“The Quilt in the Making”. Credit: Claudia Steinau
GENEVA, Oct 28 2022 (IPS) – The organisational is personal. Every day since the two of us were asked back in 2020 to co-lead the process of culture transformation at UNAIDS, the United Nations organisation which drives global efforts to end AIDS, we have both felt at our very core how crucial it has been to get it right.
The mission of UNAIDS is vital to ensuring the health and human rights of every person. Staff and partners need to be confident of a supportive and empowering culture that will enable their work.
A 2018 Report by an Independent Expert Panel had shone a light on what were important organisational shortcomings, leading to a comprehensive set of changes in leadership, systems and crucially, culture.
As the Culture Transformation process has got underway, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented shifts in work, and a resurgence of global protests, including from the Black Lives Matter movement and for women’s rights, have a generated an inspirational momentum for action to tackle intersectional injustice.
Reflecting almost three years of UNAIDS culture transformation work, what stands out in particular for the two of us is how the “outer work” has required so much “inner work”. We have needed to be, and to help others be, our full selves, and to acknowledge what we don’t yet know of each other’s experiences.
The process has deepened our appreciation of how our differences, both personally and professionally, are a key strength, enabling each situation, each process, to be seen from a combination of unique angles, and how equality is crucial in enabling all these to be brought forth.
Creating safe spaces for our colleagues to speak about their lived experiences was transformative. We asked ourselves and those around us tough and tender questions. We had colleagues tell us they felt heard for the first time. Brave conversations helped colleagues to connect and to advance the tangible changes that matter most to them.
We understood the need for a common reference framework for all of us at UNAIDS. This has led to a first set of feminist principles that guide our way forward.
Through the process, it became ever more clear to both of us that culture transformation begins at the personal level. As a Malawian woman of African-Asian heritage, living and working in Latin America at this time, intersecting identities and multiple cultural heritage became for Mumtaz the centre of personal reflections.
In leading conversations on decolonizing the HIV Response, Mumtaz’s own colonization was calling for attention. For Juliane, too, this has been powerful journey: as someone who has experienced sexual assault in the workplace, this work is deeply personal, driven by a determination to build safe workplaces for everyone, including by addressing inequalities and unhealthy power balances. Our intersectional feminist approach has brought our experiences to our work.
But this work has also highlighted that whilst the organisational is personal, so too the personal is often dependent on the organisational. Engaging with intersectional feminist principles at the personal level was not enough.
That is why we were proud to help UNAIDS become the UN entity to put intersectional feminist principles at the core of its being. It is why vital work continues to integrate those principles into policies and practices to advance a workplace culture in which every individual can flourish.
As we have helped build a movement for change across six regions, engaged in conversation with more than 500 colleagues, and supported some 25 diverse teams in their own journey, we have recognised the centrality of the institutional level.
Cultural transformation is a long and challenging process that requires the tenacity and creativity of many. To weave the stories and aspirations of so many of the champions for change together while preserving their uniqueness, we have borrowed the quilt symbol that is iconic in the AIDS response.
As the change process evolves, new tiles will be added, others might fade or need repairing. But the work is not done. It is a ‘quilt in the making’ – individual and collective work, one tile at a time.
Mumtaz Mia and Juliane Drews have led UNAIDS Culture Transformation since May 2020.
Mumtaz is a Public Health expert with two decades of experience working to end AIDS. Juliane is a change management expert with 15 years of experience in developing inclusive and just organizations in which staff in all their diversity thrive.
Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast , Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – A coalition of civil society organisations is demanding public development banks (PDBs) to take radical and innovative steps to tackle human rights violations and environmental destruction. No project funded by PDBs should come at the expenses of vulnerable groups, the environment and collective liberties, but should instead embody the voices of communities, democratic values and environmental justice.
The COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency, coupled with human rights violations and increasing risks for activists worldwide, is bringing the need to change current practices into even sharper focus. While public development banks may drag their feet on addressing intersecting and structural inequalities, civil society organisations are taking actions aimed at creating dignified livelihoods by embedding development with concrete affirmative measures towards climate, social, gender, and racial justice.
PDBs cannot be reluctant to act. They need to hit the target when it comes to supporting the transformation of economies and financial systems towards sustainability and addressing the most pressing needs of citizens worldwide – from food systems to increasing support for a just transition towards truly sustainable energy sources. PDBs must recognise that public services are the foundation of fair and just societies, rather than encouraging their privatisation and keep austerity narratives alive.
Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako
Communities cannot be left out of the door. They need to be given the space to play the rightful role of driving forces in the answers to today’s global challenges, without them PDBs will move backwards rather than forward – and this means more environmental degradation, less democratic participation, and to put it bluntly an even greater crisis than the one we are facing today. And nobody needs that.
The recommendations in the collective civil society statement emerge from a three-year process of engagement and exchange, involving civil society networks in an effort to shape PDBs policies and projects. You can find some of their words and messages below.
As the call for accountability grows, the Finance in Common summits are an opportunity for PDBs to show moral leadership and help remedy the lack of long-term collaborations with civil society, communities and indigenous groups, threatening to curtail development narratives and practices.
Here’s the messages from civil society organisations from around the globe directed at public development banks.
Oluseyi Oyebisi, Executive Director of Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) the Nigerian national network of 3,700 NGOs said: “The Sahara and Sahel countries especially have been facing the most serious security crisis in their history linked with climate change, social justice and inequalities in the region. Marked by strong economic (lack of opportunities especially for young people), social (limitation of equitable access to basic social services) and climatic vulnerabilities, the region has some of the lowest human development indicators in the world – even before the covid pandemic. Access to affected populations is limited in some localities due to three main factors: the security situation, the poor state of infrastructures and difficult geographic conditions. PDBs must prioritise civil society organisations and Communities initiatives supporting state programs of decentralization, security sector reforms and reconciliation. This will help reduce the vulnerability of populations and prevent violent extremism.”
Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of Spong, the NGO network of Burkina Faso said: “Development projects shape our world; from the ways we navigate our cities to how rural landscapes are being transformed. Ultimately, they impact the ways we interact with one another, with plants and animals, with other countries and with the food on our plates. The decisions taken by public development banks are therefore existential. Such responsibility comes with an even greater one to include communities directly concerned by development projects, those whose air, water and everyday lives are affected for generations to come. For this to happen, public development banks must reinforce their long-term efforts to create dialogue with civil society organisations, social movements and indigenous communities in order to fortify the democratic principles of their work. We encourage them to listen, to ask and to cooperate in innovative ways so that development stays true to its original definition of progress and positive change; a collective, participative and fair process and a word which has a meaning not for a few, but for all.”
Tity Agbahey, Africa Regional Coordinator, Coalition for human rights in development said: “Many in civil society have expressed concerns about Finance in Common as a space run by elites, that fails to be truly inclusive. It is a space where the mainstream top-down approach to development, instead of being challenged, is further reinforced. Once again, the leaders of the public development banks gathered at this Summit will be taking decisions on key issues without listening to those most affected by their projects and the real development experts: local communities, human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, feminist groups, civil society. They will speak about “sustainability”, while ignoring the protests against austerity policies and rising debt. They will speak about “human rights”, while ignoring those denouncing human rights violations in the context of their projects. They will speak about “green and just transition”, while continuing to support projects that contribute to climate change.”
