Women and Territory

The Struggle for Recognition and Participation of indigenous Andean and Amazonian women in Peru.

Autora / Autor: 
Roxana Vergara
Fecha de publicación: 
Miércoles, 2 Septiembre, 2020

In Peru, 49.7% of the territory is managed by peasant communities and indigenous peoples; However, women, despite representing more than 50% of these communities, have difficulties in accessing decision-making spaces on territorial management.

Indigenous, Andean and Amazonian women in Peru know first-hand the realities in their communities in relation to the governance of the territory. They participate directly in agricultural, pastoral and forestry activities, in addition to taking care of children, youth and the elderly in their families, homes and neighborhoods. They face socio-environmental problems directly. Many are victims of gender violence and in some cases, men establish relationships with them in order to obtain access to family and community resources. They also have management experience by their involvement in grassroots organizations such as mothers' clubs, parents’ associations and self-defense committees, water management and the ‘glass of milk’ (communal kitchen) program committees, among others.

This publication reports on an intervention project with the objective of improving for indigenous women to access to decision-making and effective participation in land governance and territorial management through the modification of communal statutes and the incorporation of gender quotas in the lists for communal elections. The project was carried out for three years - from 2016 to 2019 - and was led by the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP) with the support of Oxfam, community women organizations in local and regional levels, community authorities, municipalities, local NGOs, and many women leaders.

The publication is the result of an evaluation of the project implemented in five peasant and native communities of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Ucayali, Junín and Lima in Peru. More than fifty documents produced within the framework of the project were analyzed and systematized. These included project proposals, medium-term and final reports, minute books, old and modified statutes, public registry entries, institutional agendas and public legislation, among others. In addition, interviews were conducted with 147 people such as national directors, project managers, promoters and directors of grassroots organizations, members of the Oxfam project team, community leaders, directors of indigenous organizations and officials of state and private institutions.

The strategy to improve access conditions for indigenous women to decision-making spaces was to generate awareness among community authorities and members, both men and women, about the importance of female roles in land governance. Then, efforts were undertaken to modify the communal statutes in order to recognize women as qualified community members and incorporate them in the communities’ board of directors, based on gender quotas.

The book addresses the different struggles which indigenous women face daily at the community level, describing the contexts of each of the communities, evaluating the results of the intervention process and looking at the life stories of women leaders.

Personal experiences, collective changes

The first community described in the book is the Uras peasant community in the Ayacucho region. The community is located at an altitude of more than 2,500 meters in the Andes, four hours from the city of Huamanga. It counts 130 members according to the 2017 national census. Most of the community has Quechua as their mother tongue, but they also speak Spanish, although women have more difficulty speaking it. The population was heavily impacted during the time of the Peruvian armed conflict, with 3,884 cases of violence officially registered in the district of San Miguel, where the Uras community is located.

Nevertheless, the organization of the peasant community is strong, in charge of a board of directors, and supported by different committees, such as the self-defense committee, irrigation committee and the “Glass of Milk”[1] committee. This is supported by a strong self-consciousness of collective identity. The territory faces external challenges such as those related to the Camisea gas extraction project (with a gas pipeline that runs through the community's land), as well as internal tensions between displaced community members who return to the territory and those who do not respect boundaries of family land plots.

Before the project, women were not recognized in the statutes as community members qualified to participate and vote in community decisions, with the exception of widows and single mothers, as they did not have a male partner to represent them. Despite this, the women did have experience in organization, direction and articulation based on their local participation in the “Glass of Milk” program and the Parents Association in the schools.

The process of modifying the communal statutes in Uras involved presenting the project to the directors, consulting the community assembly, holding awareness sessions for all community members, holding meetings with the statutory committee to prepare the new bylaws, a workshop to approve the new bylaws in the statutory assembly, and registering the changed statutes at Sunarp (the governmental body in charge of the official registry for organizational documents).

Thanks to the intervention, women are now recognized as qualified community members in the communal statutes. The community established a gender quota of 30% in the election processes of the communal board of directors, leading to the election, for the first time, of a married woman as a member of the board for the 2018-2019 period. This fact stands out since the last time a woman had been on the board of directors was for the period 2003-2004, about 15 years ago.

The life story narrated in this first intervention is that of the elected member of the Uras community: Magdalena Arcce Silva, a Quechua speaker. By electing her, the community recognized her skills, commitment and strength present when overcoming challenging situations, such as family violence, terrorism, school abandonment and migration. Magdalena developed her leadership when she was forced to support her family, after her husband suffered an accident. She had to replace him for three years in the communal tasks, which meant to participate in construction work for the school and maintenance of communal irrigation infrastructure and the tree nursery. She was also president of the Parents Association, the Mothers Club and the Women's League of the local Christian Church. She attended workshops on gender equality through her participation in the Glass of Milk committee. When the statutes were modified, it was her opportunity to be elected as part of the board of directors, where she is responsible of calling the meetings, plan the community agenda with the other directors and assign tasks.

The legal and communal changes following the project intervention process in the Uras community are similar in the following three communities reviewed: the peasant community of Congalla in the Andean region of Huancavelica, in the native community of Shambo Porvenir, in the Amazonian region of Ucayali, and in the native community of Shintoriato, in the Amazonian part of Junin. In the fifth locality described, the rural community of Pirca in the province of Huaral in the Lima region, the statutory changes were not completed.

