Women and Human Rights in Peru
Paula Escribens | No. 151. May - June 2012
To effectively analyse the situation of Peruvian women today it is important to first note a few points of political and economic context. Beginning in 1980, Peru suffered a twenty-year internal conflict in which nearly 70,000 died and many others suffered torture and rape. The violence also coincided with the country’s worst economic crisis in recent history. Consistently high rates of economic growth over the last decade or so however, have led many outsiders to conclude that the country is now entirely stable. It is in this context that Bill Gates recently said that Peru, as a middle income country, should no longer receive any support from international donors.
Yet it is far from possible to divine the country’s current reality merely by examining the macroeconomic statistics. The armed conflict may have finished, but Peru remains characterised by inequality, widespread discrimination and racism. Resources are concentrated in the hands of a very small minority and, according to World Bank statistics from 2010, over 30% of the population lives in poverty. Poverty rates are highly uneven across the country. Over 60% of the rural population is poor, while in urban areas the rate is just over 20% (as reported by the National Statistics Institute in 2009). For extreme poverty the figures are 27.8% and 2.8%, respectively.
Women and Violence
This context is vital to any discussion of women’s rights in Peru as it is poor and indigenous women, those living in rural areas, and those whose mother tongue is not Spanish, who are most affected by gender violence and other types of discrimination. This limits their ability to fully exercise their human rights. We are still a long way from eradicating inequalities between genders and, in some cases, the human rights situation of Peruvain women has even got worse. Taking gender perspectives into account is accordingly of the utmost importance when analysing the various issues faced by the country, or when working on development projects on the ground.
Women are still excluded from crucial issues in the public agenda today. The persistently high rates of violence against women are a good example of how the state does not adequately address their most urgent needs. DEMUS, a local women’s rights organisation, stated that in 2010 there were 135 instances of femicide in the country. Seventy percent of the victims were killed by their partners. This means that more than ten women die every month as a consequence of extreme violence, despite the fact that many had previously gone to a state institution to make a complaint. In 2009 alone, the Peruvian National Police recorded more than 95,000 complaints of family violence.
Another serious problem is sexual violence, which has occurred both in times of peace and war. During the country’s internal armed conflict, rape was used as a military strategy, particularly by state agents charged with pacifying the country. These groups perpetrated widespread human rights violations, using women’s bodies as their battlegrounds. State agents were reported to be the aggressors in some 83% of instances of rape and sexual violence during that period. While the sexual violence of the war years did have its own particularities it was not a complete aberration. Rather, it was part of a broader continuum of violence against women before, during and after the conflict.
Such violence has affected women of all ages. For example, a significant proportion of the 3,257 reported cases of child abuse in 2010 and the 3,700 in 2011 involved mistreatment of females. According to the 2011 DESC Alternative Report, 12% of Peruvian women have been forced to have sex at least once in their life. There are approximately 35,000 pregnancies a year that result from these violations. The above statistics clearly demonstrate the urgent need to strengthen public policy in order to deal with cases of violence against women in a far more efficient and effective way. Prevention of violence and promotion of human rights and gender equality are all also crucial.
The continued and widespread use of violence against women demonstrates the ongoing patriarchal nature of Peruvian society and highlights the reality that women’s rights largely remain invisible. The persistence of racism means those who are both female and indigenous suffer still more as victims of ‘double discrimination’. To meet its democratic aspirations Peru will need to first ensure that all its citizens are granted full access to justice and that reparations are paid to those who have suffered from its gender based violence.