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The importance of making a fool of yourself.

April 19, 2011

Since my curriculum is entirely based on interactive activities to teach teens about relationship violence, there’s a lot of getting up and moving around—something teens, especially in poor areas of Lima, are not used to. Most teaching is done in a lecture-based style with little involvement from students, so asking them to act silly, be creative, and have fun is often a challenge. I have role playing games to touch upon the different types of relationship abuse, art-based activities to talk

Curriculum Cover

My educational tool!

about healthy relationships, and a slew of silly games to address gender stereotypes and their impact on relationship violence. But as I’m entering the final stages of validating my curriculum in schools in Villa el Salvador, I noticed a lot of my activities were falling flat. The kids seemed embarrased to participate and moped around, looking from person to person to see who was going to be the first one to jump in. But soon I figured it out. Guess who has to be the first one to jump in? Yours truly! I sincerely wonder what the teachers in Villa have thought as they peek into the classrooms to observe the visiting gringa and I am talking in voices, jumping around and making a fool of myself while the kids are in stiches. But, it works! I noticed that as long as I completely let go of any of my inhibitions, the teens pretty much do the same—if they can stop giggling long enough. It’s fun to see them make the connection and realize that I’m there to listen to them, watch them express themselves, and hear their opinions on relationships. They’re truly the most important component in the development of my curriculum, and it’s their voices I really hope will shine through.

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March 21, 2011

I spent most of the month of February in Cusco and its outlying rural areas doing research in order to contrast my findings among teens in an urban area with those growing up in a more rural setting. I was working through a Flora Tristan representative in Cusco, as well as with “Cristo Vive” a non-profit Christian organization that runs a women’s shelter in the city. I was able to apply various surveys with teens, as well as get a feel for the culture surrounding intimate partner violence in the Andean highlands of Peru.

My findings weren’t as varied as I expected, but I did find some significant discrepancies between the urban and rural teens when it comes to attitudes towards domestic violence. For example, while only 16% of teenagers in Villa el Salvador believed it was “OK” to physically hurt their partner in certain situations, 36% of teenagers in Wanchaq stated it was OK to hurt your partner if they cheated on you, didn’t pay attention to you, or most commonly: if they started the fight. 27% of teens in Cusco and the surrounding areas believed that violence between intimate partners is a “private issue” that police should not intervene with, while only 6% of teens in Lima believed the same thing. Most notably, over 63% of teens surveyed in Cusco believe that it’s naturally “more difficult for a man to control his anger” than a woman, and it’s fairly easy to see why.

Speaking with Katya, the representative from Flora Tristan working in Cusco, I heard about some of the saddest and most shocking cases of abuse since I’ve been here in Peru. Katya told me that in the Cusco region, there are over 2,000 individual reports of domestic abuse each year, and they believe that to only be 20% of all occurrences.

Photo courtesy of my grandma!

Because the Cusco region retains far more of the traditional Andean values and social structures, much of the discrimination against women that is now antiquated in Lima remains in tact in the highlands. Katya retold stories of abuse she’s witnessed among women in the region that sounded more like something out of a horror film than a scene from within a home.

She told me the story of Luz, a woman in a nearby village whose husband would torture and “punish” her by ripping off her fingernails. When Katya asked her why she didn’t fight back (she was clearly larger and stronger than her partner) she replied that it wouldn’t be right to ever lash out against her husband. This was just one of the examples reinforcing how deeply the culture of marital abuse runs in some of these areas. While her husband was torturing her daily, Luz would still be shamed in the community for fighting back. Katya told me that if a family only has one chair in their household, the women will sit on the floor to eat while their husbands or sons are at the table. She also told me the stories of various men she spoke to that told her blunty they valued their livestock , especially horses, over the lives of their wives.

Women truly do not have a voice, inside the home or outside; as customs bar women from holding any positions of authority in the community. Most villages in the region are governed in an admirably communal fashion, with different “leaders” taking turns in decision making. However, women are almost always excluded from this process. One of Flora Tristan’s projects is to get women more involved with community government, and they’ve gotten mandates instituted in many communities that demand women be a part of community decision making. However, tradition often trumps these new advances and many times women AND men refuse to honor the authority of women community leaders.

Most of the women’s organizations in Cusco and the surrounding areas believe in the same core principles in eradicating domestic violence that I do: there must be a cultural shift within the entire society, shaming abusive practices and making abuse unacceptable. If it is accepted and even praised within a community to abuse your wife, there is no way the practice is ever going to change. Abusers have to be portrayed as weak and cowardly, and beating your wife or partner needs to be something that is embarrassment not only to the abuser but to the whole community.

