Thursday, July 25, 2024

Peru: Women of Influence

Indigenous women created films to depict the challenges facing their communities



LAB’s Nick Caistor interviewed two women from the Asháninka people of Junín, in the Peruvian Amazon, when they came to the University of East Anglia to showcase five short films they had made as part of a Women of Influence project.

‘This government is deliberately killing peaceful protestors. They say we’re doing it by fighting among ourselves, but that’s not true.’

The speaker is Karen Pamela, from the Asháninka Indigenous people who have lived in the Peruvian Amazon region for thousands of years.

The Asháninkas, who also occupy territory across the border in Brazil, are the largest Indigenous group in Amazonia, numbering some 70,000.

Karen Pamela and Wenddy, representatives of the organisation that promotes Indigenous women’s rights, OMIAASEC, came to England recently to show the five short films they made with the help of a research team from University of East Anglia and Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, supported by the Peru-based women-led film collective EmpoderArte. The films illustrate the way of life of their communities, their traditions and the increasing number of challenges they face.

As the films eloquently show, these challenges include:

  • Pollution of the water in the rivers they live alongside by chemicals used by big mining companies. The Indigenous inhabitants can no longer drink or cook with this water.
  • Farmers constantly encroaching on their territory.
  • The great difficulty in encouraging their young people to continue to value traditional ways of life.

Although some of these threats are new, for Wenddy, another of the Indigenous film-makers, ‘they are a continuation of patterns of colonialism, racism, and patriarchal attitudes’ that the Indigenous populations of Peru have had to struggle with for centuries.

These films are different because instead of presenting the views of outsiders, they have been made by people from the Indigenous communities themselves, and more particularly by young ‘women of influence’.

The five films are shown below. Details, and English versions can be seen here.

According to Sarah Barrow, who co-ordinated the project from the University of East Anglia: ‘It was really important to us that the young women came up with the ideas, were supported with making the films (production through to post-production) and sharing them through the screenings, discussions and online.’

For their part, the young Indigenous women are taking the lead not only to see their traditional way of life protected, but in efforts to have their voices heard and their views taken into consideration by local authorities and by the central government in Lima.

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‘The authorities only protect big business, and the media are owned by the oligarchy, so they never tell the truth about what is happening to our communities,’ says Wenddy.

The young Indigenous women’s visit to England took on a more urgent aspect as a result of the widespread protests that have been taking place in Peru for the past two months since the ousting of President Pedro Castillo.

Indigenous groups have been prominent in these demonstrations, in which more than 50 people have died. Karen Pamela says: ‘The political parties and Congress are useless. When Castillo won the presidency, they were already saying that the voting in Indigenous regions of the country couldn’t be trusted. It’s the same racist view as always.’

Along with other protestors, the Indigenous organisations are calling for fresh elections this year, and most importantly for these to be followed by the setting up of a constituent assembly to frame a new constitution for Peru that will offer all Peruvian citizens a voice.

According to Wenddy ‘We are also calling for the militarisation of Peru to be stopped, for the state of emergency to be lifted, and for protestors who have been arrested to be released, as they were only exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully.’

Beyond this, Karen Pamela (whose grandfather was killed during the military-led repression of the 1980s during the conflict with the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla group) insists on the right of Indigenous communities to be consulted before mining, farming or other interests encroach on their lands – as required by ILO Convention 169 of 1989. ‘This is our minimum demand,’ she says, although she and the other women of influence remain hopeful that popular pressure in Peru can bring about real change.

Main image: Anyeli (left) and Wenddy (right).

The Women of Influence Project

Exploring the Potential and Impact of Indigenous Female Community Participation and Leadership in Peru

Women play a fundamental role in the preservation of biodiversity and ancestral knowledge, and the management and defence of Amazonian land and water. However, these contributions often go unrecognised.

The Women of Influence project – a partnership between UEA, PUCP, ONAMIAP and OMIAASEC – highlights the importance for Indigenous women to participate actively and be supported with the tools to exercise influence in their communities.

Working alongside a group of young Indigenous women in the Peruvian Amazon region of Junín, this project has sought to understand and make visible the work that these women have undertaken as community members and future leaders.  Through participatory work, we aim to support their ambitions, expand further their networks, enhance their visibility and probe their spheres of influence in the context of environment, social, cultural and political risk.

The Women of Influence team is formed by women researchers, cultural producers and activists based at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP), and the Organisation for Indigenous Women of the Central Selva region of Peru (OMIAASEC). We are also grateful for the support and expert input from the young women of EmpoderArte and the SAAM (Support for Access to Audiovisual Media) project at UEA.

This interdisciplinary, transnational team of women is united in our passion for the role of women as leaders and influencers in the context of the climate emergency and of environmental humanities and social sciences. We bring skills, experience and understandings from media production and design, anthropology, development and cultural studies. Most importantly we are informed and inspired by the lived experiences, ambitions and needs of the young members of our project partners, OMIAASEC.

This project is funded by the British Academy’s Humanities and Social Sciences Tackling Global Challenges Programme, supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund; also by the University of East Anglia’s Impact Fund and Arts and Humanities International Fund.