16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence – Peruvian Women Work to end Violence in Coca-Growing Regions

International Women's Day parade in Tocache, Peru

International Women's Day parade in Tocache, Peru

USAID logo smallFrontLines – May 2009

By Marcela Cardenas


MEBADANHU, Peru—When a group of people from the indigenous community of Mebadanhu in the Peruvian Amazon attended a recent workshop on gender-related violence, the women remained silent, giving the appearance of disinterest in the issues being presented.

Then suddenly a woman stood up. “When men get drunk,” she said, “they force women to have sex and often they also beat us up.”

Immediately, a dozen other women got up and shared stories of the same abuse while the men remained silent—except one who claimed similar abuse from women.

The courage to discuss such a sensitive topic is one sign that the concerns of women are finally being brought into the open. Although they have come a long way on the road to empowerment, Peruvian women living in the former coca-growing areas where USAID works still have a long way to go.

The workshop, organized by USAID’s Alternative Development Program (ADP), began in late 2007 in alliance with the Red Nacional de Promocion de la Mujer (Network for the Promotion of Women) to support women in areas where government services are scarce and narcotrafficking and violence are common.

The transition from growing coca to producing legal crops requires a transformation in the mentality of an entire community.

More often than not, it is women who lead the way.

“Twenty years ago I arrived as a teacher,” said Severa Bejarano, a community leader from Tingo Maria. “There was no school, no road, no agricultural products, just coca, violence, poverty, and malnutrition.

“I was able to persuade authorities to provide a hectare of land to the community so we could grow food. Later on, we started growing coffee. Over time, we have created a coffeegrowers committee. When [stubborn] coca-growers had their coca eradicated, they left the area and we were able to live more peacefully and productively.”

Women in the Peruvian central and eastern jungles who receive support from USAID commemorated International Women’s Day in March.

In the San Martin region, ADP communities celebrated the end of coca dependence.

In the year and a half that the Network for the Promotion of Women has worked with USAID, 1,200 people have been trained in gender and development, and 600 people have participated in gender-based violence workshops.

“These women have a desire to overcome their circumstances— they dream of growing as persons and in the family context,” said Network coordinator Edita Herrera. “They are very open to learning new things, overcoming their fears and moving ahead. They tell us in our workshops, ‘I want to be a leader.’”

Then suddenly a woman stood up. “When men get drunk,” she said, “they force women to have sex and often they also beat us up.”

Immediately, a dozen other women got up and shared stories of the same abuse while the men remained silent—except one who claimed similar abuse from women.

The courage to discuss such a sensitive topic is one sign that the concerns of women are finally being brought into the open. Although they have come a long way on the road to empowerment, Peruvian women living in the former coca-growing areas where USAID works still have a long way to go.

The workshop, organized by USAID’s Alternative Development Program (ADP), began in late 2007 in alliance with the Red Nacional de Promocion de la Mujer (Network for the Promotion of Women) to support women in areas where government services are scarce and narcotrafficking and violence are common.

The transition from growing coca to producing legal crops requires a transformation in the mentality of an entire community.

More often than not, it is women who lead the way.

“Twenty years ago I arrived as a teacher,” said Severa Bejarano, a community leader from Tingo Maria. “There was no school, no road, no agricultural products, just coca, violence, poverty, and malnutrition.

“I was able to persuade authorities to provide a hectare of land to the community so we could grow food. Later on, we started growing coffee. Over time, we have created a coffeegrowers committee. When [stubborn] coca-growers had their coca eradicated, they left the area and we were able to live more peacefully and productively.”

Women in the Peruvian central and eastern jungles who receive support from USAID commemorated International Women’s Day in March.

In the San Martin region, ADP communities celebrated the end of coca dependence.

In the year and a half that the Network for the Promotion of Women has worked with USAID, 1,200 people have been trained in gender and development, and 600 people have participated in gender-based violence workshops.

“These women have a desire to overcome their circumstances— they dream of growing as persons and in the family context,” said Network coordinator Edita Herrera. “They are very open to learning new things, overcoming their fears and moving ahead. They tell us in our workshops, ‘I want to be a leader.”

print  Print