Helping Rural Women Gain Control in their Lives
In rural Peru it is still common for women to have little control in the home or a say in family decisions. We are aiming to empower women in rural Peru by helping them start their own businesses so they can earn their own income and gain some control in their lives.
Starting the Pinagua Project
Globalteer’s initiative, Picaflor House hosts children from Oropesa, as well as a few children from Pinagua, a remote Andean village. Pinagua is about one hour outside of Cusco (about 15 minutes up the mountain from Oropesa). The town is so small that it only has about 20 families.
Luz, our Peru Community Programme Manager, interacts daily with these children’s families and discovered that many of the Pinaguan mothers desired financial independence, but were unsure of how they could attain it. Thus, the Women's Empowerment Project was born and it was time determine the best way for the women to gain financial independence.
After combining their efforts, Luz and the Pinagua women concluded that a business of raising and selling cuys (Quechua word for guinea pigs) would be the most manageable and sustainable work for them. In September 2019, we began to build the first cuy houses in Pinagua.
The Life of Rural Women in Peru
Overview of gender roles in rural areas
Firstly, it's important to understand the circumstances rural Peruvian woman face to fully understand the purpose and impact of the project. Like other Latin American countries, the machismo culture exists in Peru. Machismo is known as a patriarchal culture that assigns specific roles to men and women in their daily lives.
Subsequently, in this culture, men are seen as superior to women. Within a typical family, the man is the head, who financially supports his family and makes important decisions, while his wife remains home to raise the children and maintain the home, and does not have a say in decisions. Although Peru has shifted away from this culture in recent years, movement toward a more equal society is focused more in the larger cities. And consequently, the machismo culture still persists in rural communities.
A 2015 study, 'Violencia familiar y acceso a la justicia en el mundo rural' conducted by 'Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo' (GRADE), described the gender roles seen in rural communities in Peru. The investigation had similar definitions of the roles of men and women as outlined above. It added that it's also a rural woman’s duty to complete her domestic tasks to her husband’s satisfaction. He acts as the overseer of her duties and determines how well she fulfilled them.
Violence against rural women, unfortunately, can occur in situations where the husband feels his wife has not fulfilled her duties adequately and therefore has challenged the cultural norm. The GRADE study found that improperly cooking, cleaning or raising the children are common reasons for a husband to abuse his wife; specific examples included dinner not being ready upon the husband’s arrival home or failing to correct bad behavior from children. In 'El acceso a la justicia de la mujer rural', a 2016 study, men suggest poor temperament of women, poverty and alcohol as additional reasons for abuse against women.
Furthermore, according to the GRADE study, 38.9% of all Peruvian women have fallen victim to physical or sexual violence by their partner. In the Cusco region alone 51.2% of women experienced violence from their partners. In rural communities, violence against women by their husbands tends to be tolerated. It is considered a method of the husband asserting his dominance and authority as head of the family. Consequently, as a region with a large rural population, these cultural tendencies are seen in the high level of gender-based violence in Cusco.
Education and Poverty
'La situación de las mujeres rurales en América Latina', part of a study by 'Centro Peruano de Estudios Socieles' (CEPES), outlines a number of statistics regarding the education and poverty of rural women in Peru which helps explain their realities.
The table above extracts relevant information from the CEPES study regarding the education of people living in urban and rural communities of Peru. From these statistics, we can make several insights about rural Peruvian women.
- Rural women 15 years or older have the lowest average years of education compared rural men, urban men and urban women. They average 6.6 years of education, lower than the women’s national average of 9.3 years.
- The average years of education decreases for rural women as the age group increases. Older women on average tend to have less years of education compared to younger age groups. In the highest age group, 45 to 59 years old, women average only 3.3 years of education.
- Illiteracy rates of rural women are higher than rural men, urban men, and urban women. 33.9% of rural women are illiterate, 20% higher than national illiteracy rate for women.
The tables above relay those CREPES statistics. Native languages include Quechua, Aymara and Amazonian languages.
Using this data, we can gain more insights about rural Peruvian women.
- Rural areas have higher incidences of poverty than urban areas. The mountain region has the highest incidence of poverty of all the natural regions. Additionally, the rural mountain region has a higher incidence of poverty than the urban mountain region. This is where the women of Pinagua and of the other rural towns surrounding Cusco live.
- There also seems to be correlation between incidence of poverty and person’s native language. People who speak an indigenous language as their native language have higher incidences of poverty. Most of the women in Pinagua and other rural villages surrounding Cusco speak Quechua as their native language.
- There is a difference of 30.5% between rural Peruvian women and men who have no income. Likewise, women have higher percentage of no income than men.
