Finding the Voice

women's abuse stats training workshop
A mesa, or ritual spread, in the center of a women’s rights and communication training workshop in Peru. Haunting statistics, such as “Seven out of ten Peruvian women suffer from psychological violence,” encircle the offerings of coca, maize, gifts, flowers, and perfumed woods. The women have come to find their voices, to stand up against violations to their physical and political rights as Andean citizens. 

 

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Aymara women gather for a women’s rights workshop at the base of a statue of Mama Ocllo and and Manco Capac, the creator gods of Andean mythology. 

 

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Aymara women in Puno district

 

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Many Aymara communities dwell along the shore of Lake Titicaca, above 3600m in a highly vulnerable watershed embattled in constant territory and usage disputes. Huacullani community is the site of the 2011 El Aymarazo protest against the Santa Ana mining project, and among the rare examples of activist communities that have successfully halted a major industrial extraction project in Peru. Aymara communicators, or community journalists and spokeswomen, frequently attend the weekly market to conduct interviews on topics ranging from land defense to the fetching price of quinoa.

 

 

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The sharing and sorting of coca leaves is an important social tradition among Andean people, and often occurs at women’s rights trainings, media workshops, and even during informal exchanges. 

 

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Participants in the women’s communication workshops are encouraged to “levantarse la voz”, or lift up their voices. To build confidence and leadership skills, women are encouraged to sing their communications as they beat a drum. The drum is seen to provide an encouraging, supportive energy or spirit, to call their voices out from within. 

 

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Aymara women from communities of the Chucuito Peninsula, at the shores of Lake Titicaca, attend a women’s rights empowerment training with the Union of Aymara Women of Abya Yala, or UMA, in July 2017. 

 

UMA presentation hall
UMA President Rosa Palomino, who has been an active comunicadora Aymara, or community spokesperson, for more than 30 years, addresses a crowd of women about their community land rights under International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169, which grants indigenous communities the rights to free, prior, and informed consent regarding collective land use.