When a 45-year-old man pulled a 35-year-old woman into a room and raped her in the less affluent outskirts of Lima while she worked door-to-door for the census on October 22, the brutal crime appeared in keeping with an embarrassing reputation Peru has gained.
In 2017 alone, the country has registered 94 feminicides, over 2,100 underage rape victims and nearly 28,000 cases of male violence, making it among the most dangerous and unequal countries for women in the Americas.
But the Lima crime, caught on camera and watched on television across the country, became a spark that quickly ignited passionate protests, on social media and beauty pageant stages, against crimes women in the country face. For a long time, Peru was a standout example of gender inequality so entrenched that it was almost accepted as the norm. But since 2015, and even more so in recent weeks and months, Peru’s women are challenging that violence through social media movements that have spread like wildfire. And in many cases, these movements are emerging as the latest flagbearers for women’s rights across Latin America, and now even beyond.
The problem is dire here.
Carolina Vega, Amnesty International Peru
The Con la Igualdad No Te Metas platform argues for gender equality, and Déjala Decidir advocates for letting women choose what they do with their bodies, including having safe, legal access to abortion, especially in cases of rape. The movement now has regional branches within Peru. The country’s chapter of 25N, coined after November 25, the international day calling for nonviolence against women, makes it a point to emphasize the global nature of women’s challenges at every platform. And Yo Aborte, a movement that launched in Argentina a decade back, spread through the region after exploding on Peru’s social media in late 2015 to spread awareness about abortions — which are still illegal in most Latin American countries.
“The problem is dire here,” says Carolina Vega, growth manager at Amnesty International Peru. “But it is a shared problem in the Americas.”
Peru is not the only Latin American country where women’s movements have sprouted across the region. In 2015, a collective of Argentinian female artists, journalists and academics launched Ni Una Menos, a campaign against gender-based violence that quickly spread through the region, including in Peru. In fact, Yo Aborte’s popularity surged after the start of Ni Una Menos — Yo Aborte now has 25,000 followers on Facebook, more than any other country chapter.
But even by Latin American standards of gender violence, Peru has long stood out for being among the most unsafe countries for women — often with the government facing charges of complicity in crimes. Experts estimate there are tens of thousands of pregnancies from rape annually, and an international poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation recently placed Lima, the capital, as the most oppressive megacity for women in Latin America, ranking it fifth worldwide. Just days before the Lima rape was caught on camera, another video of a man dragging his 22-year-old girlfriend through the streets in an affluent Lima neighborhood went viral — showing abuse isn’t restricted to rural or economically disadvantaged women.
The response of Peru’s women, though, has been anything but usual. In response to the incidents of violence and rape in October that were caught on camera, #PeruPaisDeVioladores (“Peru, country of rapists”) went viral on social media platforms. Days later, beauty pageant contestants lined up on a stage in Lima for the Miss Peru contest. Then, one by one, they all stepped forward, and instead of reciting their body measurements, they recounted official gender-violence figures in the country. “I represent the Lima region, and my measurements are 2,202 cases of feminicide reported in the last nine years in my country,” said Camila Canicoba, a contestant, starting the spate of declarations from the women on stage, drawing uninterrupted applause from the audience.
These movements face deep-seated challenges, stemming from a combination of cultural “machismo” in all spheres of society and a lagging implementation of approved public policies, say experts. The cost of admitting to sexual assault or rape is very high in the Americas, says María de los Ángeles Roberto, a member of Paro Internacional de Mujeres, which is a horizontally structured women’s movement that now has chapters that extend from Mexico to Patagonia. “Rationalizing or confessing sexual abuse isn’t easy,” she says. “It’s even worse when coming out could mean a new tide of abuses and reprisals.” Religion — widely held responsible by researchers and activists as a factor for machismo and gender inequality — doesn’t help either. For Susana Chavez, director of Promsex, a sexual-rights NGO, a significant challenge is Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas, one of Peru’s conservative movements. “Religion-backed ideologies reign because education has not improved,” she says. The lack of sex education and adequate reproductive-health services compound the absence of the right to abortion for women in a violent society like Peru, says Amnesty International’s Vega. “Not only does a 15- to 19-year-old have a 60 percent chance of becoming pregnant from rape, but she also does not have access to a legal, safe abortion,” Vega says.
Indeed, educating children to combat gender stereotypes from early on is critical, argues Jeannette Llaja, a Lima-based women’s rights lawyer. But a second weapon is also emerging for women across Latin America: solidarity. When the #MeToo campaign exploded globally recently, its Spanish version, #YoTambien, spread across Latin America’s social media too.
At PIM, de Los Ángeles is confident about countering pervasive assaults by collaboratively working with other organizations popping up across the region. “We have no language barriers to reach the same goals,” she says. “We are in it together.”
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