July 12-16, 2005: Peru Indigenous Women's Workshop

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Sixty leaders of indigenous women's organizations, plus five male leaders of indigenous networks, participated in a 4-day workshop entitled: "Human Rights: For a World Without Hunger and Poverty." The meeting was organized by our partner organization, Chirapaq - an association of indigenous women's organizations created by Tarcila Rivera Zea, representing both the Andean and Amazonian zones.

For many of the participants, this was their first time out of their own district, and their first time to meet other leaders of indigenous women's group leaders. Tarcila made a real effort to enlist a new generation of younger women leaders, some as young as 18, to participate with their more experienced sisters.

Workshops like these are at the heart of Chirapaq's work, and they play a triple function - (1) they overcome centuries of ethnic discrimination and feelings of inferiority, rehabilitating pride in the great heritage of indigenous culture, (2) they strengthen women's own self-hood and recognition of women's rights, and (3) provide women with knowledge and skills as a leader. It was deeply moving to hear the more experienced women share how profoundly previous national workshops had changed their lives and the difference they are able to make in their communities - which include many of the poorest areas of the country.

The workshop was highly participatory, with role-playing skits, group discussions and a "Human Rights" board game. As is the case with everyone of our workshops, it also included an outreach/advocacy event - this time at a university that focuses on training indigenous peoples.

Part of building capacity across the country - and honoring the diversity of indigenous culture - is holding these conferences in different areas, organized by different indigenous women's organization. Huancayo, for example, is a 7-hour drive from Lima that goes from sea-level, through a 15,000 foot pass before settling down to about 10,000 foot area. (I was a little relieved that the descendants of the Incas on the bus with me had as much trouble with the altitude change as I did!)

Finding venues in remote areas is tough! Our Huancayo hosts found an old Hacienda that has been converted into a recreation area for the Road Construction Workers' Union.

I took one morning off from the workshop and was driven even higher into the Andes to see how people live.

Our hosts prepared an amazing feast for us on the 15th - a "Panchamanca" - a meal cooked all night underground with hot rocks.

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