Women in Peru

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Women in Peru
Older Peruvian woman.jpg
An older Peruvian woman
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.387 (2012)
Rank 73rd
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 67 (2010)
Women in parliament 21.5% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 47.3% (2010)
Women in labour force 67.8% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.6787 (2013)
Rank 80th out of 136

Women in Peru represent a minority in both numbers and legal rights. Although historically somewhat equal to men, after the Spanish conquest the culture in what is now Peru became increasingly patriarchal. The patriarchal culture is still noticeable. Women receive less pay than men, have fewer employment and political opportunities, and are at times abused without repercussion. Contraceptive availability is not enough for the demand, and over a third of pregnancies end in abortion. Maternal death rates are also some of the highest in South America.

The Peruvian Government has begun efforts to combat the high maternal mortality rate and lack of female political representation, as well as violence against women. However, the efforts have not yet borne fruit.


Andean civilization is a traditionally somewhat egalitarian for men and women, with women allowed to inherit property from their mothers. After the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire, the culture became more patriarchal; the resulting culture has been described as being machista.[2][3]

During the internal conflict in Peru beginning in the 1980s, some families became matriarchal, with approximately 78 percent of migrant families being headed by women. In shantytowns, women established soup kitchens (comedores) and worked together to ensure that their families received enough food to eat.[2][4]

The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, published in 2003, notes that during the internal conflict in Peru there were numerous cases of women being forcibly sterilized - also, another estimated up to 300,000 mostly rural women were sterilised under deception or with insufficient consent in the 1990s as part of a campaign intended to combat poverty.[5] The actions committed during the struggle have caused both mental and physical problems in women. Identification papers, necessary for the execution of civil rights like voting, were also destroyed en masse. As of 2007, approximately 18.1 percent of Peruvian women are living without the necessary documents, as opposed to 12.2 percent of men.[6] Even today, women from indigenous tribes may be treated disrespectfully by authority figures. The same applies to poor women.[7]


Indigenous women on Peru travel less widely than men. As such, they tend to be less fluent in Spanish, the national language of Peru. This may lead to difficulties when they must speak with outsiders, who often do not speak the indigenous language.[7] Women have a higher illiteracy rate than men; however, an increasing number of women are receiving higher education.[2]

Demographics and health[edit]

Women are a slight minority in Peru; in 2010 they represented 49.9 percent of the population. They have a life expectancy of 74 years at birth, five years more than men.[8] The age of consent in Peru is 18.[9] However, pregnancies in women between the ages of 12 and 17 are not uncommon; they are often the result of rape by a male relative.[10]

Peru has one of the highest maternal death rates in South America, with the government noting 185 deaths per 100,000 live births and the United Nations estimating the number at 240 per 100,000 live births. In order to combat those high figures, the government released a strategic plan in 2008 to reduce the total to 120 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.[11] Of these maternal deaths, 46 percent occur during the first six weeks after birth.[12] Amnesty International notes that economic discrimination is one of the factors, with women in affluent areas receiving better health care than those in rural areas. Gender and ethnic discrimination in health care also exist.[13]

Hemorraging (dark blue) is the leading cause of maternal death in Peru

According to the 2007 census, the causes of maternal death in Peru were as follows:[12]

  Hemorrhage 40.5%
  Other 23.8%
  Pre-eclampsia 18.9%
  Abortion-related 6.1%
  Infection 6.1%
  Unknown 1.8%
  Obstructed birth 0.9%

When giving birth and importance, indigenous mothers may avoid going to clinics due to unfamiliarity with the techniques used; they instead prefer to use traditional practices, with which they are comfortable. [7]

Although contraceptives are used in Peru, they are more common in urban areas. An estimated 13.3 percent of women in rural areas are in need of contraceptives that are unavailable, as opposed to 8.7 percent of urban women.[14] Although therapeutic abortion is legal,[9] and an estimated 35 percent of pregnancies result in abortion,[10] regulation and implementation has been controversial, with the only clear guidelines (in Arequipa) withdrawn under pressure from anti-abortion groups. There have been instances where mothers have been forced to carry babies to term at large personal risk.[9]

Family life[edit]

A Peruvian woman

By law, Peruvian women must be 16 years old to marry;[8] prior to 1999, it was 14. A 2004 survey by the United Nations estimates that 13 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 19 have been married. In marriage the husband and wife share responsibility for household affairs. In approximately 25% of marriages, finances are handled by the husbands;[8] in some other families the mother is the head of the household.[3] Some ethnic groups, such as the Asháninka, practice polygamy.[2]

Despite married Peruvian men occasionally openly taking lovers, divorce is difficult to obtain, although not uncommon.[2] In a divorce, custody of children under the age of seven is generally awarded to the mother. Custody of those over seven is generally awarded by gender. If a parent is deemed unfit, the children can be sent to live with the other parent.[15]


The majority of poor women where they live in rural areas. Those that who live in poverty are less likely to give birth in a health centre or be attended by a health care worker.[16] The majority of rural women work in farming,[2] or take care of household chores.[3] On average, they earn 46 percent less than male workers.[17]

Beginning in the 1990s, women increasingly entered service industries and replace men. They were hired because the employers could pay them less and believed that they would not form unions. During that period, labour rights were revoked for women workers.[18]

Gender equality[edit]

Discrimination based on gender is forbidden by the government of Peru, and a piece of legislation was passed in 2000 that outlawed discrimination. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes that discrimination is still practiced and that women in Peru generally have higher levels of poverty and unemployment. Those who have jobs have difficulty holding senior positions. There are still reports of discrimination in inheritance law. They also have equal inheritance rights with men. The OECD has rated the degree of gender discrimination in Peru as low on the Social Institutions and Gender Index.[8]

The OECD notes that women in Peru are subject to abuse, with almost half suffering from violence. However, the most common form of abuse is psychological. There are also reports of female genital mutilation as a rite of passage during puberty.[15] The government has attempted to address the issues, establishing the National Programme against Family Violence and Abuse in 2001, and passing a law requiring local authorities to deal with domestic abuse and stipulating punishments for rape and spousal rape.[8] However, legal action against perpetrators of abuse is slow and ineffectual.[10]

Women legally have the same ownership rights as men, except for land; in 2002 only 25 percent of land titles were given to women, and under the "informal ownership" system the husband may sell property without his wife's consent.[15]

Politically women in Peru have been subordinate and had little power. Recent laws have required a third of representatives in Congress to be women, although only 20 percent of those elected in 2001 were so. Female politicians are often from richer families, as those from a lower income bracket must deal with housework.[19]


  1. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013". World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Barrett 2002, p. 83.
  3. ^ a b c Crabtree 2002, p. 11.
  4. ^ Crabtree 2002, p. 46.
  5. ^ "Peru Forcibly Sterilized 300,000 Poor Women in the '90s. Now They Could Decide the Country's Future.". The New Republic. 26 November 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Amnesty International 2009, pp. 26-27.
  7. ^ a b c Amnesty International 2009, p. 22.
  8. ^ a b c d e OECD 2010, p. 128.
  9. ^ a b c Amnesty International 2009, p. 41.
  10. ^ a b c Crabtree 2002, p. 67.
  11. ^ Amnesty International 2009, p. 11.
  12. ^ a b Amnesty International 2009, p. 20.
  13. ^ Amnesty International 2009, p. 12.
  14. ^ Amnesty International 2009, p. 40.
  15. ^ a b c OECD 2010, p. 129.
  16. ^ Amnesty International 2009, p. 25.
  17. ^ Crabtree 2002, p. 10.
  18. ^ Crabtree 2002, p. 44.
  19. ^ Crabtree 2002, p. 33.