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The following post was written by Heifer volunteer Sandi Watson, and first appeared on our blog for Boston area volunteers. Sandi was part of a group that visited Heifer projects in Peru last month, and you can read her posts about the trip here.

Simply put, gender equity is about fairness, understanding, and respect. Martha Hirpa, Heifer International's Director of Gender Equity, writes: “The way women and men share resources, make decisions about their livelihoods, and plan for the future of their children, family, community and society at large—these are all issues that pertain to gender.”

During our volunteers study tour in Peru, we witnessed the ways that Heifer, in conjunction with a number of NGOs (non-government agencies), is working to help women throughout Peru find a voice both within their own families and in their communities. One NGO working with Heifer in this area is the Community Education Center of the Highland Provinces of Cusco. They are training and supporting women leaders in 8 districts. The 370 original recipients will pass on the gift of knowledge to another 1,000 families.

For example, in the Province of Canchis, Julia Mercado and Yoni Mamani are representatives of womens’ groups. Their primary goals are education for women and training in things such as:

  • Self-esteem
  • Awareness of women’s rights
  • Leadership
  • Budgeting
  • Organization
Yoni told us that from this training she learned that the women in her town had the right to speak up when they discovered that the local mayor was corrupt (he was not distributing government-supplied foods in an equitable way). The women organized and went to meet with him. Yoni said “We are not afraid anymore. Now we speak up.”

In October 2009, the first Women’s Congress in this area met and, as a result of their new organization, gained a voice in budgeting decisions for their district. In March of this year, 800 women gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day. This required a lot of planning and a great effort by all the participants who traveled to the meeting.

We asked how men have responded to changes resulting from gender equity training. Yoni answered that her first husband didn’t react well but that her second husband is a good man, who is gentle and supports her in every way. Julia added that her husband is also a good man; that they “treat each other with justice” and that his support makes a big difference in her life.

Heifer Peru staff added to our understanding of this process. They said that one way to help men shift their thinking on gender issues is to take them to visit places where the gender equity training has been in place for a while, to see the improved economic conditions for entire families and communities.

They also told us that in Pasco, a Heifer project that was still in progress met with local staff for assessment. When asked about the best part of participating in a Heifer project, both men and women said that the most important aspect was the gender equity training – that this was even more important to them than the animals. They said that the families were better off; relationships were stronger, and that they felt their children would have a better future.


Casey Neese