Peru: Indigenous women’s rights

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“Local authorities ignore our realities. We kindly ask them to visit our communities, talk to us, and become familiar with our economic and social problems,” said Andrea Campos, a representative of the Regional Federation of Ashaninka, Nomatsiguenga and Kakinte Women (FREMANK).

Over 50 women leaders, wearing typical dresses and accompanied by their children, arrived in Lima from the central jungle to participate in a Public Hearing on the Current Situation of Indigenous Women, last April 29, at the Congress Building.

They represented historically excluded population groups, explained why the land is so vital to them, and demanded the immediate implementation of national and international labor standards.

On December 2, 1993, the Peruvian Congress signed and ratified ILO Agreement N° 169, which promotes respect for and participation by indigenous communities in national economic, social, political and cultural life.

Inadequate access to education

An indigenous leader indicated at the hearing that the illiteracy rate currently stands at 76.3 percent in Nomatsiguenga, 73.0 percent in Awajun, 54.2 percent in Ashaninka, and 38.4 percent in Kakinte.

“We have always been excluded and discriminated against. We are entitled to multicultural, bilingual education under ILO standards, but the truth of the matter is that most schoolteachers speak only Spanish,” stressed Maritza Casancho, a representative of San Ramón, a community in the south-eastern department of Junín.

“This is also the case in Betania (Satipo province),” Campos emphasized.

“Only multicultural, bilingual education and literacy campaigns can help put an end to racism and exclusion,” she added.

There is also a very serious healthcare situation in the country. Only 49 percent of indigenous communities have some type of medical facility under operation, and merely 45 percent have emergency departments in place.

While average life expectancy stands at 62 years, half of indigenous people die before they turn 42.

“We have never had quality care. Medical service providers simply ignore ILO standards. We really need interpreters at these facilities,” said Casancho.

“We demand additional healthcare budget allocations, sexual and reproductive rights campaigns, the introduction of traditional medicines into the national healthcare system, and training and sensitization actions for medical staff,” she added.

“Training courses and awareness-raising campaigns should also be organized for our people, including men and women,” stressed FREMANK financial secretary Claudia Alegría.

“Decision-makers need to be fully aware of and strictly enforce national and international laws. We want equal opportunities for all,” she noted.

A women’s assistance center in Satipo reported 314 family and sexual violence cases only in the January-October 2010 period.

“Those who were supposed to help them did not speak any native language and ignored indigenous people approach to violence and injustice,” said a center’s representative.

Political-violence victims

Jonathan Sharete, head of an Ashaninka organization in Ene, strongly urged to include armed-conflict victims in the so-called Comprehensive Reparation Plan.

“Back in the early 1980s, terrorists just showed up in and took youngsters away from our communities. Now, drug traffickers are posing quite a threat because they kidnap our children to do coca plantation work,” he remarked.

“And there are some Shining Path (terrorist organization) members still operating in the jungle,” he recalled.

The United Nations Office against Drug and Crime estimates that there are 17,000 hectares planted to coca in Peru, with an overall production volume set at 160 tons of cocaine a year.

David J. Chanqueti, a leader in Kiatari, a settlement in Satipo province, said that the central government has paid no attention to local indigenous communities. “I am therefore very pleased with this first inter-ethnic meeting on women’s issues in Congress,” he added.

The indigenous leaders at the hearing submitted a number of proposals to Washington Zeballos, head of the Commission on Andean, Amazon and Afro-Peruvian People’s Affairs in Congress.

The public hearing was held under a project that is being jointly implemented by the Flora Tristán Center and the Spanish Red Cross, and seeks to promote indigenous women’s rights.

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