Comlan Julien AGBESSI, Regional Coordinator of the Network of National NGO Platforms of West Africa (REPAOC), a regional coalition of 15 national civil society platforms said: “Regardless of how they are perceived by the public authorities in the various countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) contribute to covering the aspects and spaces not reached or insufficiently reached by national development programmes. Despite the undeniable impact of their actions on the living conditions of populations, NGOs remain the poor cousins of donor funding, apart from the support of certain philanthropic or charitable organisations. In such a context of scarce funding opportunities, aggravated by the health crisis due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis, Pooled Finance, which is in fact a paradigm shift, appears to be a lifeline for CSOs. This is why REPAOC welcomes the commitments made by both the Public Development Banks and the Multilateral Development Banks to directly support CSO projects and programmes in the same way as they usually do with governments and the private sector. Through the partnership agreements that we hope and pray for between CSOs and banks, the latter can be assured that the actions that will be envisaged for the benefit of rural and urban communities will certainly reach them with the guarantees of accountability that their new CSO partners offer”.
Frank Vanaerschot, Director of Counter Balance, said: “As one of this year’s organisers of the Finance in Common Summit, the EIB will brag about the billions it invests in development. The truth is the bank will be pushing the EU’s own commercial interests and promoting the use of public money for development in the Global South to guarantee profits for private investors. Reducing inequalities will be second-place at best. The EIB is also co-hosting the summit despite systemic human rights violations in projects it finances from Nepal to Kenya. Instead, the EIB and other public banks should work to empower local communities by investing in the public services needed for human rights to be respected, such as publicly owned and governed healthcare and education – not on putting corporate profits above all else.”
Stephanie Amoako, Senior Policy Associate at Accountability Counsel said: “PDBs must be accountable to the communities impacted by their projects. All PDBs need to have an effective accountability mechanism to address concerns with projects and should commit to preventing and fully remediating any harm to communities”.
Jyotsna Mohan Singh, Regional Coordinator, Asia Development Alliance said: “PDBs should have a normative core; they should start with the rights framework. This means grounding all safeguards into all the various rights frameworks that already exist. There are rights instruments for indigenous people, the elderly, women, youth, and people living with disability. They are part and parcel of a whole host of both global conventions and regional conventions. Their approach should be grounded in those rights, then it will be on a very firm footing.
Asian governments need to support, implement, and apply strict environmental laws and regulations for all PDBs projects. The first step is to disseminate public information and conduct open and effective environmental impact assessments for all these projects, as well as strategic environmental assessments for infrastructure and cross-border projects.”
A video journalist covers a news event. Credit Unsplash/Jovaughn Stephens
Journalists and media workers are facing “increasing politicization” of their work and threats to their freedom to simply do their jobs, that are “growing by the day”, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, marking World Press Freedom Day, May 2022
NEW YORK, Oct 4 2022 (IPS) – “This woman sitting next to me, Maria Ressa, is a Nobel laureate and a convicted criminal,” said barrister Amal Clooney, who co-leads the international legal team representing Ressa. The founder of news website Rappler, Ressa has been targeted with a barrage of legal charges intended to stop her journalism in the Philippines.
During a conversation hosted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly high-level week, which concluded September 26, Clooney revealed that Ressa faces the possibility of imminent imprisonment in the Philippines.
“The only thing standing between her and a prison cell is one decision from the Philippines Supreme Court that could come as soon as in 21 days’ time,” said Clooney to an audience of news leaders, diplomats, and advocates.
She then appealed for prosecutors to drop the baseless charges and for newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to issue a pardon. In May, CPJ wrote to Marcos requesting that he urgently take concrete steps to undo former President Rodrigo Duterte’s long campaign of intimidation and harassment of the press.
The conversation, led by CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg, also explored the broader misuse of laws increasingly deployed to silence the press across the world. Clooney and Ressa are both past recipients of CPJ’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom award for their extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom.
UNGA week also served to gather legal experts, diplomats, and activists to discuss the plight of journalists forced to flee their homes and the responsibility of governments to provide safe refuge through special emergency visas.
During a high-level side-event hosted by the Czech Republic, CPJ’s Ginsberg joined Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky and deputy chairs of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom to make the case for these visas.
CPJ has advocated for such visas in the past in line with recommendations by members of the Media Freedom Coalition, a group of 52 governments that support press freedom.