As in the Uras community, Congalla inhabitants are mostly Quechua speakers and their territorial governance is affected by similar external and internal factors. Although women were also not recognized as qualified community members, they had already been part of the boards of directors in previous years. Through the project, the status of qualified community members for women was incorporated into the statutes, so that women could participate in communal governance. This enabled that in the election of the new board of directors for the 2019-2020 period five of the seven positions were occupied by women. It was also an opportunity to debate internal territorial governance and its external and internal conflicts, such as boundary problems, as well as mechanism to mitigate them, like communal rights and the Prior Consultation Law.

[1] ‘Vaso de Leche’ in Spanish; a national social welfare program centered on communal kitchens and led by women.

The life story narrated in Congalla is that of Eugenia Sulca, elected as the community prosecutor for the 2019-2020 period. Her election was based on the public recognition she had gained as a community leader, having previously held positions of community president, district councilor, deputy peace judge and president of the irrigation and construction committees. Her career as a leader built on her personal family history as well as her participation in grassroots organizations and as president of “Glass of Milk” and Juntos (another social program in agriculture). In the past, she had been honored by her community as a good leader through a custom called 'viga huantuy' (wantuy in Quechua means 'to be carried by two or more people'), where she was raised on a tree trunk ('viga' or eucalyptus trunk) and strolled through the main square of the village as a sign of recognition.

The third intervention was in the native community Shambo Porvenir, an Amazon Shipibo-Konibo community, where people have historically been affected by extraction of rubber, gas, oil and timber, along with colonization by settler groups. The demands for better territorial governance are similar to the previous cases. Also here, many indigenous women have gained experience through their participation in grassroots organizations and in workshops on leadership, territorial rights, and climate change. As a result of the intervention, it was possible to modify the communal statutes incorporating an inclusive language. In addition, quotas of 40% were introduced in favor of women and 30% of young people in the lists of candidates to promote their election to the board of directors. Added to this provision was the inclusion of women in the electoral roll to ensure their participation in various positions and commissions.

From Shambo Porvenir, we learned the story of Celia Valera, elected as the first lieutenant governor that the native community has had. Being a mother of four children, with many family issues and lack of schooling, she developed her leadership based on her personal family history and migrant work that she had carried out in other regions of Peru. As lieutenant governor, she has to conciliate family problems within the community, from child abandonment to gender-based violence. She also has a role in protecting the communal lands from encroachments. Although she is not the first lieutenant governor in the district, she is one of the first Shipibo women to hold the position, paving the way for future female leaders.

The Shitoriato native community is an Ashaninka community located in the Amazon, at the foot of the Andes. Also, this community faces encroachments by settlers, migration due to political violence, and extraction of natural resources. As in Shambo Porvenir, men and women have formally the same rights to participate and vote in communal assemblies. However, even though women leadership has developed in grassroots organizations, they are reluctant to participate in the assemblies. The intervention succeeded in the approval of a revised statute with a 40% quota in favor of women for the communal board of directors, facilitating their election in positions of greater hierarchy.

The life story in Shintoriato is that of Hilda Pérez, elected as the first head of the native community, for the period 2019-2021. As in the other life stories mentioned in the publication, the path of personal and family life led to her participation in grassroots organizations and helped Hilda develop her leadership capacities. First, she was president of the “Glass of Milk” committee and then assumed the position of treasurer on the communal board of directors in 2010. In her vision, as a mother, widow and leader of her community, she seeks to encourage young people to take on leadership roles and continue the work she has started.

The fifth intervention continues in the rural community of Pirca in Lima, where individual and organizational learning was achieved by the directors of the communal board, indigenous women, the promoters of the project and ONAMIAP, although the community's statutes were not modified by the end of the project term.

Results and Recommendations

In four of the five experiences it was possible to agree on changes in the communal statutes, including gender quotas, thanks to the recognition and active participation of women. In all cases, the project generated awareness of communal rights, strengthened cooperation between women organizations, and incorporated in the revised statutes issues that were of special concern for women: children and youth, the elderly and gender-based violence.

Based on these positive experiences, the book provides recommendations for governmental and social organizations to achieve greater political participation of women in communal governance. The recommendations for the State include the adaptation of the model statutes that are provided to the communities by the Ministry of Agriculture, the updating of the manuals of the national registries regarding gender quotas, and the dissemination of the lessons learned from the experiences of ONAMIAP for its incorporation into the practices of the Ministry of Culture and local governments. The recommendations for women's organizations include incorporating quotas in community statutes for the participation of women, establishing relationships and strengthening alliances with other organizations with similar objectives such as other communities, federations and local governments, organizing awareness workshops on collective rights and leadership, and promoting the design and implementation of action plans at the regional and national levels. For civil society organizations, the recommendation to continue support for the development of local capacities and collective articulation stands out, as well as the importance of supporting the creation of spaces for dialogue and providing legal advice to indigenous women's organizations and communities.

The book communicates in all its sections the importance of incorporating indigenous women in community governance and management, given their agency and capacities for the defense of cultural and territorial integrity and the sustainable use of community resources.