V-Day Update from Lima, Peru
and Purva Panday, V-Day Director of Programs & Development
Over the Thanksgiving week, we had the privilege of seeing V-Day activists in action as we traveled to Lima, the bustling South American city perched on the Pacific Ocean that is the cultural and economic center of Peru. We have visited activists the world over - from Iceland to Ohio, Rhode Island to the Philippines, Kenya to Paris, and our experience in Lima was no different. We were left with familiar feelings - amazement, excitement and awe!
The strategic headquarters for VPerú was La Casona VPerú, in Miraflores - or as we named it 'The Pink House' - where at any time day or night you could expect to find the Director of VPerú, Vanessa Oniboni, her husband and V-Man extraordinaire Oliver Luker, and an assorted gathering of their V-team of over 50 volunteers. The house, which had been donated to VPerú before it is torn down to make way for a loft building, was painted in hot pink paint, its entrance draped with a huge VPerú sign, and an entrance wall plastered with vagina art. On Tuesday, the house was transformed into venue for a VPerú art installation. Artists were invited to create art addressing the topic of violence against women and women's empowerment. Opening night of the art exhibit saw La Casona packed with hundreds of people who came to see the photography, video installations, performance art, prints, drawings, paintings, and sculptures that the amazing VPerú artists had created for this special night. Among our favorites were a huge neon vagina cut out of the wall and a series of portraits of women activists carved directly into the quincha walls. All of it was a testament to art's ability to move hearts and minds.
Vanessa and her team planned an incredible week of events to bring V-Day to Lima and we spent a busy week racing around the city with many of the extraordinary young women and men who, moved by V-Day's message, had volunteered their time to igniting the V-Day movement in Lima - working hard for months to bring the VPerú events to fruition. Their hard work was evident in so many ways. The city was saturated with the VPerú message - bus stop signs and posters covered the city, coverage of VPerú ran on the morning television shows and on the front page of the country's most popular magazine, Caretas as well as in numerous other print and online publications. Another huge accomplishment was the deep and serious engagement of young people and men in VPerú - we were very inspired to see them take hold of V-Day and run with it.
The centerpiece of the week's events was the gala performance of The Vagina Monologues at the Teatro Segura in downtown Lima, directed by one of Peru's most cherished actors, Norma Martínez. It was an electrifying night. The theater was lit up outside in pink lights, and the buzz of a full house (800 seats) was exhilarating. The cast included all of Peru's leading ladies: Ana Cecilia Natteri, Ana Sofía Toguchi, Attilia Boschetti, Betina Onetto, Denisse Dibós, Denise Arregui, Ebelin Ortiz, Elva Alcandré, Gisela Ponce de León, Gisela Valcárcel, Magdyel Ugaz, Melania Urbina, Milena Alva, Mónica Sánchez, Nidia Bermejo, Stephanie Orúe and Yvonne Frayssinet. The performance was amazing - and as many of you all know the moment the audience joins in to chant CUNT! you realize that you have reached them all at their centers. It was no different this performance - the lights went on and the entire audience chanted "Concha! Concha! Concha!" A video message from a sorely-missed Eve ran before the performance, as well as a VPerú produced PSA which had sparked huge public interest on its release 10 days before. After the performance there was a fun cocktail reception which the press loved, enabling Vanessa and her team to relay the message of VPerú and to talk about the evening's beneficiary RECARE (more about them later) to the top-most journalists in the country.
There were so many more amazing moments:
- Panel discussions about breaking down machismo and the role of women in Peruvian society at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and the Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano among a number of other panels that were held
- A dance performance directed by the famed dancer Morella Petrozzi about women's empowerment
- A delicious dinner for the V-Day team generously hosted and donated by chef Virgilio Martinez Veliz at Central, Lima's best new restaurant. Yum!
- A meeting with representatives of some of Peru's leading women's rights organizations, including groups such as Manuela Ramos, Flora Tristan and El Pozo (which was founded 34 years ago). At the meeting we learned that in Peru, only 16% of women pursue cases against their abusers.
- A briefing by the staff of Demus, a leading women's rights organization. We learned about the political history of Peru over the past 50 years, and how the ongoing conflict between the Shining Path and the government resulted in the deaths and disappearances of 70,000 and the rapes of thousands of women - of whom only 4000 reported their rapes. We also learned about the forced sterilization of indigenous women under President Fujimori, who, in the late 1990s forcibly sterilized upwards of 300,000 women. Demus is doing an incredible job pursuing cases in the Inter-American Court and on a national level in Peru to try and get reparations for these women. We were shocked to hear of entire villages where schools had to be closed because all the women had been sterilized and there were no children in the village. While the subject matter was sobering, we did have one true V-moment - one of Demus' staff, Romy Garcia, was the regional winner of V-Day's STOP RAPE campaign in 2001 for her street sign campaign!
- A march through the streets of downtown Lima to commemorate the Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women that launches the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (November 25-December 10) organized by Peru's leading women's rights organizations. At the march, we had the privilege of meeting incoming mayor Susana Villaran, on whom the women's rights movement in Peru is placing great hope. Villaran is very supportive of the V-Day movement, as she has been outspoken about women's rights, freedom of choice, and gay rights. She has also pledged actively to open Lima's public spaces to the arts.
- A delicious Peruvian Thanksgiving dinner that our new VPerú family lovingly cooked for us!
On our last day, we had the great privilege of visiting two safe houses that are part of RECARE, a network of 16 small, humble safe houses in and around Lima. The first house we visited was in Puente Piedra, about two hours north of Lima. We were very moved to meet the women and children living there and to learn about their personal stories. They told us about how RECARE helps them to pursue their cases in the police and judicial systems while also providing essential shelter, food and safety.
The second safe house we visited was in Cercado de Lima, closer to the center of town. We were thrilled to meet Rosa Morales, the 69-year-old founder of RECARE, there. The minute we met Rosa we knew she was a Vagina Warrior - she just has that aura. Rosa's story is incredible. As a child she was left to look after herself in the Andes region where she was born. She made her way to Lima as a young woman to reconnect with her mother, who left her a small house when she died. Rosa turned the house into Peru's first safe house, and from it RECARE was born in 1982.
Rosa's heart is so huge. You could feel her love and the many years of wisdom she has gathered through the hard work she has done. It was a gift to meet her. We took her back to the Pink House to show her her portrait, chiseled into the wall. As she looked at it and took it in, she was overwhelmed with tears, and so were we.
For both of us, the experience of being part of VPerú's inaugural activities was a reminder of the power of V-Day's activists to change lives, to transform minds, and to touch hearts. Seeing our activists in action, seeing the emotion on the audience's faces in the Teatro Segura, seeing what a small group of people could accomplish in such a short amount of time reminded us that the V-Day movement is alive, and thriving.
We believe this is just the beginning for V-Day in Peru, and throughout South America.
Director, Programs & Development
Managing Director, Campaigns & Development