Ginsberg’s message: Governments must create special emergency visas for journalists to allow them to quickly evacuate and relocate to safety. The visas should be granted to individuals who are at risk due to their work keeping the public informed.
As Ginsberg noted, across the world, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua and Belarus to Myanmar, CPJ has worked on hundreds of cases of such journalists seeking safe refuge. There is no time to waste.
Journalists forced to flee often try to continue reporting in exile. Panelist Roman Anin, an exiled investigative journalist who runs news website iStories, shared his story of moving his newsroom out of Russia.
“When the war started, we had a choice between three options, either stay in Russia and stop our work, stay in Russia, continue our work and end up in jail, or relocate the newsroom,” he said. Anin said that in spite of the hardship of the relocation, his newsroom has been able to reach Russian audiences with stories on alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.
Anin’s experience, and CPJ’s own work helping many other displaced journalists, demonstrate how critical it is for governments to prioritize emergency visas for swift relocation and safety. Refusing to do so not only impacts the lives of individual journalists, it is a blow to free expression and access to information globally.
Gypsy Guillén Kaiser is CPJ Advocacy and Communications Director.
Protesters in Washington, DC, march against the alleged killing of Uyghur Muslims. June 2022. Credit: Unsplash/Kuzzat Altay
NEW YORK, Oct 3 2022 (IPS) – This week is a momentous one for the world’s premier human rights body. At stake is a resolution to decide whether the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva can hold a debate on a recently released UN report.
The report concludes that rights violations by China’s government in its Xinjiang region ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity’.
Unsurprisingly, China’s government is doing everything in its power to scotch plans for a debate on the report’s contents. Its tactics include intimidating smaller states, spreading disinformation and politicising genuine human rights concerns – the very thing the Human Rights Council was set up to overcome.
The historic report, which affirms that the rights of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslim population are being violated through an industrial-level programme of mass incarceration, systemic torture and sexual violence, attracted huge controversy before it was released on 31 August 2022, minutes before the end of the term of the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
The report was supposedly ready in September 2021 but so great was the pressure exerted by the Chinese state that it took almost another year for it to be aired. Absurdly, the 46-page report includes a 122 page annex in the form of a rebuttal issued by China, rejecting the findings and calling into question the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Office of the High Commissioner has asserted that the report is based on a rigorous review of documentary evidence with its credibility assessed in accordance with standard human rights methodology. The report’s recommendations are pretty straightforward: prompt steps should be taken to release all people arbitrarily imprisoned in Xinjiang, a full legal review of national security and counter-terrorism policies should be undertaken, and an official investigation should be carried into allegations of human rights violations in camps and detention facilities.
Nevertheless, a proposed resolution to hold a debate on the report’s contents in early 2023 is facing severe headwinds. A number of states inside and outside the Human Rights Council, united by their shared history of impunity for rampant human rights abuses – such as Cuba, Egypt, Laos, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Venezuela – have already rallied to China’s defence in informal negotiations on the brief resolution.
What is most worrying is that China appears to be leaning on smaller states that make up the 47-member Human Rights Council by inverting arguments about politicisation of global human rights issues and projecting itself as the victim of a Western conspiracy to undermine its sovereignty.
If China were to have its way, it would be a huge setback for the Human Rights Council, which was conceived in 2006 as a representative body of states designed to overcome the flaws of ‘declining credibility and lack of professionalism’ that marred the work of the body it replaced, the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his ground-breaking In Larger Freedom report, lamented that states sought membership ‘not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others’.
Human Rights Council members are expected to uphold the highest standards in the protection and promotion of human rights. But our research at CIVICUS shows that eight of the Council’s 47 members have the worst possible civic space conditions for human rights defenders and their organisations to exist. In these countries – Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan – human rights are routinely abused and anyone with the temerity to speak truth to power is relentlessly persecuted.
