Looking at the past, present and future of women in Peru

Girls are often asked, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” Unfortunately, there is a huge gap between childhood hopes and the reality of growing up in a world where opportunities are not equal. So, on International Women’s Day 2016, we held a special workshop on women who have helped shape the world.

To a classroom packed full of HOOP mums, our social worker, Silvia, told how Emmeline Pankhurst became a leading voice for women’s suffrage in early 20th Century Britain. Emmeline’s work, often marked by controversial acts of defiance that saw her repeatedly imprisoned, is credited with helping win the vote for certain women in Britain in 1918 (and eventually, of course, all British women).

Silvia then talked about music legend, Nina Simone, who stood up for black women in the arts, and then Mother Teresa, whose charitable work in Calcutta showed how ordinary women can inspire change and create a better world for others.

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Peruvian women shaping history

Our new psychologist in residence, Alonso, talked about three influential Peruvian women who have fought for social justice. Indigenous leader Michaela Bastidas Puyucahua, for example, stood up against Spanish rule in the 1700s. A more recent social activist, Maria Elena Mollano, led the creation of public kitchens, health and education committees, the Vaso de Leche program (which supplied children with milk), and income-generating projects in the 1980s.

Tragically, for both Bastidas Puyucahua and Elena Mollano, the pursuit of social justice would cost them their lives. Bastidas Puyucahua was executed by the Spanish in 1781. Elena Mollando, like many female activists at the time, was assassinated by the Shining Path movement in 1992. On a more positive note, Alonso talked about musician Susana Baca, who has become a leading figure in the revival of Afro-Peruvian music. You can check out her music here.

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After the talk, we had an open discussion in which the mothers could open up about reinforced cultural attitudes in the community. Silvia emphasized that no gender should have more authority over the other in the fight for equality; but both women and men need to work together to solve the issue. Some women in the group felt they could identify with the stereotype of their role as a ‘caretaker’ of the home. But we also heard about the admiration HOOP mums have for the local women who are making a change in their community.

This workshop was part of a series we are doing on women’s empowerment with the HOOP mums over the next month. We hope we can spark reflection and conversations about gender equality. We hope that sharing the inspirational stories of great women from Peru and around the world will help give the mothers at HOOP the courage to stand up against discrimination. And we hope they can ask their children “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, and know that their daughters can dream just as big as their sons.

HOOP’s social work program is working closely with vulnerable women throughout the year. The cost of one hour-long home visit from our certified social worker, Silvia, is just $3. You can help by sponsoring one session by making a $3 donation here:


Words by Melissa Tan and Tom Hornbrook, Images by Melissa Tan

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