While I seek to foster such change among teens through education, Katya told me about a few promising ideas they have to make anti-violence education work within their communities as well. Since not many households in the highlands have television, one of the most popular forms of entertainment are radio soap operas called radionovelas. Flora Tristan has worked together with one of the most popular radionovelas to weave a tale of domestic violence within the existing story-line. While there’s a common belief that women in abusive situations “should have known” their partner was abusive and that it’s “their fault” for choosing him, this novela shows the cycle of abuse. The husband doesn’t start out abusive, but only becomes that after gaining his victims’ trust and after marriage. This is fairly true to life, as many men in the Highlands do not believe it’s acceptable to abuse their partners until they’re married. Furthermore, it shows the abuser as a coward and a villain—a huge step towards creating a culture of shame around abuse and providing domestic violence education to entire communities.

Although I was exposed to some of the most grim statistics and bleakest situations in Cusco, it also renewed my belief that one of the most important tools in fighting intimate partner violence is education. Katya said she saw a visible shift in attitudes after that radionovela aired, and I hope I can chip away at the existing attitudes towards violence amonst teenagers with the small contribution of my curriculum as well.

There’s room in the back!

March 15, 2011
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Everyone who knows me here in Lima knows that I have a particular love/hate relationship with one thing: riding the bus. There is pretty much no organized public transportation in Lima, so everyone mostly relies on micro-buses or “micros”– a haphazard fleet of combis that have no set organization or schedules, no rules, and sometimes no


Microbus under Alipio Ponce

floor. Rumor has it there’s about 60,000 combis on the roads of Lima at any given time: spewing fumes, blasting reggaeton, and narrowly avoiding mowing down anyone that dare stands in their way. It can be intimidating riding the combis, but you’re in luck. Behold a self proclaimed bus hater’s guide to riding the micro in Lima!

Getting on.

I don’t know about you, but usually before I board a moving vehicle I like it to come to a complete stop. Well, here in Lima you may be out of luck. There are usually no set stops for microbuses in Lima, so they just ain’t gonna bother. Many times boarding the bus is a complex athletic feat that you better master quickly if you want to get anywhere in the city. First you have to chase the bus until it at least slows down a little, then comes the tricky part. The cobrador, more about him later, will be leaning out of the door yelling out the stops the combi makes on it’s route. If you have time, don’t try to ask “Where does this bus go?” just yell out the name of the street you want to go to. “AREQUIPA!?!?!” you might yell while you’re lumbering like a madperson towards the bus. The cobrador won’t say yes, he’ll scream back in your face, “AREQUIPA” and you better grab on! Most of the time the cobrador will also be telling you to “Subesubesubesube” which is the equivalent of “Getongetongetongeton”, as if ya didn’t know what already. Well anyway, once you’re on you better grab a hold of a seat, the poles along the top of the bus, or an old lady’s hair because otherwise you’re gonna be tossed around like a ping pong ball into some sweaty passengers lap when the bus speeds up again.

El cobrador.

The cobrador is the person on a micro that calls out the names of the stops, and charges you your fee (hence the name cobrador). As you may have guessed there is no set fee for combis in Lima either. All of them have fee decals on the windows, but they’ve most likely been covered up by Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes peeing on a Ford symbol or something much more exciting. What is people’s favorite cobrador related activity you ask? Well, arguing with him! Everyone argues that the fee he is charging is too high, and that they paid less yesterday, and their grandma has to only pay 50 cents, NO MATTER WHAT. Personally I hate arguing with the cobrador, but I feel like everyone will think I am a total wimp if I don’t. So, the sass comes out. “Por favor,” I scoff at the 30 cent fee…and hope he doesn’t tell me to get out and walk.


Yeah right.

Bus food.

Mmm. This might be my favorite part of the bus. Especially on longer rides, vendors will come on the bus selling everything from habas (dried broad-beans) to bottles of homemade infusiones, to hard boiled quail eggs. Make sure you don’t spend your fare on bus food. The cobrador will not be happy, trust me.

Musical selections.

Another feature of combis are their awesome pumping of reggaeton and cumbia, mixed in with some typical Andean music. And it’s loud. I think the music adds a certain soundtrack of excitement to the combi rollercoaster ride—when you’re on a bus that almost ran over someone’s granny you start to feel kind of bad, but when set to a blasting merengue song, it’s kinda fun! Often you’ll hear an old man or woman screaming at the driver to turn down the music, but it’s OK because they can’t hear them anyway. Music is also useful when an irate motorist gets out of their car and climbs onto the bus to start screaming at the driver. Just turn it up :)

Getting off.

