|Remarks by Mónica Carrillo, Founder and Director, Center for Afro-Peruvian Studies and Empowerment|
Invest in Women. Invest in the World.
A central IWHC goal is to develop a new generation of leaders for women's health and rights. One of these is here tonight, Mónica Carrillo, from Peru. When I was 21, I spent six months in Peru. The Peruvian women I met in the Andes, the jungle, and the slums of Lima, set my life course. For nearly 40 years, women like them have inspired and energized me.
Now, a new generation is emerging. Mónica Carrillo founded her own organization, LUNDU, when she was 21, to ensure that young Peruvians of African descent-who face both racism and sexism-know their rights and have information about their health. For example, LUNDU works in the poor, coastal town of El Carmen-where sex tourism is a growing industry, and rates of HIV/AIDS are among the highest in the country. Afro-Peruvian girls and young women in El Carmen are commonly propositioned by tourists and harassed by fellow citizens. LUNDU provides a safe haven, a place to develop self esteem, pride in their heritage, and skills to protect their health and rights. Mónica...
Thank you, Adrienne, and good evening to all of you.
When people think of my country, Peru, they think of Inca culture, white or Spanish ancestors. I'd like to share the stories of my people, the Afro-Peruvians, who are 15 percent of Peru's population.
As an Afro-Peruvian woman, I face sexual and racial discrimination every day. I'd like to tell you about two hours of my life walking down the street in Peru.
At 5 PM, I walk past a father and his child. The father points at me. He is laughing. He says, "Monster, monster! Do you see the monster?" The child says, "Her skin is burned!"
At 6 PM, I walk past two men. One of them asks, "Woman, are you African? My doctor tells me that you are the best medicine, because you can make a man so happy."
At 6:10 PM, A taxi driver starts following me. He tells me to get into his car: "Nigger, come on." I get angry and yell at him. He says, "You should be grateful that I am even looking at you."
This isn't just an especially bad day. This is every day. So imagine what happens to Afro-Peruvian girls younger than me, girls living in the poor, rural town of El Carmen. Tourists with money approach them constantly, asking them to dance for coins-or to have sex. And these girls think they have to say "yes." They think that sex is the only way to get a better life.
I founded my organization, LUNDU, six years ago, because I wanted young Afro-Peruvians to have choices. Since 2004, the Coalition has supported our work with young people in El Carmen. We work with children and adolescents-mostly girls-to develop skills to resist sexism, prejudice, and what we call internalized racism, which makes us hate our culture and our own bodies.
One way we help children and young people appreciate their Afro-Peruvian identity is with an activity we call The Mask. We ask the girls in our program to make a plaster mask of their face. We then ask them to wear the mask, give the mask a name, and tell a fantasy story about the mask.
Esmerelda, who is 19 years old, tells this story about her mask:
"I am Maria. I am white, with brown, straight hair. My eyes are blue. I have my own dance school. I travel abroad.
Like most girls in the program, Esmerelda, who is Afro-Peruvian, created a character who is white, with straight hair and blue eyes.
Esmerelda then takes off her mask, and tells her own story:
"I am Esmerelda. I am black. I don't like my face. It is so big. And I hate dancing for coins."
When the girls compare the story of their mask with their own story, they become angry, or start to cry-their reality is so different from their dreams. So in groups of peers and with LUNDU staff, we work to build their self-esteem—to really love who they are, as beautiful black young women.
IWHC is helping us to establish a new youth center in El Carmen. With this center, we can reach more young people who need our support. With the Coalition, we can empower more young women against violence, abuse, forced sex, unwanted pregnancies, and AIDS.
Our girls believe their lives are worth something. When tourists ask them to dance, or have sex, our girls can say "no." Our girls learn to live without wearing a mask.
This is part of a song I sing with the girls:
If you insult me
I defy you
I am divine