Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population

WOMEN-PERU: Self-Esteem and Political Opportunities Now Open

Abraham Lama

LIMA, Mar 9 1997 (IPS) - “Machismo is like haemophilia: an illness suffered by men, but transmitted by women. To end machismo women transform themselves,” says Martha Hildebrandt, vicepresident of then Peruvian Congress.

Hildebrandt has been supporting a decision by Peruvian feminist organisations to include the issue of the development of women’s self esteem as an important social and political objectives.

Her own position followed the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing when peru too steps toward achieving sexual equality but feminist leaders believe more needs to be done.

Peru has a Women’s Commission installed in Congress, a specialist defender of women’s rights has been nominated to the Public Prosecutor’s office and tlast year saw the creation of the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Human Development.

“Dispositions and mechanisms have been created to help women to move forwards in their social, cultural and employment related development with no bars, but for these to be taken advantage of we need to progress in the field of increasing the gender consciousness of women,” said feminist leader Alicia Figueroa.

“In Peru, as in the rest of the world, there was a rapid advance in female education, and in the area of employment increasing numbers of women are holding important posts, but throughout the bulk of the population the perception that women can only fulfil auxiliary roles is still alive.”

Other moves to ensure gener equality in peru include modification of the electoral code so that political parties must ensure women make up at least 30 percent of their list of candidates.

Some women activists bvelieve that this quota system will not be enough if women do not overcome the machista prejudice of thinking that men are better able to execute the political posts. For despite making up 50 percent of the electorate, only 10 percent of the seats in Parliament and slightly over five percent of the mayorships are occupied by women.

“Women cannot advance towards full social rights nor move into the political space which is rightfully theirs if they do not use their electoral strength, but in order to do so they must overcome the low self-esteem imposed on them by centuries of prejudices,” said psychologist Patricia Oliart.

Peruvian women gained the right to vote in 1956, but had to wait until 1986 for two of them to become ministers. Since then, there has been a slow but sure female advance in the ministerial cabinets.

To begin with, the portfolios given to women were mostly in health or education, as though the social areas were best suited to the female condition, but in recent years they moved into the technical areas of industry and transport.

A national soap opera whose final episodes were based on one woman’s campaign to become President was used as the basis of a survey by the ‘Calandria’ Association of Communicators on attitudes amongst the electorate and on the gender issue.

This survey concluded that 87.5 percent of the Lima electorate would vote for a female president, and only 11.7 percent said they would not. However, 49.4 percent of those surveyed could not come up with the names of any women who would be “good presidential candidates.”

Nearly half those interviewed, mostly males, siad they did not believe there was any woman prepared for the rigours of being president of the country.

Meanwhile, 25.7 percent of those interviewed were keen on the former leader of Congress, Martha Chavez, now the leader of the opposition bench in Parliament.

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