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‘Raising gender-awareness still a crucial challenge in Peru’
After two years working at Trias Andes, Delphine Scheerens (29) says goodbye to the team. She has worked hard to educate Peruvian farmers on the importance of an inclusive strategy.
Delphine has had an uncommon experience to say the very least. Together with two colleagues, she ran the Trias Andes office in Peru. Her specific challenge was to put the interests of women and young people on the agenda of the farmers’ organisations that Trias works with in the Andes and the Amazon regions.
How challenging was that?
Delphine: ‘Peru invariably ranks near the top of the worst countries for women to live in. The stories I have heard from women here are really shocking. Women being killed, domestic violence, teenage pregnancies, systematic discrimination. In Peru, you find the whole lot in abundance. I can assure you that the country has made considerable progress in the last twenty years. But there is still a lot of work to be done.’
Why is it important that Peruvian farmers’ organisations pay more attention to the participation of women and young people?
‘Local farmers’ organisations are very aware of the average age of the directors on their board. They understand that their organisation is doomed if they continue to block the participation of young people. Women's participation is often considered by leaders to be a less important issue. But that conclusion is not always correct. More needs and possible solutions are brought to the surface in a diverse board of directors. You are therefore able to provide better support to your own members. In addition, farmers’ organisations are role models for the whole region in which they are active.’
Do you think you have made sustainable progress in these two years?
'It is not easy to measure how aware farmers’ organisations are of women's and young people's issues. My greatest sense of satisfaction has come from the small successes. I suggested that the COOPAGROS potato farmers developed a stronger link with the secondary school in their district. In the past, the pupils did not even think of following a career in professional agriculture and horticulture like their parents. But that has changed, in part because the young people have noticed that the strengthening of COOPAGROS by Trias has produced higher incomes and better employment. Another example is the advice I gave to the chairman of the national fair trade platform. He was initially completely unconvinced that we need to work on changing men's behaviour in order to achieve gender equality. In the end, he completely changed his mind.'
Before you arrived at Trias Andes, farmers' organizations in Peru did not have a equal rights strategy. Has that now changed?
'It has, but it is not that simple. Some organisations set up commissions, but what can they do if they do not receive a serious mandate from the board of directors? At Trias, we must remain vigilant and work at different levels. Structural changes to organisations are important, but behavioural change often starts deep inside yourself as a man and in your relationships with women, or vice versa. Trias has its own methodology to work on gender, but we also consult specialised development organisations that employ psychologists to analyse power relations. It's a very fascinating topic.'
And all that for someone who has studied language and literature at university?
'I chose that direction because it makes it easier for me to connect with other cultures. I then obtained a Master's degree in international relations and diplomacy. Before coming to work at Trias as a BTC junior, I had already gained field experience in Brazil and Peru, working with indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest. As a teenager, I always had the feeling that I wanted to see more of the world than the street which I grew up on in Tielt.'
Unfortunately your contract with Trias has come to an end. What is next for you?
'I will soon be working in Flanders, as a research assistant at the HIVA Research Institute. I will miss working in the field, although I sometimes had mixed feelings about it. It is not easy as a young woman from Europe to find your place in the Andes mountains. People generally have low self-esteem; especially for the women, it is hard to look someone straight in the eye. At the same time, there is a strong macho culture in which power relations are strictly and hierarchically determined. It has been very instructive, but now it's time for something new.'