As in other days, the day I rebelled I was walking home from school by myself. I was 13, and I liked to wear the skirt of that godawful Peruvian school uniform above my knees. I loved my legs, and I had recently waxed them for the first time. It was Lima in the 1990s, I was crossing a street avoiding illegally parked cars shining under weak rays of sunshine and I did not even see it coming. All I felt was a burst of discomfort, a whiplash of shame. A hand slightly raising the skirt, brushing my thigh, trying to reach me. It lasted a few seconds. Like every time I experienced a “metida de mano” — a local institution of sexual harassment — I froze and muted an agonized scream.
I should have kept walking, dragging my helplessness like any other woman groped in the middle of the street, but I decided to react. He was an older man, bald, who was quietly walking away without looking at me after his “impish” deed. I did not think long: I ran after him and raised my school backpack with both arms, and with all my strength I slammed it on his head. I flew out of there howling to the heavens my humble revenge.
In Peru, congressmen pull out the crucifix to legislate on the female body. Abortion is illegal, no exceptions; dozens of women die every year in clinics as a result of illegal abortions. The Big Bad Wolves also wear cassocks. Juan Luis Cipriani, the archbishop of Lima, said recently that rapes ”are not due to the abuse of girls, but rather to to women standing provocatively like in a display window”.
Not surprisingly, a survey by Pontificial Catholic University in Lima found that 24.9 percent of Peruvians believe that a woman “provokes” her sexual assault, illustrating how gender violence is entrenched in every sector of Peruvian society, including women.
Seven of every 10 Peruvian women have experienced some kind of gender violence. According to a recent survey, in 2015 95 women were murdered. This year, 54 and counting. Peru is second in number of rapes in the region, according to the O.A.S. Observatory on Citizen Security. César San Martín, the former head of the judiciary, revealed that approximately 90 percent of rape reports were just shelved. Only 5 percent of the victims would report a sexual assault because they did not trust the Law. As a congressional representative for Lima, Indira Huilca, said, “Peru is a country of rapists.”
It is worth remembering that 300,000 women were forcibly sterilized during the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori. A case that was just shelved.
The key to reversing this situation is a new penal code, and to improve the response level of the judiciary system. Hence the need to educate public servants with a focus on gender, to increase the budget for protection, the creation of an Observatory on Violence Against Women and outreach centers for emergencies. A Commission for Gender Justice in the Supreme Court was announced to guarantee nondiscriminatory treatment. A national campaign to uproot the causes of gender violence is a pressing demand.
Inspired by #NiUnaMenos, the government of the previous president, Ollanta Humala, in spite of having done so very little for women’s rights, approved a National Plan Against Gender Violence. The government of the current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’, has the responsibility to implement it.
We went from the social networks to the streets, and from anger we organized.
On Aug. 13, Lima’s downtown streets overflowed with women. Many of the abuse survivors, some in wheelchairs because of their partners’ beatings, headed the march and read their testimonies in front of the palace that many in Peru don’t call “of Justice” but “of injustice.” There were also huge demonstrations in Cusco, Trujillo and Iquitos; and in 30 capital cities throughout the world. We now have an app that allows women to report harassment and assaults using their cellphones.
Has #NiUnaMenos changed something? Yes, all of it. The process it started is unprecedented and will have social repercussions we can barely guess, but from the moment women in Peru named the mistreatment we suffered in our community, as in a spell, we cast evil a bit away, so there would be not one fewer of us. The day we rebelled is not over, it has just begun.Tags: Abortion, Peru, Peruvian women