Regimes that serially abuse human rights may be motivated to block findings of investigations being aired on the international stage, but the international community has a collective responsibility to the victims. Civil society groups are urging Human Rights Council members to stand firm on the call for a debate on the China report.
Human Rights Council member states that assert the importance of human rights and democracy in their foreign policy are expected to vote in favour. Nevertheless, the influence of regional and geo-political blocs within the Council mean that the issue will essentially be settled by the decisions of states such as Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Senegal, Ukraine and Qatar.
China will undoubtedly pressure these states to try to get them to oppose or abstain in any vote that seeks to advance justice for the Uyghur people.
The stakes are particularly high for China’s mercurial leader, Xi Jinping, who is seeking to anoint himself as president for a third term – after abolishing term limits in 2018 – at the Chinese Communist Party’s Congress, which begins on 16 October.
Recognition of the systematic abuses to which Xi’s administration has subjected the Uyghur people would be considered an international affront to his growing power.
If China were to prevail at the Human Rights Council, it would be another blow to the legitimacy of the UN, which is already reeling from the UN Security Council’s inability to overcome Russia’s permanent member veto to block action on the invasion of Ukraine. So much – for the UN’s reputation, and for the hope that human rights violators, however powerful, will be held to account – is resting on the vote.
Mandeep S. Tiwana, is chief programmes officer and representative to the United Nations at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
VIENNA, Sep 28 2022 (IPS) – With no shortage of catastrophes in the past 15 years worldwide — the democratic left is stepping up to provide stability amid the storm.
Throughout the history of mankind, there have been catastrophes. In modern times, there have also been media representations of catastrophe, including worked-up or even imagined catastrophes.
More than 60 years ago, the German author Friedrich Sieburg wrote about the ‘lust for doom’, which, strangely enough, has a tremendous appeal especially in eras perceived as stable: ‘The everyday life of democracy with its dreary problems is boring, but the impending catastrophes are highly interesting.’
Now that we have had no shortage of real catastrophes in the past 15 years, we no longer have to conjure them up. First came the global financial crisis, which threatened to topple banks and other financial institutions — even states — as if houses of cards.
Later the pandemic arrived and then the military invasion of the second largest country in Europe by the largest. Its shockwaves are devastating half the world, with energy crisis, broken supply chains, price explosion, food shortages, impoverishment and destitution.
And all the time comes the onrushing climate catastrophe, whose consequences are already apparent and which intersects with the current geopolitical crisis. The global electricity markets are going crazy because there is a lack of gas from Russia, but also because the rivers are drying up, the hydroelectric power plants are empty and nuclear power plants have to be shut down because the cooling water in the rivers is becoming too scarce — even the coal-fired plants are having problems where coal can no longer be shipped.
In any case, disaster is not now something we frivolously imagine because we are bored. It is there — very real for many and at least felt by most. Not only does it colour political debates but an atmosphere of pessimism, insecurity and fear has settled over most societies.
This is so even, perhaps especially, in the affluent societies of the west, which had become accustomed to stability and relative prosperity. A sentiment is spreading: the whole machinery no longer works, it is broken — and the political elites have no plan.
The left choosing stability
Against this backdrop, while the left is trying to develop programmes and instruments to master the crises, to stem the decline in prosperity and the social costs for ordinary people, those on the hard right are betting on things getting even worse, playing up catastrophe.
They hope this will benefit them, that they can thereby achieve electoral success — as with the right-wing radicals in Sweden recently or the right-wing bloc in Italy over the weekend.
It’s no surprise, then, that the far-right contenders paint the ‘elite’ and its networks in dark colours. They rummage through supposedly suppressed news and hidden secrets. They identify, to their satisfaction, how the powerful secure their dominance and say all this is connected. They imagine themselves as if detectives smugly putting pieces of the political puzzle together, in the manner of a latter-day Hercule Poirot.
