Latin American Foundation for the Future

International Women’s Day

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A world free from gender discrimination…an absurd ideology that can never be achieved, or a possible dream that just requires a united objective and an open heart?

Yesterday we joined the UN in recognising International Women’s Day, a day to highlight the universal human right that every women and girl should be free from discrimination. First celebrated in the 1990s, every 8th of March, the world comes together to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have contributed to the advancement of women’s rights and played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. With the theme for this year being “the time is now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”, I write today to discuss the issue of gender inequality, focusing on the issues for rural women as it ties in closely to LAFF’s goals.

Throughout the colonial period, early years of independence and disappointingly still today, social, economic and political discrimination severely affects women in Peru. The World Economic Forum highlights that out of 144 countries, Peru has the 111th lowest score for Women’s Economic Participation and Opportunity (2016). In 2010 there were 135 instances of femicide in the country with seventy percent of the victims being killed by their partners. This means that statistically, more than ten women are killed every month as a consequence of extreme violence (Peru Support Group, 2010). Additionally, sexual violence has been and continues to be a serious issue in Peru with 12% of women reporting to have been forced to have sex at least once in their life.

While gender inequality has detrimental effects on both rural and urban women- the restrictive access to education in rural communities leaves rural women to be at the highest risk of discrimination, violence etc. For example, only 31.8% of women are landholders, and while the global pay gap between men and women stands at 23%, in rural areas of Peru, it can be up to 40%. Rural women are the most vulnerable in conflict situations. For example, during the Fujimori led counter-insurgency in the 1990s rural communities faced the largest share of violence. Rural women, especially, were targeted. Furthermore, Fujimori’s administration led a controversial and brutal policy of forced sterilisations of largely rural, indigenous women; a policy which has now been described by the UN as genocide.

These worrying statistics are prohibiting Peruvians to live in a just and equitable society. This is why our work at LAFF is so important and strives to reduce these inequalities one day at a time. Casa Mantay, one of our partner organisations works to support teenagers who have suffered various forms of violence, including sexual abuse, and are often rejected by society and, at times, their own families. In the rural communities that most of these mothers come from, there is often a general state of isolation, deprivation of education and a degradative attitude towards girls and women. Although having to overcome extremely difficult circumstances, the Casa Mantay environment allows the girls to have the support they need to become independent, strong women. For example, the girls are all given psychological support so that their mental health is less likely to prevent them from raising their children in the most positive way. The two Social Enterprises (Taller Mantay & Arte Floral) that the project created, intends for the girls to be able to learn transferable skills and to empower them so that they leave the house prepared for adult life.  Additionally, yesterday the mothers and volunteers of Casa Mantay united in the streets of Cusco to march for International Women’s Day. Inspiring to see such strong girls, who all have the same dream to achieve gender equality.

March 8th, International Women’s Day march with the mothers from Casa Mantay

The Sacred Valley Project (SVP), is another partner organisation that promotes education to be able to facilitate the leap of empowerment for rural girls. Due to the isolation that is associated with rural communities, girls often have to walk hours to be able to reach their primary school. Often, as high schools tend, only be situated in big cities, this option often is restricted to boys (who due to their higher status, are often able to move to urban areas to get a more advanced education). Through recognising that education is the foundation for building a brighter future, SVP invests some of their funds into tutors. With Quechua being many of the girls’ first languages, the tutors are provided to enable to girls to be able to succeed with their studies without being at a disadvantage due to the language barrier. Through speaking with the students at SVP it is always inspiring to hear their dreams and aspirations. The united drive they all share reiterates that they are not weak or suppressed girls that will allow inequality to divert them away from achieving their goals.

Although we at LAFF are motivated to contribute to the advancement of gender equality, we are not the only ones! Despite the unsettling statistics presented above, International Women’s Day embarks on success stories that females hold. Through the last years, great advancements have been made for women in Peru, both in rural and urban communities. We primarily note the Miss Peru 2017 beauty pageant- an event which is normally criticised for its sexist and patriarchal views of women. Instead of giving their body size measurements, they instead gave hard-hitting facts about sexual violence at a protest to the grave issue so prevalent in Peru. Rural activism is also on the rise as well as innovative entrepreneurship programmes that rural women have created and sustained. One notable example is The Calmañana Cooperative that is made up of 17 women farmers in the southern province of Canelones. The members of the cooperative not only supply local supermarkets but export their products to Europe and form part of the national certification board for organic products.

While it is notable that progress has and can be made, there is a still a long & challenging road ahead for gender equality in Peru. Intertwined with our objectives, we at LAFF strongly advocate education as the driving force to bridge the gap that gender inequality has created. Research continues to show that education of girls will not only increase their own salaries but also is a vital part of the reduction of poverty. Therefore, if our support continues, girls can leave the education system with ideally, the same qualifications as their male counterparts. Although this is a critical aspect of gender inequality that needs to be embarked upon, it is not enough. Education of attitudes for both urban and rural communities also needs to be tackled. Even if girls are receiving a higher standard of education, it becomes futile if we do not see changes to this patriarchal view against women. Every women & man should do their best to promote the rights of women, whether this is attending a women’s march, speaking out against sexist attitudes or just learning more about the daily injustices committed against women. As I mentioned in the first line, one day at a time, a united goal and an open heart, we can hopefully begin to see this just and equitable society, that so many of us have dreamed of living in.

 
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