Today we are meeting with CENCA, a non-profit organisation and partner of Frères des Hommes, and the women of the Mariategui district in Lima, Peru. This neighbourhood, like the rest of the country, has been very hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many families were left without the possibility of working and therefore of generating income. To compensate for the lack of help from the authorities, the women chose to organise themselves to deal with the alarming food situation of the families in the neighbourhood.
Using the skills acquired thanks to the “Habla Mujer” (Women’s Words) project run by Cenca and Frères des Hommes, the women were able to mobilise their neighbourhood. While they have managed to generate financial support, these women have also set up self-managed popular and community canteens. As Davis Morante, deputy director of Cenca, recounts, “they took the initiative to launch the project ″Casseroles for allˮ. They started to cook together with what they had and distribute it to the people in the neighbourhood. »
Women in the Mariategui district of Lima experience strong inequalities
For more than 3 years, Frères des Hommes and its Peruvian partner CENCA have been running a project with and for women in a slum near Lima. In the heights of the Mariategui district, the inequalities of the Peruvian capital are glaring: the houses are made of wooden planks, access is mainly on foot, by stairs, there is no access to running water and public services are cruelly lacking. In a still very male-dominated country, women face other types of inequality: relegated to household and childcare tasks, sometimes abused, having had little opportunity to study or to obtain stable and properly paid employment, they are often isolated or even invisible in the economic and civic spheres.
Learning and acting together to contribute to women’s emancipation
It is in this context that CENCA has been intervening for the past ten years, and more recently with the “Habla Mujer” project, which aims at the emancipation of women and their participation in the social, economic and civic life of their neighbourhood. In order to support women, CENCA offers them vocational and entrepreneurial training. At the same time, they are offered workshops focused on developing their self-confidence, motivation, their ability to express their opinion in public and to be forceful in making proposals. The aim: to enable them to develop their critical awareness and their ability to analyse the society in which they evolve. In these training spaces such as the “Habla Mujer” school and the ESDEL local development school, where popular education is at the centre of practices, relations with women are very horizontal. CENCA always starts from their knowledge and skills, to gradually develop joint solutions, after analysing problems and context together. Learning together, doing together, taking time and generating trust are key aspects of women empowerment.
Using the power of the collective to move the lines
During the 3 years of the project, 265 women received vocational training in various fields (sewing, pastry making, shoemaking, but also construction, carpentry or electricity work…), around 60 women participated in the “Habla Mujer” school, and 70 created income-generating activities. Above all, about fifteen women have set up a shared sewing and shoemaking workshop. They meet in a common workshop where the machines and tools necessary for production are shared.
For CENCA and Frères des Hommes, emancipation and empowerment are not only conceived as economic empowerment and measured by an increase in income. Empowerment is a long, complex and difficult process, which links the socio-economic, civic and political spheres, and aims at an individual and personal approach, as well as a collective one.
Collective emancipation is also represented in this citizen’s initiative carried out in particular by the women from this group of seamstresses. Today, they have become the community leaders of popular canteens. Maruja, Griselda, Graciela and Violeta have organised themselves to create self-managed places to feed the hundreds of families in their neighbourhood who are suffering the consequences of the pandemic.
More confident, women take on responsibilities and take their place in their community
According to Abilia Ramos Alcantara, local facilitator at CENCA, “the project ″Habla Mujerˮ did not help them, the project trained them. This allowed them to reveal things buried deep inside themselves that they did not know by remaining in their role as good neighbours or silent women. The project has helped them to learn, to discover their rights, to connect with their neighbours, and to learn how to be listened to. At CENCA, we are very happy to see that women now have an important place in their community and that they have taken responsibility for forming popular canteens in their neighbourhood to feed the many people who need it. »
To do this, they had to gather and convince the neighbourhood of the feasibility of these projects. Sometimes they have to face complaints from neighbours who are never 100% satisfied with their efforts. They have to overcome the obstacles imposed on them by neighbourhood leaders in order to recover their initiatives. They have to seek the help of entrepreneurs or companies to obtain donations in kind or in cash. They themselves participate in cooking for the whole neighbourhood, sometimes for 20 people, sometimes 120. As Abilia Ramos explains: “It’s a big responsibility to be in charge of a popular canteen because you have many people depending on you for food. »
Training to organise themselves among women and self-manage popular canteens
In their shared sewing and shoemaking workshop, they experienced collective self-management. Accompanied by CENCA, they managed to organise themselves collectively, to take decisions together about production, the money they earn or spend, or the distribution of responsibilities. They have been able to offer a collective and solidarity-based alternative to the individual entrepreneurship of the traditional system, by not working alone, but by pooling equipment and tools. They share the profits and also contribute to a common fund.
Their goal: to anticipate the future of their business, access additional training or set up a support fund if necessary. They say they are proud to carry out activities that are considered “masculine”, such as public speaking, mobilising their entourage in a participative manner, being the leader of a group. They have developed their self-esteem and now have greater confidence to undertake economic activities or mobilise their learning for other initiatives such as popular and community canteens.
Maruja, new leader of her neighbourhood
Maruja Muñoz Estrada, a participant in the training courses and the sewing workshop, learned about the rights of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, how to bring the neighbourhood together around a common project and how to organise themselves, while at the same time having the right discourse to avoid generating conflict. As Abilia Ramos recounts: “Before the pandemic, Maruja’s neighbourhood was divided; the inhabitants had never been able to organise themselves in an assembly. Since Maruja initiated the popular canteen, she has succeeded in remobilising the neighbours of the different zones, low, medium, high. In the beginning, there were about 30-40 people receiving food aid from her canteen. Now there are between 150 and 200! She managed to get the neighbours together, to get them to organise and come together. And now they finally have a formal assembly that is concerned about access to water, the neighbourhood’s access roads, the stairs. Bringing together a neighbourhood that had been divided for 5 years is an impressive result! »
Asserting their rights: the new struggle of the “Mariategui canteen women”
Like Maruja, many women are committed to their community. On October 23rd and November 30 2020, with the support of CENCA and the Food Security Committee of the Metropolis of Lima, where the “Mariategui canteens” take place, they organised a pots and pan concert and a Twitter campaign with more than 500 other popular canteens in Lima! They are demanding that the budget allocated by the government to support the canteens would actually be given to them, as it never was.
Indeed, this budget is controlled by the district municipalities and due to mismanagement, clientelism or corruption, most of the popular canteens in San Juan de Lurigancho and Mariategui have received neither food, equipment nor training. Esther Alvarez, a lawyer from CENCA explains: « The women of Mariategui have organised themselves to join the network of popular canteens in Lima. We accompany them so that they know their rights and can monitor and follow up on the decisions of the authorities. With them, we have joined the food security committee of the capital and mobilised the Defender of Rights. » At the beginning of December, they were received by Parliament to make their voices heard and to obtain the promised and necessary aid to continue feeding families suffering from hunger during this ongoing health and economic crisis.
Created in 1965, Frères des Hommes is a French organisation, independent of any political party, committed to actions of social transformation in France and abroad. Faced with a political, economic and social system that generates inequality and exclusion, their mission is to become an actor of social transformation. In France, Frères des Hommes, a militant association, welcomes people wishing to engage in international solidarity actions and in actions contributing to social transformation. Abroad, Frères des Hommes and its partners support local populations in vulnerable situations to be more empowered, thanks to technical and citizenship training, and to learn to act collectively. This Story was written by Frères des Hommes in collaboration with Azickia.