It is not a completely new phenomenon to offer such a fundamental critique of ‘the system’. What is astonishing is that the far right has hijacked what used to be a prerogative of Marxist intellectuals — and of those activists who imagined a terminal catastrophe would some day issue in a socialist millennium.
Right-wing propaganda has appropriated elements of left-wing critical thinking — the questioning of the conventional and familiar, of the all-too-obvious, and the healthy suspicion of power. Amazingly, the motifs of the enlightenment have been subverted to serve conspiracy theories and fanaticism, in the cause of authoritarianism and nationalism.
The democratic left, in sharp contrast, sees its task today, grosso modo, as providing stability amid the storm. Of course, this is true where it is in government. But it in most cases it also has this reflex of responsibility where it is in opposition.
This has consequences. The left sometimes finds itself defending the status quo, against its deterioration. It knows it cannot score points with simple answers but has to work out complex plans whose realisation is tough.
This liberal left has always stood for freedom, democracy, the rule of law — for social equality and against hierarchy and fascist temptations. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has however drawn his country back into despotism in recent decades, aligned with an ideology of expansionism.
While the radical right (and some pro-Russian hard leftists) propose to kneel to Putin, the democratic left supports Ukraine’s right to self-defence and an independent path.
Russia’s imperialism has been met with sanctions from liberal Europe and north America, rebutted in turn in an economic quasi-war with the help of the ‘weapon’ of gas and oil. Yet in a multipolar and chaotic world where not all are on their side, progressives find themselves having to balance decisiveness and prudence.
Now their own economies must be stabilised and protected, and their societies, because the supply of energy and the functioning of the critical infrastructure has a much broader social centrality. This includes changes in the design of energy markets, which simply no longer function when panic on the markets leads to price explosions of 600 or even 1,000 per cent.
The colonisation of lifeworlds by market ideology has however meant that even the essential goods of everyday infrastructure have been left to the mercy of the markets. Energy suppliers which get into trouble have thus to be bailed out by governments.
The dangers of ‘politics without a project’
The effects of inflation are also different from what we know from economics textbooks. Classic inflation occurs when there is a boom, an economy reaches the limits of its capacity and there is more or less full employment. Then asset owners lose, while borrowers gain. But above all, workers and employees do not really lose out: prices rise but so do wages.
Classical inflation is characterised by a wage-price spiral in which real wages rise along with them. Historically, wage earners lost out primarily because of anti-inflationary policies, not because of inflation.
Today, however, inflation is not the result of a boom but an economic shock: it is imported, primarily due to higher energy prices and supply problems. Many companies too are groaning under their energy overheads, as they cannot fully pass on the cost increase to consumers. This in turn will mean workers will not be able to make up fully for price increases through wage rises.
The unions will fight but it will be very difficult to avoid real wage losses. Low wage increases lead to impoverishment and a decline in aggregate demand but high wage increases would lead to more bankruptcies and thus more unemployment.
The most likely result will be a combination of misfortune — a marked recession plus high inflation. Government will have to intervene with price controls, by dramatically accelerating the shift to renewable energy, by providing payments to the most vulnerable segments of the population, by accepting further budget deficits.
None of these solutions will be perfect. We must be careful not to enter a new era of depoliticised pragmatism — a ‘politics without a project’, to borrow an old formulation from a famous German book edited by the legendary Suhrkamp publisher Siegfried Unseld 30 years ago. But there will tend to be no grand design to policy, just muddling through.
Public debates will be characterised by a certain confusion, as we are already observing. On the one hand, most citizens want clear and focused plans, but at the same time they know that there are no easy, simplistic answers.
A pandering left-wing populism is therefore not an attractive alternative. It is not only a too-narrow preaching to the converted but also there is a broad swath of potential support among liberal and left citizens for a politics of reason and responsibility.
In times of such uncertainty, we do not need trumpeters and bullshiters. We need people who can be trusted to do the best they can to sort things out.
