“When we began training we wanted only to embroider to earn money, but at each meeting something new to learn came up, an opportunity to know and get acquainted about women’s rights: health, family planning, self-esteem and worth. It was not only a course in weaving; it was a space to grow and strengthen ourselves.” (Emerenciana)
Lifelong education is one of the human rights that we women demand. The Artisanal Woman’s House — La Casa de la Mujer Artesana — brings to the market work that has been created by Peruvian artisans and offers them a space to strengthen themselves and an opportunity to explore the techniques of weaving with experts: design, organization, leadership, commercial management as well as women’s rights to be full citizens with the power to enjoy life and love.
Gaining access to markets is a difficult but necessary task, as it is a bottleneck for economic activities, especially for poor rural Peruvian women. For this reason, the Manuela Ramos Movement, a Peruvian feminist organization, conceived this project and negotiated national and international financial support to make it possible to go to remote parts of our country, where they found women wanting to change their lives. The name Manuela Ramos represents many anonymous women who live every day with passion and hard work in Peru. The institution took this common name to make them visible.
The artisans we know are women with a fighting spirit, intelligent, loving their land, their culture and their Aymara and Quechua ethnic communities. They are living more than 3,800 meters above sea level, in inhospitable climates but with traditions and cultural strengths they do not want to lose. Their festival of the Virgin of the Candles — Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria — has been recognized by Unesco as a cultural heritage of humanity, along with the textile art that has been woven for millennia on the island of Taquile in Lake Titicaca, an expressions of their local Puno region art and culture.
In reality, there are more than 500 artisanal zones in the Puno region, which are organized into 40 artisanal associations known collectively as the Regional Union of Quechua and Aymara Artisans Las Manuelas, or Uraqam.
“Before it was difficult to enter the national and international market. We were not able to increase our earnings.” (Natividad)
The majority of the artisans are mothers who have on average one to three children. Some of the women have studied in primary, secondary or in higher technical schools; their maternal language is Quechua or Aymara. Their homes are mostly of adobe, with earthen floors and metal roofs; a large percentage have no electricity or potable water. The women’s artisanal activity is a sideline to their daily work in the fields, which produces food and other goods that families need for their own consumption.
It is not out of the ordinary to see artisans plowing in the field, working in the market with children in tow or taking cattle to pasture, always with fabric or a ball of yarn in hand. Farming activities such as planting, harvesting, animal care, craftwork and household chores intersect. As time is scarce, the women use their new thinking and skills they have learned from the project to seek balance by engaging the support of other family members.
“I thought it could not be different, because there were our sons, husbands to look after; we had to do all that, and we just did it. Not now. With the project we have learned our rights. We’re all now organized and united at home, sharing tasks (grazing cattle, sweeping the house, among other things), which permits me to have more time to weave my craft. They understand that I’m working.” (Lourdes)
Keeping alive their knowledge of spinning and weaving, Puno artisans have entered national and international markets with innovative, quality hand-knit products such as dolls, adornments and accessories. With great sensitivity and creativity, they create sheep, rabbits, chickens, llamas, pigs — a diversity of animals that radiate the love they put into them and are much loved by children.
To find new markets and supply products on a larger scale, the Casa de la Mujer Artesana takes part in trade fairs, locally and internationally, establishing strategic partnerships with related organizations. The website www.casadelamujerartesana.com and Facebook take orders and track customers. We want to be a model of inclusive development for artisans of scant economic resources who have roots in their culture, are proud of it and want to protect it. As we say, we are making our own way by walking.
“Now we know how to respect our rights . . . with our earnings we increase our families’ economies and the overall development of our communities.” (Natividad)
This is an opinion essay.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
Alicia Villanueva Chavez is a Peruvian feminist trained in fine arts and psychology, specializing in organizing and training rural and urban women to manage economic enterprises. She is also a co-founder of
Movimiento Manuela Ramos, where she manages its economic program and the Artisan’s Woman House project, which helps artisans sell their work through networks and partnerships. She is president of the board of REPEM LAC (Popular Education Network Among Women of Latin America and the Caribbean).