Born into a poor, indigenous (Quechua) family, Casimira Rodríguez Romero left her rural home to become a homeworker at 13 years old in the city of Cochabamba. Like many other indigenous girls and women, she experienced demeaning working conditions, with long daily hours and little pay. She was told to keep her mouth shut and could be ordered around by anyone in the household. There were fifteen people in the household she first worked at.
Her faith in God and membership in Christian community empowered her to address the conditions of fellow homeworkers. She began to build community among other female homeworkers. However, her local church at the time was against her involvement in organizing a homeworkers association. Her pastor told her that such work was contrary to the Gospel. Soon thereafter, though, she met a lay Methodist woman, Marta Cayo, who, according to an article by Paul Jeffrey, “told Ms. Rodríguez that there was no contradiction between her faith and her involvement in the homeworkers’ association.” Ms Rodríguez, speaking at a United Methodist Women’s Assembly, said [Ms Cayo] “explained to me that in the Methodist Church, social justice and the word of God are one and go hand in hand.” (“From the kitchen to the cabinet: the inspiring story of Casimira Rodríguez,” in Response Magazine by Paul Jeffrey, found September 1, 2022 at http://kairosphotos.com/pauljeffrey/articles/casimira.htm). She met with fellow homeworkers on Sunday afternoons (their only day off), having been encouraged by her Methodist pastor, Gustavo Loza.
In 1987 she organized a union of Homeworkers in Cochabamba and began advocating for better working conditions and for changes in the law that protected their rights. In 2003, the work of her union achieved its goal of seeing a new law passed. Called, “The Law of the Homeworker,” homeworkers would now have regulated workday hours, a minimum salary, Sundays and holidays off, a right to 15 days of vacation annually, and a bonus of a year’s pay after five years of work. However, according to an article by Linda Bloom for United Methodist News Service, the homeworkers still did not have health insurance, pensions, or written contracts” (see “Bolivian combines faith with fight for rights of household workers,” by Linda Bloom, February 25, 2005, found at https://archives.gcah.org/bitstream/handle/10516/5945/article6.aspx.htm?sequence=2&isAllowed=y.)
The World Methodist Council, an organization comprised of 76 members churches in 132 countries who share a Methodist/Wesleyan heritage, gave Ms. Rodríguez the World Methodist Peace Award in 2003. Nominated by her Bishop, Carlos Intipampa, Rodriguez was honored “for her perseverance, Christian character, and for her tireless efforts for peace, reconciliation, and justice in the face of centuries of oppression” (see https://archives.gcah.org/bitstream/handle/10516/5945/article6.aspx.htm?sequence=2&isAllowed=y found September 1, 2022).
According to Paul Jeffrey’s article for Response, “In December 2005, Bolivians elected Evo Morales, the coca growers leader, as their first indigenous president. When Mr. Morales took office in January, he named Ms. Rodríguez as the Minister of Justice,” a recognition of her gifts at organizing the rights of Homeworkers. The appointment was met with fierce protests by an organization of Bolivian lawyers. “In response,” wrote Jeffrey, “Methodist Bishop Carlos Poma called other church leaders to a meeting with the new Justice Minister, where they presented her with a Bible.” Bishop Poma told Ms. Rodríguez “that those 30,000 lawyers are about as important as three cats. ‘You’ve been chosen by a government that was elected by nine million Bolivians, and that’s more important.'” (see “From the kitchen to the cabinet: the inspiring story of Casimira Rodríguez,” in Response Magazine by Paul Jeffrey, found September 1, 2022 at http://kairosphotos.com/pauljeffrey/articles/casimira.htm).
Casimira Rodríguez is a member of the Emmanuel Methodist Church in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she has served in lay leadership positions for many years. Ms. Rodríguez continues to fight for workers’ rights, especially those of homeworkers. Her story is one of faith and the pursuit of justice as natural products of a commitment to Jesus Christ.