Getting off the bus has almost as much heart-pumpin’ action as getting on. When you sense your stop is coming up (and I say “sense” because you’re not going to be able to see out the window then you’re wedged between a large woman’s bosoms and a giant bag of rice while sitting on top of the front driver’s side wheel in a non-seat), you have to yell “BAJA!!” or “GETTIN OFF!!” Once again our kindly cobrador will reward you by saying “Bajabajabaja” or “Getoffgetoffgetoff” at which point you feel like screaming, “I’M TRYING BUT SOMEONE’S BABY JUST VOMITED ON ME AND SOMEONE IS STANDING ON MY SHOE AND I CAN’T CLIMB OVER THE SEVEN PEOPLE’S HEADS THAT ARE SHARING THE SAME SEAT WITH ME!” But you don’t. You just jump off the bus, which is probably still moving, and keep your head on a swivel so you don’t get run over by another combi coming your way.

Either way, a 20 block combi ride in Lima provides more excitement than public transportation back home can in a year. (Well, it gives the New York City subway a run for its money at least). And you definitely can’t get a workout, eat delicious snacks, and make new friends while taking a cab.

The work.

February 7, 2011

If there’s one thing I have learned about the teens I’ve been working with in Villa El Salvador these past few months, it’s that they’re ready to learn. I’ve been tackling tough subjects with them: relationships, gender equality, and what it means to have a healthy partnership. In a neighborhood where over 60% of women are abused by their partners (Macassi, 2010) it’s clear that these kids don’t know where to turn to ask questions about relationships, and they all lack models of positive relationships in their lives. The average family income is $163 a month in Villa el Salvador, and most of the time the focus is just getting food on the table day to day. It’s often tough to get the teens to realize that I want to hear their thoughts, opinions, and tough questions on the subject of THEIR relationships—but it’s clear they want to take in everything they can.

My focus groups have been chaotic at times, mostly centered around the kids making fun of me for not knowing all the slang words (HA HA), but it’s been really promising to hear their thoughts about how they want their relationships to be different from those that they see around them–more equal, and free of fear. However, I uncovered some information in my surveys that echoes the traditional beliefs about domestic violence: that it’s a private issue and the police shouldn’t intervene, that it can sometimes be justified, and that it’s often the woman’s fault.

While 100% of girls surveyed answered that it is “never OK to hit your partner”, 50% of boys answered that it’s OK in certain situations, such as “when you’re jealous” and “when she starts the fight”. 25% of boys surveyed “disagreed” that someone has the right to say no to sexual relations even when married or in a relationship.

Both boys and girls acknowledged that abuse is not just physical, and that both partners are entitled to their own opinions, friends, and freedom to be themselves. However, 56% of teens surveyed believe that men are “naturally less able to control their anger than women”, falling back into the same gender stereotypes they seem to vehemently disagree with in our focus groups. The teens also seem conflicted with the idea of whether or not domestic violence is something to be dealt with privately or seen as a crime. While 62% of teens state they know someone who has been abused, more than half of the teens stated that “it’s a private matter and the police shouldn’t intervene.” Only a few teens answered that intimate partner abuse should be punished by law.

In a municipality where police and officials can be corrupt, and are known to ask women that report abuse “well, was it a little or a lot?”, the sentiment is not so surprising. Maybe they think there are better ways to solve the problem. My challenge is to continue to build a curriculum that will not only address these issues, but talk about them in a way that the kids can relate to and understand. I’m eager to head to the rural villages surrounding Cusco in the coming weeks in order to contrast my findings so far with a population of teens facing completely different issues than those in urban Lima.

On a positive note, below is a collage some of the teens I’ve worked with created inspired by the question: What makes a healthy relationship? Enjoy!

Vacaciones–I’ll be back!

January 19, 2011

Below are a few pictures from mine and Kenny’s trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca. I was home for Christmas and then traveling a bit, but I’ll be back with more updates on my project very soon!

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giving thanks.

November 29, 2010

I am thankful to come from a country where there are laws in place to protect me from violence at the hands of my intimate partner, where I can expect perpetrators of crime to be held accountable for their actions, and although we have a long way to go, domestic violence is recognized as a serious social problem. The women of Peru are not as lucky. I participated in a march with hundreds of women (and men) this Thanksgiving, demanding protection for women under Peruvian law. It was a blindingly sunny, warm day in Lima–and we all know those are few and far between–and we gathered in Parque de la Muralla in downtown Lima to begin our trek.

