Women's rights: Inequality, stereotypes, reproduction

Dr. Jelke Boesten, Senior Lecturer in Social Development and Human Security at the University of Leeds | UPDATE 156. 03 April 2013

On International Women's Day, 8 March, the National Institute for Statistics revealed that 122,800 Peruvian women occupied decision-making positions (directors or managers) in private companies or public institutions, a sign of improved inclusion over the years.

However, is it really a reason to celebrate? In 2009 alone, the Peruvian police received 95,749 reports of domestic violence; considering that reported cases of such violence only demonstrate the tip of a much larger iceberg of abuse, it is very likely that many more are regularly abused. Indeed, the World Health Organisation estimates that 51 per cent of urban women and 69 per cent those in rural areas suffer physical and/or sexual violence from a partner during their lifetime. Looking at levels of partner violence and the way the state deals, or does not deal, with it is a good indication of advances made in the position of women.

Limits to equality

As Lilia Ramírez Varela of Peru's Instituto de Defensa Legal notes in her article, there is still much to do to overcome inequality. The Peruvian state is only partially engaged with gender equality: despite the establishment of positive discrimination in politics (through a 30 per cent female quota for political parties’ lists), a ministry that includes a specific focus on women, and specific policies and programmes to address violence, the effect of these initiatives is hampered by a persistent prejudice with regard to women’s capacities and roles as compared to men. For example, while many more women are indeed included on electoral lists, they are often relegated to the bottom of them. The increase of women in meaningful political positions is minimal compared to the 30 per cent rule.

The Ministry for Women has changed its name and profile many times since its inception in 1996, but has always included a host of ‘vulnerable’ groups. This suggests that such a ministry does not exist to promote gender equality or promote women’s rights, but to protect the ‘weaker sex’ from threats such as violence and poverty. In doing so, the Ministry reinforces a stereotypical and harmful gender binary.

Though the Ministry has done important work in raising issues essential to women’s wellbeing, it has made few strides in defending essential rights such as women’s control over reproduction. Programmes addressing gender-based violence are generally designed to keep families together. While many frontline workers in women’s emergency centres aim to protect women’s right to security and independence, many others such as police officers and prosecutors send women home to kiss and make up. A stronger focus on women’s rights, instead of the patriarchal family, is essential to break the cycle of violence and impunity.

There is still much to do to gain equality, or even for women to be free from abuse and violence, but that should not stop us from celebrating achievements made (the female mayor of Lima won the revocatoria election!).

The case of gender equality is not only important to women or because of an ethos of fairness, but to the development of the country: women form 50 per cent of the population, are some of the most creative workers in the informal labour market, and might help put otherwise ignored issues of social development on political agendas. Poor reproductive and maternal health care and birth control provision, and violence against women, place an enormous cost on the state and on economic development. In sum, there are so many ethical, economic, political, and social arguments for gender equality that the only option is to keep supporting Peruvian civil society organisations in their quest for equality. 


Alejandra Navarro, 2011, ‘Mujeres y la ley de cuota de género: Del número a la presencia real.’ Grupo Peru Futuro.

Boesten 2012. ‘The State and Violence Against Women in Peru: Intersecting Inequalities and Patriarchal Rule’, Social Politics, vol 19 (3) pp 361-382.

World Health Organisation, 2005. Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women.

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    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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