from,sobrecarga%20de%20cuidados%20no%20remunerados.%20. COVID-19


* Executive Director and Senior Researcher at INESAD,

This blog is part of the project titled “Creating Indigenous Women’s Green Jobs under Low-carbon COVID-19 Response and Recovery in the Bolivian Quinoa Sector”, which is supported by the Sustainable Inclusive Economies Program of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.

The viewpoints expressed in this blog are the responsibility of the author and may not reflect the viewpoints of all members of Fundación INESAD. 


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