Robert Misik is a writer and essayist. He publishes in many German-language newspapers and magazines, including Die Zeit and Die Tageszeitung.
Source: International Politics and Society is published by the Global and European Policy Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.
A family from Sachac, a Quechua farming community in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southeastern Peru, where Quechua is still the predominant language and where ancestral customs are preserved. When members of these native families move to the cities, they face different forms of racism, despite the fact that 60 percent of the Peruvian population identifies as ‘mestizo’ or mixed-race and 25 percent as a member of an indigenous people. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS
LIMA, Sep 1 2022 (IPS) – Banning the use of the same bathroom, insults and calling people animals are just a few of the daily forms of racism experienced by people in Peru, a multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual country where various forms of discrimination are intertwined.
“In the houses where I have worked, they have always told me: ‘Teresa, this is the service bathroom, the one you have to use,’ as if they were disgusted that I might use their toilets,” Teresa Mestanza, 56, who has worked as a domestic in Lima since she was a teenager, told IPS.
She was born in a coastal town in the northern department of Lambayeque, where her parents moved from the impoverished neighboring region of Cajamarca, the homeland of current President Pedro Castillo, a rural teacher and trade unionist with indigenous features.
With Quechua indigenous roots, she considers herself to be “mestiza” or mixed-race and believes that her employers treat her differently, making her feel inferior because of the color of her skin.
Sixty percent of the population of this South American country of 33 million people describe themselves as “mestizo”, according to the 2017 National Census, the last one carried out in Peru.
For the first time, the census included questions on ethnic self-identification to provide official data on the indigenous and Afro-Peruvian population in order to develop public policies aimed at closing the inequality gap that affects their rights.
Teresa Mestanza has experienced discriminatory, if not outright humiliating, treatment because of the color of her skin, as a domestic worker in Lima since she arrived as a teenager from a Quechua community in northern coastal Peru. She defines herself as ‘mestiza’ or mixed-race and believes that this is the reason why some of her employers try to “make me feel less of a person.” CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS
Before the invasion by the Spaniards, several native peoples lived in what is now Peru, where the Tahuantinsuyo, the great Inca empire, emerged. At present, there are officially 55 different indigenous peoples, 51 from the Amazon rainforest region and four from the Andes highlands, which preserve their own languages, identities, customs and forms of social organization.
According to the census, a quarter of the population self-identified as indigenous: 22 percent Quechua, two percent Aymara and one percent Amazonian indigenous, while four percent self-identified as Afro-descendant or black.
During the Spanish colonial period, slaves were brought from Africa to do hard labor or work in domestic service. It was not until three decades after independence was declared that the country abolished slavery, in 1854.
Indigenous and Afro-Peruvian populations are historically discriminated against in Peru, in a country with traditionally highly segmented classes. Their needs and demands have not been met by the State despite legal frameworks that seek to guarantee equality and non-discrimination and specific rights for indigenous peoples.
This situation is reflected on a daily level in routine racism, a problem recognized by more than half of the population (52 percent) but assumed as such by only eight percent, according to a national survey conducted by the Ministry of Culture in 2018.
Sofia Carrillo is a journalist, activist and anti-racist feminist and Afro-Peruvian proud of her roots, who has faced racism since childhood and despite this made Forbes Peru’s list of the most influential women in the country this year. CREDIT: Amnesty International
“Racism is hushed up because it hurts less”
A journalist, activist, and radio and television host who was chosen by Forbes Peru magazine as one of the 50 most powerful women in the country this year, Sofia Carrillo is an Afro-Peruvian proud of her roots who has faced many obstacles and “no’s” since childhood.
“It was not seen as possible, for example, for me to be a studious girl because I was of African descent, and black people were not seen as intelligent. And that was represented on television and generated a great sense of rebellion in me,” she told IPS in Lima.
Faced with these messages she had only two options. “Either you believe it or you confront the situation and use it as a possibility to show that it is not true. I shouldn’t have to prove myself more than other people, but in a country as racist and as sexist as this one, that was the challenge I took on and what motivated me throughout all the stages of my life,” she said.
