women's rights in peruIn 2018, Peru ranked 87th on the gender inequality index with a score of 0.381. This indicates limited women’s rights in Peru. Between 2015 and 2020, the infant mortality rate was 68 for every 100,000 live births. At the same time, the teen birth rate was almost 57 per 1,000 girls. Women have a labor force participation rate of almost 15% lower than men. Around 57% of women have a postsecondary education, compared to 69% of men. Additionally, women in Peru hold only 28% of all parliament seats. Peru has high rates of sexual, physical and domestic violence against women. However, Indigenous women face additional struggles in Peru. Here are four facts about Indigenous women’s rights in Peru.

4 Facts About Indigenous Women’s Rights in Peru

  1. Language barrier: Overall, Indigenous women in Peru struggle with economic and political inequality. This results from elevated rates of poverty, inaccessible services and language barriers. Spanish is the official language in Peru. However, Indigenous women tend to speak languages such as Quechua and Aymara, which are also official languages. Quechua is the most common indigenous language in Peru, with over three million speakers in 2007. However, the language barrier makes it hard for Indigenous women to access education, healthcare and employment. In Peru, more than half of the people without access to healthcare speak Quechua, according to The World Bank.
  2. Land ownership and management: Many women in the Andes and historically Incan areas face higher rates of poverty and lower economic opportunity. As a result, they also experience limited land ownership and management. While Peru’s constitution takes a gender-neutral approach to women in leadership and decision making, the government does not implement this in reality. Thus, women struggle to find a voice in how community forests and their land are managed, even in cases of inheritance. For Indigenous women, these forests are an important part of their culture and their ancestry.
  3. Healthcare: Quechua-speaking women often face language barriers in seeking healthcare, as most healthcare workers speak Spanish. Men go to school and learn Spanish, while women stay at home and focus on building a family from a young age. Consequently, women do not receive proper sex education. They rely instead on traditional practices and men. This has led to high rates of teen pregnancy, rape and domestic violence. In one survey, 44% of Quechua women reported having been raped. Similarly, researchers indicate that almost one-third of girls ages 15 to 19 have at least one child.
  4. Forced sterilization: One of the most infamous violations of Indigenous women’s rights in Peru occurred under former president Alberto Fujimori. Between 1990 and 2000, the government forcibly sterilized close to 300,000 Indigenous women and a smaller number of men. This occurred under the cover of a poverty-reduction program. However, Indigenous women are the center of their village, where family and the ability to bear children are paramount. Thus, this program has long-lasting effects on Indigenous villages, future generations and their cultures. A disproportionate amount of older residents and a few younger people has also made villages financially unstable. Even though the government heard some cases, most made little progress. This deprives Indigenous women of justice.

COVID-19 and Women’s Rights in Peru

Between March and June of 2020, Peru went under lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. As of October 2020, Peru has more than 670,000 cases and 29,000 deaths. However, the pandemic has especially affected women’s rights in Peru. In the midst of the lockdowns, violence against women increased. More than 1,000 women and girls have gone missing, and their families fear them dead. Importantly, gender violence in Peru disproportionately affects Indigenous women. In Cuzco, 47% of women report having been victims of sexual violence. Experts suggest that 70% have experienced physical violence.

Indigenous women are also more vulnerable to COVID-19 itself. In secluded villages, the terrain and the isolated nature pose challenges for transportation to life-saving medical care. Further, limited economic opportunity and a lack of channels of communications put Indigenous people at risk for COVID-19 outbreaks. Language barriers women face also make it more difficult to promote Indigenous women’s rights in Peru during the pandemic.

Solutions and Initiatives

Thankfully, many organizations are promoting women’s rights in Peru. For example, The Quipu Project serves an important role in promoting solidarity and action in the aftermath of the forced sterilizations. A documentary project produced by Chaka Studios, it tells the stories of women who underwent forced sterilizations to bring visibility to the issue and promote solidarity. The documentary gets its name from quipu, a knotted cord Andean women use to communicate.

Another organization that fights for women’s rights in Peru is DEMUS. DEMUS fights for women’s autonomy and protection against violence. Among its accomplishments, the group helped to reopen the cases of forced sterilization. It also made gender discrimination recognized in some legal interpretations and started the legal advisory service at the Lima Women’s Police Station. Additionally, DEMUS established the first phone line for women facing violence in the country.

Ni Una Menos also calls for an end to violence and femicide in Peru against native women. On Aug. 13, 2016 an estimated 200,000-500,000 people marched in Lima for the largest social demonstration in the country’s history. Finally, Awamaki is another nonprofit organization working for women’s rights in Peru. It helps women increase economic opportunities through business. By assisting and educating artisans, it also expands economic opportunity for women in this line of work.

Any work that seeks to promote women’s rights in Peru must consider Indigenous women’s particular needs, like these organizations do. The government and other organizations should empower these women with culturally sensitive methods. In this regard, these nonprofits may serve as an example for future work supporting women’s rights in Peru.

Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr