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close this bookCERES No. 097 - January - February 1984 (FAO Ceres, 1984, 50 p.)
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View the documentWHY RURAL WOMEN DON'T SPEAK UP
View the document''THE ONLY THING WE KNOW HOW TO DO CORRECTLY IS TO EXPORT OUR CRISES''

WHY RURAL WOMEN DON'T SPEAK UP

In the aftermath of Peru's agrarian reform social gains are proving more elusive for women than economic ones

Housemaids, unskilled workers, peddlers, shopgirls - these are the diverse occupations of the Peruvian women who live in urban centres, especially in greater Lima, where a quarter of the country's population is concentrated. The rest of Peru's women, that is, those who live in rural areas, can simply be called farm wives. According to the last census, which came out in 1972, there were 1 869 090 women over the age of 15 in rural areas; of these only 132 623 were considered economically active and involved in agriculture. These figures, however, do not correspond to reality if, as other data indicate, it is true that about half the people in Peru, including tine Quechua, Aymara, and others of Amerindian origin, depend almost exclusively on primitive agriculture for their subsistence. This is the agriculture that is developing in the high Sierra, as well as the relatively more developed agriculture of the coastal zones; together these account for about 40 per cent of the active labour force (totalling 5.34 million people) but only 11.8 per cent of the gross national product, according to 1981 data.

The women in rural areas, especially those of Indian origin, are engaged entirely in agricultural work and perform tasks that have been institutionalized to a certain degree Women are involved, for example in irrigation, seeding, fertilizer applications, in weeding, harvesting, winnowing, and grading and storing products Women do these jobs on top of their normal domestic work and the task, raising farmyard animals that often to women in family smallholdings d are thus unremunerated). Moreover, there are also women, though few in number, that work as day labourers, especially in those zones, much as on the coast or in the jungle, where more modern commercial agriculture has been developed. For almost all women there a few important commercial activities related to the ducts of the holdings, especially were these are small, to farmyard animals, to the sale of products made:he home: chicha, an unfermented the juice (around Cuzco), various brands of bread (in Ayacucho), spinning the Sierra), small tailoring operations (as in San Martin or Pacasmayo), this fashion women manage to cumulate some capital of their own, but not much, since the profits usually small and earnings are used to meet essential expenses in maintaining the house.

A warning for men.

In fact, especially within the Indian communities, the woman is always responsible for the family economy. It is she who knows what quantities of food are consumed each day, how much seed must be put aside for the next planting, and how much must be saved for hard times. This role is recognized to the extent that, according to Quechua and Aymara traditions, the birth of a daughter as the firstborn child is regarded as a good omen for the stability, security, and economic prosperity of the young family. The Quechua give the new infant a name, "Tage", that is both symbolic and augural. Tage signifies the granary, the place where Indian families store and care for the harvest. It is also, in a sense, a place forbidden to men, for there is no recognition of their rights to withdraw products from it. If they do so, an ancient proverb warns them, "the future harvest will be reduced or will go bad and the family will go to ruin as punishment for this misdeed." Certainly, things follow this pattern as long as it is a question of a subsistence economy or a situation where men frequently emigrate to areas that offer the possibility of paid employment; thus the women often find themselves obliged to assume alone, sometimes for long periods, all the responsibilities and burdens, both moral and material, of the family.

However, activities of farm women are not the same all across the country. They are influenced by a variety of basic factors, one of the principal ones being the dominant system of production. Agricultural activity in the family unit is more intense in subsistence economy where, because of the lack of productive resources, the family's economic organization must involve the work of all members of the family. The area around Huamanguilla in Ayacucho is a typical case where 62.2 per cent of the women have indicated that agriculture is their principal occupation.

By contrast, women's activities are much more diversified where the land is so scarce that no significant surplus can be produced for market and women must find other ways to earn the income they need for essential family expenses. This occurs at Huamanguilla, for example. There land fragmentation is severe (86.1 per cent of families covered by a recent survey held less than three hectares) and are consequently engaged in numerous activities. The same thing happens in the Lucre zone (Cuzco), where 84.5 per cent of the women said that commerce was their principal activity, although in this case it was family cooperative units that were involved.

Gaining acceptance.

It is natural to speculate about the changes which the agrarian reform of 1969 brought to the rural world and especially to the life of rural women. Introduced by the military regime headed by General Velasco Alvarado, this programme affected 361 500 families, or about two million people in a rural population estimated at around five million. To analyse its impact properly it will be helpful to recapitulate the fundamental points of the reform and the institutional structure that it was to have introduced. These included

- worker cooperatives to be created especially in the coastal areas;

- cooperatives that would become agroindustrial complexes (at present there are about a dozen of these) replacing the old heavily capitalized plantations, as exemplified by the sugar-growing zone on the northern coast where agricultural holdings even included facilities for processing and refining sugar-cane;

- the "social interest" (SAIS) societies, each comprising one or more expropriated estates and the nearby native communities, usually located in the Sierra, since their principal activity is raising livestock;

- service cooperatives formed of small and medium-size proprietors;

- land consolidation cooperatives, whose intent was to create tillable holdings of sufficient size to permit communal production;

- communal cooperatives, based on the restructuring of peasant communities and involving a return to communal ownership of the land and a strengthening of communal assemblies.

In actual practice it is mainly the first three categories of village-level organizations that have been developed. The remainder, founded less upon e process of expropriation than upon the slow process of gaining acceptance for communal work, have exhibited only minor growth. Secondary institutions, whose task is to ordinate the grass-roots organizations, are still in the planning or pilot stages.

In statistical terms, according to data from the Peruvian Ministry of agriculture based on 1978 figures, the present situation is as follows: 5 705 properties, equivalent to 10 million hectares, and more than two million head of livestock have been expropriated. Of the nation's total of 30.6 million hectares considered suitable for cultivation or grazing (scarcely one-twentieth of the national territory) one-third is in the hands of peasant communities, another third has been consigned to beneficiaries of agrarian reform, and the remainder consists of small and medium-sized holdings.

Disparities disguised.

There are in existence, or in the process of establishment, 1 838 new agricultural units, including 584 production cooperatives (among these are 12 sugar-producing agroindustrial enterprises), 303 peasant communities, 60 "social interest" societies (SAIS), 10 colectives, and 781 miscellaneous groups. Of the 361 500 families benefiting from the reform, 30 per cent belong to peasant communities, 27.9 per cent to cooperatives, 16.9 to SAIS, 0.4 per cent to collectives, and 12 per cent to miscellaneous groups, and 11 per cent own individual holdings.

The figures given here conceal many disparities and inequalities. To begin with those apparent between regions, in a prosperous coastal department, such as Lambayeque, half the peasant population has profited from the reform, while in a less developed department in the Sierra such as Ayacucho, where smallholdings predominate, only eight per cent of the peasants have benefitted. In the coastal region again, however, such especially poorly-endowed provinces as Chira or Puira have seen only 20 per cent of their peasant populations involved in agrarian reform. And in the Amazon jungle areas, a mere 20 000 families have benefitted.

Another form of inequality concerns the various types of associative management. Each job in the agroindustrial enterprises costs about the double of one in a production cooperative, which explains how, with two per cent of the active rural population, these enterprises account for about one-third of all agricultural income. The per hectare surplus produced in the coastal region is much more consistent than with the SAIS groups in the Sierra, because the larger holdings on the coast use much more advanced cropping techniques. The coast, therefore, still has many advantages and, overall, the rural world has been affected in very unequal ways by the redistribution of land. In the coastal cooperatives, each beneficiary family has represented a public outlay of about $3 000, compared with $ 1 000 for each family in the Sierra.

The inequalities noted among various types of associative enterprises are even extended into enterprises of the same type. From one production cooperative to the next, the average land available per family ranges from 3.2 hectares to 98 hectares. Among the SAIS the discrepancy runs from 0.8 to 498.9 hectares, with the average around 40 hectares.

As mentioned, the SAIS groups are chiefly located on the high plateaus of the central Sierra in the agricultural areas of Libertad, Ancash, Huanuco, Pasco, Junin and Puno. These zones were characterized by the dual nature of their economies: first, that of the large livestock rearing enterprises which, thanks to their political support, were gradually succeeding in appropriating for themselves the native communal lands, driving out the inhabitants and their flocks; and second, the communal groupings, whose scrubby, diseased animals, lacking veterinary care, posed the danger of infection to the prized herds on the large holdings.

Competitive cooperatives.