I was surrounded by women from various indigenous groups, young women, old women, professionals, community organizers and even vendors that joined in from the streets. Together we chanted….”No more violence against women!” “My body is mine, not the state’s and


not the church’s!” and as we walked past the Ministry, who has turned a deaf ear to the problem of domestic violence over and over again, “Silence kills! Impunity does too!” About halfway through the march the chants seemed to be getting a little quieter, and we all began to walk a little slower. But then all of a sudden, mayor elect Susana Villarán came out of nowhere and began to march with us! Whether or not you agree with the future mayors politics, it was an amazing triumph for women’s rights for Lima to have elected her as mayor.

In a city that has been historically governed by corrupt mayors and been run with a machismo attitude, having a woman that started out as a grassroots feminist community organizer–as one of us–is exhilarating in itself. To have her come and walk with us, scream our chants, and demand protection for women under the law was amazing. It might sound corny, but I ended the march that day feeling thankful. Thankful to participate in something that symbolized a brighter future for women’s rights in Lima and hopefully all of Peru.

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I was even lucky enough to weasel my way into a picture for an article in a national newspaper here in Peru, entitled “There wasn’t a celebration without a protest”, detailing the march.

Ley debida, ley de vida.

November 11, 2010

Hi everyone! I haven’t written in a while but I have been busy with my project and coordinating my focus groups that will be taking place next week :) In order to develop my curriculum, I want to hone in on the issues that teens are facing in Villa el Salvador when it comes to relationships, gender stereotypes, and gender inequality in general. I have a couple fun activities planned, and mostly I will be there to chat with and listen to the people whose opinions matter most—the teens themselves. It’s been tough to promote and get the word out regarding my focus groups due to the laiiiiddd back atmosphere of “getting stuff done” here in Peru, but I’m off to the Municipalidad de Villa el Salvador tomorrow to network, hand out flyers, and hopefully grab some teens.

At the end of October I made a trip to Arequipa and the Cotahuasi canyon, where I got to see the “wild west” of Peru—definitely a side of the country I’ve never seen before. After a 12 hour bus ride from Arequipa to Cotahuasi, we made a two day trek down to the “deepest

Cactus Flower

Cactus Fruit Farm

part of the Cotahuasi Canyon” ( a canyon that is often cited as one of the deepest in the world!) We stayed overnight in a village with no electricity, ate guinea pig by candlelight, and tried the towns distinctive vinegary wine. It was a beautiful hike…and the best part was soaking our aching muscles in the natural hot springs in Tomepampa, a nearby village. I’ve included more pictures in a slideshow at the bottom of the post!

I’m also proud to be working on Flora Tristan’s “25 de noviembre” collective, a group of ladies from all different women’s organizations in Lima that is dedicated to promoting the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25th. The collective is planning several events, including a march through the streets of Lima demanding Peru implement a law that protects women against GENDER BASED VIOLENCE. As I’ve blogged before, there is a huge move in Peru to render violence against women invisible. MIMDES, the national ministry for women, has even started to call November 25th “National Violence Against Children, Teens, Women, and the Elderly” in an attempt to take the focus away from gender violence. They say that

25 de noviembre Collective

Flyer from the "25 de noviembre" Collective

men experience violence too, but women are just the only ones who “complain” about it. Violence against women is seen as something that the victim has brought on herself, or something that is just part of a “volatile” relationship. Many people think–women are not helpless, like children, they can make their own decisions. Why should we have special laws that protect them from violence if they knew what they were getting into? There is little or no understanding of the fact that many women are trapped in violent relationships, many of which occur only after they have children with their abusers. In an economy where there are few opportunities for women with limited education, many rely on their abusers to support them as well. Many victims’ families turn their backs on them if they choose to leave their partners. Others are alienated if they are forced to stay.

The collective doesn’t believe that violence against other groups is any less important and should be ignored, but the statistics show us that women suffer the brunt of violence within the home every single day. Femicide continues to be a massive problem in Peru. Abusers are rarely prosecuted and women are often laughed at for reporting abuse. What’s more, if there is no law making gender based violence a crime, there is no protection for women. The slogan of the collective translates to “A law is needed. A law for life”. Hopefully our efforts will bring attention to violence against women and prevent it from sinking further into the shadows.

Want to do something for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women? Check out these links! Hold a V-Day Event!

16 Days Against Gender Violence Campaign Campaign to end gender violence, started in New Jersey! Donate to end Violence Against Women

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