Two cases of gender-based violence were reported in the same day. The number kept increasing by the end of the week.
#PerúPaísDeVioladores (#PeruCountryOfRapist) became viral all over social media on October 22nd after knowing that a woman was raped while working as a census pollster. Earlier that day, another case reported that a different woman pollster was attacked in the street. By the end of the week, one more case was reported. One more rapist was being searched by the police.
Sadly, news like this is not a surprise. Gender-based violence is a problem that millions of Peruvian women and children face every day. Recently, Lima, the capital of Peru, has been positioned as the world’s fifth most dangerous megacity for women and the worst megacity for women to access healthcare (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2017). This reality is already well known by the Peruvian population and authorities and it is scaling into unimagined scenarios. In the last Miss Peru pageant, instead of saying their body measurements, the contestants exposed alarming statistics related to gender-based violence in the country: 82 femicides and 180 femicide attempts took place in 2017; 81% of sex offences against girls younger than 5 years old are committed by their relatives; and every 10 minutes one young girl dies in Peru as a product of sex trafficking (DEMUS, 2016)
As a former pollster myself, the news about what happened in the census left me with a profound sadness. Like the women who were attacked during the census, I was also afraid for my integrity and safety every time I went to someone’s house to ask questions about their lives. Just like those women I realized that even though the working environment was not safe, I needed the job. In an interview with Jennifer, one of the attacked pollsters, she stated that she collaborated with the census process because she was going to receive 50 soles (23 Canadian dollars) for her work. It is impossible not to feel reflected in her story. I was Jennifer 10 years ago.
Like any important national event, the census took several months of preparation. Peruvians from cities with a high density of Andean, Indigenous and Afro-Peruvian peoples were excited to participate. After 77 years, a question of self-identification was going to be asked as a result of years of hard work from different Afro-Peruvian organizations. It is expected that the result of the self-identification question will provide a more accurate representation of the cultural diversity in Peru to the Peruvian government. As a result of colonization and Indigenous resistance, cultural diversity in Peru is understood as the relationship that Andean and Indigenous peoples have with their land and languages. Afro-Peruvians were never considered to have an ancestral relationship to the land, and only appear in the Peruvian official history in two moments: when they were brought as part of the transatlantic slave trade, and when they were ‘set free’ in 1854 (Arrelucea, 2009). Resettlement and dispossession are part of the imaginary geographies (Harris, 2004) of the formation of the Peruvian nation, and explains how territorial identity has been distributed, for the Andean and Indigenous peoples, and negated, for Afro-Peruvians.
For the Black peoples of Peru, the most important outcome of the census is the number of how many identify as Afro-Peruvian. That number was assumed as one of the first steps taken by the Peruvian government to improve the presence of the Afro-Peruvians in public policies and, after 77 years, finally locate the African-Descendants peoples of Peru. This census was going to make a difference for how Peruvians have been mapped through history. However, while designing and executing the census, the Peruvian Institute of Statistics (INEI) forgot two very important numbers: 70% of Peruvian women have been harassed in the streets and 20 Peruvian women are sexually assaulted every day (DEMUS, 2016).
Gender-based violence cannot be bracketed when a country is celebrating an important event. Women in Peru are not safe just because they were hired by the government to do an important job. Gender-based violence in Peru does not only happens in the streets. Actually, the majority of police reports show that the 90% of the sexual assaults happened inside the victims’ homes (DEMUS, 2016). During the census, The Ministry of Security of Peru released a law prohibiting mobilization from the population during the census. Everybody needed to stay in their houses and wait for the pollster. It is part of the official geographic imaginary to believe that since the streets are empty, women can be safe. When Jennifer was assaulted, she was doing her job. She was asking the questions that she needed to ask by standing in the threshold of a house. She was forced inside because the place for violence in Peru is between four walls. Hours later, when the aggressor was arrested, he claimed that Jennifer ‘didn’t yell’ and because of that, she gave him her consent. A large portion of the Peruvian population agreed with this statement (La República, 2017). Sadly, the case of Jennifer and the other two people who were attacked during the census, for the majority of Peruvians, are just numbers to add to the large list of survivors of gender-based violence.
We’ve had enough. Peruvian women are standing out against violence and we will not stop. In 2016, after, once again, different cases of gender-based violence hit the news, a women’s movement called Ni Una Menos Peru (No One Less Peru) was created, as part of a larger Latin American movement. On August 13 of that year, 60,000 people in different Peruvian cities and in 42 cities around the world (Peru21, 2016) marched together to demand the Peruvian government for immediate actions against gender-based violence in the country. On this November 25th, 2017, the Ni Una Menos movement is taking the streets again. The events during the census have shown us that nothing has changed. Peruvian women are fighting every day for our lives. We are taking the streets to demand safety inside and outside our houses. We are showing the world that we, mobilizing freely and without fear in the streets, is a reality that we will make happen. As an Afro-Peruvian, I acknowledged the importance of the Peruvian National Census for my community. However, the same census was a reminder that Afro-Peruvian women are among the most affected by gender-based violence. Our presence in the streets is because of our safety and our belonging to the land.
On November 25, we all are going to yell together for you, Jennifer. You are not alone.
Guest Contributor: Roxana Escobar is an Afro-Peruvian scholar and a PhD. student at the Geography Department of the University of Toronto. She is also the coordinator of the Ni Una Menos Movement in Canada and the Co-Chair of Fundraising of MUJER.
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Demus, Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (2016). La Justicia Penal Frente a los Delitos Sexuales. Cuaderno de trabajo. LIMA: DEMUS
Harris, C. (2004). How did Colonialism Dispossess? Comments from an Edge of Empire. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 94(1), 165-182.
(2017, October 23). Censo 2017: protestan frente al INEI tras violación a censadora en Villa El Salvador [EN VIVO]. La República.
(2017, August 13). Ni Una Menos: Así fue la histórica marcha contra la violencia de género. Peru21.
(2017, October 16). Thomson Reuters Foundation. The world’s most dangerous megacities for women. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from http://poll2017.trust.org