The creation of the SAIS groupings has not substantially modified this situation and the SAIS, in fact, represent more of a blueprint for political integration than a different economic model. The reform programme, indeed, has persisted in distributing to the native communities the properties - both land and equipment - expropriated from private enterprises and in organizing the permanent staff of these latter concerns into worker cooperatives. In this manner the productivity of the large holdings has been preserved and the community's claims upon lands formerly usurped symbolically fulfilled. What has not occurred, however, is any change in the conditions of production.

Nevertheless, the most striking contradictions in the process of agrarian reform are more evident in the relationships between the cooperatives and the adjacent communities of smallholders. Some cooperatives have preferred to sell their marginal land rather than face the appeals of former tenants seeking to become cooperative members. Others are trying to recover lands sold to settlers and tenants by former owners without having valid official titles to the property. Besides, cooperatives function like private firms, and as such, must be competitive. Consequently, they are not much interested in increasing opportunities for work in the rural areas. On the contrary, they are trying to reduce their membership and prefer to increase their own hours of work, rather than engage other casual workers. Given the complexity of the problem, the dialogue required to resolve it is likely to be prolonged.

It is important, now, to return to the question of women.

In actual fact, women's participation is still extremely limited. Peasant women, to use a general term, remain in a subordinate situation, either because of the rules, customs, and convictions that go to make up the social system, or because of a sense of inferiority to males in education and the capacity for self-expression and communication, or simply because of repeated frustrating experiences in every aspect of life.

Employment opportunities for women have increased within the cooperatives. In some dairy cooperatives, such as the Huacariz de San Antonio in the province of Cajamarca, women are able to earn a full day's salary by continuing to work after having finished the milking: they grade and process agricultural produce and join in the field work. Their earning potential has thus increased, but their status as individuals has changed little. This is because most of the female workers in the cooperatives are constricted by family relationships (they are sisters or daughters or wives of members of the same cooperative) that are carried over to the workplace, while men, in the administration of the enterprise, behave exactly the same as capitalist entrepreneurs and landed gentry.

A chance to dance.

Within the community, then, everything seems to have remained static. In various activities, unremunerated group tasks of collective interest or the organization of celebrations, with the accompanying responsibilities, women participate only marginally. They usually prepare the food for the celebration or for the men working. For women, feast days are almost the only chance to socialize with other members of the community, to have fun, to dance, or to drink. On such occasions, widows help by serving in the kitchen and will be repaid later with the work of men on their parcels of land.

Women do participate along with the men in the meetings of the fathers' associations, and at times even more often than the men because their husbands are not always able to leave their own work. When it is a matter of school associations, women are motivated to participate, even taking the children if necessary. In some cases, they are finding duties within such associations, though not in any effective way. One of these women, on being interviewed, said that she did not know what her real functions were. In the meetings, problems are normally introduced by the men. The women sometimes participate in the discussions and in the voting that follows it, but they rarely present proposals.

"I don't think I could say anything because I haven't gone to school," said one woman interviewed during a survey in Cuzco. "My husband can speak. He has studied and is respected for this. But without school I could not do it."

Meetings of the municipal assemblies are held to discuss problems of the district. Women's participation is limited, and the leading roles are monopolized by men. The problems that interest women are genera those related to disputes over land water, and these they discuss among themselves in the street, but rarely speak up in the assembly.

In the cooperative assemblies, active participation is limited to men. The women who participate are usual widows or women whose husband are away. An exception to this is be found in La Perla cooperative Lucre, which depends upon the active participation of a woman which has been a leader of the peasants union since its beginning. She illiterate but her union experience has permitted her to participate several congresses in Cuzco. As yards her part in these assemblies she says, "All of us ought to belong and to participate, men and women and even the children because they are learning. In the cooperative meetings there is discussion among the men, and the women talk among themselves, but they do not ask the floor. I urged some neighboures take part in the meetings. I said them: 'Come on! It is good the women take part so that if we become widows through some tragedy, then we are prepared. When I wanted go into the cooperative assembly the directors objected and said 'If you want an assembly go Cuzco. They always criticize me.

The situation is no different regard to contacts with official community institutions, or in political activities. Nevertheless womens are being taken into consideration and used as a pressure group, especially in cases of appeals against government officials. It is supposed that, because they are mothers, they enjoy a certain immunity. This conviction seems sometimes to be she' by authorities who, in such case try to avoid meeting with the womens. But outside situations of conflict the participation of rural women favoured neither in the community nor among public service officials who are generally representative on urban culture and society.