“Women are no longer going to be like in the past, women are going to be equal to men or perhaps even more so.”
Maribel looks straight into the future with a warm smile.
Until not too long ago, less than 4% of rural communities in Peru had female leaders. Widespread machismo at the community level made it impossible for women to participate in meetings, let alone speak up or hold leadership roles. The community of Santa Rosa de Huancapuquio, where Maribel lives, was no exception.
In Peru, access and participation in communal decision-making spaces has historically been a purely male affair, particularly within indigenous communities.
For decades, women have been silenced and excluded from their communities, unable to have a say in matters that affect them daily.
“Everything was in the name of men, everything. The house, the farm, everything only in the name of men. There was nothing in the name of women.”
But Maribel wasn’t going to let that stop her.
She started attending meetings when her daughter was only a baby. At the beginning she was alone and men in the community would wonder what she was doing there, what she thought she would accomplish.
“Being accepted by the community wasn’t easy at the beginning because of machismo,” continues Maribel. “Most men used to say ‘What is a woman going to do? She won’t be able to do anything, it’s always a lie with women’.”
But after a while, thanks to her persistence and to the work of organisations like SER and ONAMIAP to empower rural women and promote their active participation in spaces where decisions were being made, more women started to attend.
"When we speak of machismo and domination, we speak of a system that has reduced women to service tasks and does not consider them in decision-making spaces," explains Melania Canales, President of ONAMIAP. "Men participate in the public space, but they do not take care of the housework and don't see it as their responsibility, when in fact it is." -
Today, on the International Day of Rural Women, we want to celebrate the voice of rural women all over the world and promote their right to speak up, participate, and decide on their future and that of their community.
They play a key role in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. That’s why securing their right to inherit and own land is so important to build equal and just societies.
In 2019, ILC National Engagement Strategy (NES) in Peru, of which SER and ONAMIAP are active members, promoted the amendment of article 19 of the General Law of Peasant Communities.
The amendment ensures that at least 30% of community board members are women.
Helping to push for women’s participation and engagement.
"The law has empowered women like Maribel Barrientos. These women have been given the chance to show their work and this has a multiplier effect because other women can see that it's possible to be in charge of the future of their communities. It's about making visible and recognising the important role that women play and their contribution to the community."
Maribel is now the treasurer of the community, but she covers a lot of other roles as well. Her days start at 4am and she doesn’t stop until late at night. She speaks at meetings, coordinates community activities, encourages men and women to listen to each other and collaborate.
She always answers when someone calls.
But she is not alone anymore. Two more women have joined her as authorities:
Marleny Gutiérrez and Enedina Najarro.
“Women are authorities for the first time now. I have always worked for my community, we have always helped, but we have never been authorities. Now we walk together, women and men.”
So far, 25 communal statutes have been updated in Peru since the amendment, leading to the recognition of over 600 Quechua rural women from Ayacucho as qualified comuneras in their communities, and of over 300 Aymara women.
Men, like Nilo and Smith, also began to learn about equal participation and what good it could do to their community as a whole.
"Since the law was changed, several women have been able to use this norm to demand their inclusion in the community boards and therefore to make decisions about their land and territory - no more decisions without women!"
We've come a long way, but it’s not over. For more women to be able to become active members of their communities, it’s important to educate the new generation.
"Children must come [to the meetings], it is necessary that they know about our community, as if it were their father. They must know about the history of our town, from our ancestors and how our grandparents were, so that they value our town, so that they do not leave our communities for other places.”
"In the future, I believe that the 30% gender quota currently established in the law can lead to full equality prompting the new generations to be more involved in the political life of their people. I think that the future is not distant, but rather near if the law is promoted, disseminated and it becomes a tool to change community statutes."
Maribel looks at the road ahead with determination.
“If it were all in my hands, I would want it all now! But sometimes we find ourselves with limitations. What I know is that women don’t want to return to the previous situation, we want to look at the future, to do something for our people.”