In her home racism was not a taboo subject, and was discussed. But this was not the case in the extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles “because it’s better not to be aware of the situation, so it hurts less; it’s a way to protect yourself,” Carrillo said.
“It is not uncommon for people of African descent to even say that they do not feel affected by racism or discrimination, because we have also been taught this in our families: that it will affect you if you identify it, but if you pretend it does not happen, then it is much easier to deal with,” she said.
Her experience as a black woman has included receiving insults since she was a child and sexual harassment in public spaces, in transportation, on the street, “to be looked at as a sexual object, to be dehumanized,” she said.
She has also had to deal with prejudices about her abilities in the workplace. And although she has never stopped raising her voice in protest, it has affected her.
“Now I can admit that it affected my mental health, it led to periods of deep depression. I did not understand why, what the reasons were, because you also try to hide it, you try to bury it deep inside. But I understood that one way to heal was to talk about my own experiences,” Carrillo said.
Enrique Anpay is 24 years old and finished his university studies in Lima last year, where he experienced episodes of racism that still hurt him to remember. In the picture he is seen carrying one of his grandmother’s lambs in the Quechua farming community of Pomacocha, where he is from, in the central Andean region of Peru. CREDIT: Courtesy of Enrique Anpay
Racism to the point of calling people animals
Enrique Anpay Laupa, 24, studied psychology at a university in Lima, thanks to the government scholarship program Beca 18, which helps high-achieving students living in poverty or extreme poverty.
Originally from the rural community of Pomacocha, made up of some 90 native Quechua families in the central Andes highlands region of Apurimac, he still finds it difficult to talk about the racism he endured during his time in Lima, until he graduated last year.
He spoke to IPS from the town of Andahuaylas, in Apurímac, where he now lives and practices as a psychologist. “In 2017 we were 200 scholarship holders entering the university, more than other years, and we noticed discomfort among the students from Lima,” he said.
“They said that since we arrived the bathrooms were dirtier, things were getting lost, like laptops…I was quite shocked, it was a question of skin color,” he said.
During a group project, a student from the capital even told him “shut up, llama” when he made a comment. (The llama is a domesticated South American camelid native to the Andes region of Peru.)
“I kept silent and no one else said anything either,” Anpay said. Although he preferred not to go into more details, the experience of what he went through kept him from encouraging his younger brother to apply for Beca 18 and to push him to study instead at the public university in Andahuaylas.
Afro-Peruvian women participate in a festive demonstration demanding respect for their rights, on the streets of Lima on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2022. CREDIT: Courtesy of Lupita Sanchez
Racism affects the whole country
Racism is felt as a personal experience but affects whole communities and the entire country.
Carrillo said: “We can see this in the levels of impoverishment: the last census, from 2017, indicates that 16 percent of people who self-identify as ‘white’ and ‘mestizo’ live in poverty as opposed to the Afro-Peruvian population, where poverty stands at around 30 percent, the Amazonian indigenous population (40 percent) and the Andean indigenous population (30 percent).”
A study by the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics on the evolution of poverty between 2010 and 2021 showed that it affected to the greatest extent the population who spoke a native mother tongue, i.e. indigenous people.
The percentage of this segment of the population living in poverty and extreme poverty was 32 percent – eight percentage points higher than the 24 percent recorded for the population whose mother tongue is Spanish.
Carrillo considered it essential to recognize the existence of institutional racism, to understand it as a public problem that affects individuals and peoples who have been historically discriminated against and excluded, who have the right to share all spaces and to fully realize themselves, based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination.
She criticized the authorities for thinking about racism only in terms of punitive actions instead of considering a comprehensive policy based on prevention to stop it from being reproduced and handed down from generation to generation, which would include an anti-racist education that values the contribution made by each of the different peoples in the construction of Peru.