Following international women’s day in March, here at Volunteers Peru have been thinking about gender relations and how they affect women and girls in Peru. This is an area that is close to our hearts due to the projects that we work with. For obvious reasons, the Casa Hogar girls’ home relates very closely to these issues, but for the girls at our partner school in Tomepampa there can be some imbalances, both in the classroom and out of it.
Sexism is when one gender is treated differently. This usually (but not always) is manifested in a way that is disadvantageous to women and girls. Peru, like many Latin American countries, is quite machista, which means that men and women generally fall into ‘typical’ roles, with women carrying out the majority of domestic and caring work.
Representation of women is also much more sexualised, with images of half-naked women being used to sell everything from solar thermals to sandwiches. This can give both genders very unrealistic beauty standards and intensify the objectification of women. With a few notable exceptions, women are not typically present in boardrooms, in parliament or at high levels of decision making.
What are our first-hand experiences of sexism in Peru?
Working at our two projects we can see first-hand some of the ways in which sexism negatively affects women and girls. At Casa Hogar Torre Fuerte, all of the girls are there because they have been subject to some form of neglect or abuse. The home is exclusively for girls because there is a need for this in Peru – girls are far more vulnerable to sexual abuse and being sold into domestic servitude.
Also, although son preference is not as widespread as in places such as India and parts of Africa, it does exist and can make girls vulnerable to malnutrition, neglect and abandonment. At Colegio Honofre Benavides in Tomepampa, things take a slightly different form. The boys are generally boisterous, while the girls tend to keep relatively quiet in the classroom.
In groups of friends they gossip and giggle, but in a mixed-gender environment the boys voices are the ones that shout the loudest. In the surrounding community women work hard to balance field work, cooking and childcare. There are many single mothers and a high incidence of domestic violence.
What can we do?
As a small NGO, it is difficult to make an impact on gender relations in the whole of Peru, or indeed the wider world. But in our small way, we can do something. We can communicate to the girls at Torre Fuerte and at Colegio Honofre Benavides that they matter and are worthy of our time and attention.
Nobody can do everything. But everybody can do something.
We can communicate to the boys around them that their compañeras (female classmates) are worthy of their time and attention, and that their opinions are equally valid. We can challenge gender bias when we see it rather than letting it pass as ‘normal’.
You are interested and you want to apply for an Volunteers Peru Volunteer program? Click here for a teaching placement. Or click here to support the staff in a girls home. Apply now. Volunteers Peru is waiting for your application!