'Las mujeres son mas indias', written by Marisol de la Cadena in 1991, further explains the experience of the rural woman by explaining the role of ethnicity. De la Cadena’s research is still relevant today, almost 30 years later. She focuses on Chitapampa, a rural town in the Cusco region that is comparable to Pinagua. It is located in the Taray district, just 1 hour from Pinagua, and has about 10 families as residents. Similarly to Pinagua, Chitapampa has a high indigenous population and lives by the machismo culture.
From her investigation of the Chitapampa community, de la Cadena suggests that a Peruvian's ethnicity contributes to their level of perceived superiority within society. She defines two main ethnicities: mestizo (being of mixed European and native Peruvian descent) and indigenous (being of native Peruvian descent). Mestizo men can be superior to all; mestiza women can be superior to both indigenous men and women but not to mestizo men; indigenous men are still superior to indigenous women; indigenous women are superior to no one.
As a result, considering both gender and ethnicity as explained by de la Cadena, we have a slightly more complex ranking of perceived superiority: mestizo men, mestiza women, indigenous men, indigenous women.
Understanding Rural Women in Peru
By reviewing the gender roles, domestic violence, education, poverty, and ethnic roles found in Peru, we can better understand the circumstances of rural Peruvian women, like those found in Pinagua.
They are family-oriented women, who work hard to provide care to their children and home. Unfortunately, they are at a higher risk of being abused by their husbands. Additionally, despite their own desires and efforts, they probably have not completed as much education as they would have liked or needed. They also they have a higher probability of living in poverty. Furthermore, they're most likely indigenous and at the bottom of the perceived societal hierarchy. Luckily, none of this means that they do not have a chance to break these constraints!
Our Response to Help Empower Women in Pinagua
Our Women’s Empowerment project is not going to magically solve all the obstacles that rural Peruvian women face. However, it can begin to support these women in combating their difficult circumstances in a sustainable and manageable way.
For instance, the cuy houses are built on a family’s land; meaning a rural woman can still fulfill her domestic duties within the home while also working to earn her own income. In gaining an income, she can develop a greater sense of autonomy and socioeconomic well-being; two variables that the GRADE study identifies as impacting a woman’s likilihood of experience violence from a partner. If she’s in a violent relationship, she may find the courage to report the abuse against her; she could show her children that violence against women should not be tolerated.
Maybe, she’ll use her new income to invest in her children’s education. Or possibly even her own, or she could put more food on the table, if it's needed. She could help beat the negative statistics that are typical to her rural community. Even though traditional beliefs on ethnicity and gender makes her situation difficult, she now may realise her rights. Thus, by starting her own cuy business, these woman can claim their power and freedom.
Successes in Empowering Women in Peru
United Nations Women published an article, Rural women spur local dairy industry, recalling the success of a similar initiative. With support from the Association of Indigenous Women of the district of Laramate (OMIL) and the Centre for Indigenous Cultures in Peru (CHIRAPAQ), women from the remote village of Patachana in the Ayachuco mountain region began their own dairy business, making cheese and yogurt.
Initially fueled by the desire to provide more for their children, the women were able to take over their local dairy industry to become a business sought out for their quality products. One woman noted that she is now the one to decide how her money is spent; the business has allowed her to increase her economic independence.
Their entire community recognises and respects the women’s success, husbands included. Their business has grown so much that they recently attended a national fair in Lima, where they were able to network with and learn from more experienced agricultural producers. They now have plans to improve and optimise their business. The article explains that the support of OMIL and CHIRAPAQ was instrumental in the empowerment of these women to generate their own sustainable income via a dairy business.
Progress so Far
Several months after building the first cuy houses, our Women’s Empowerment project is beginning to see small successes. Working alongside the Pinagua community, we have completed four cuy houses; allowing women to start their business. One of those women expressed how raising the cuys makes her calm and happy,. She also hopes to be able provide her daughter with an education.
Others have similar dreams of investing in their children and community. Those who have begun their cuy business are also empowering other females in the community who are waiting for their cuy houses; teaching them the how-to's of raising and selling cuys. We are continuously working with the women in the village to assess other business options for them; including building greenhouses for organic farming businesses. We have even started reaching out to other rural communities surrounding Cusco so that we can expand the project to those areas as well!
2020 GoAbroad Innovation Awards Winner !
We are very proud that the Women's Empowerment Project won the 2020 GoAbroad Innovation in Philanthropy Award. Sponsored by the GoAbroad Foundation the award recognises philanthropic efforts that have impacted an individual, group, or local or global community.