Yenni Paucar, UMA broadcaster, Puno, Peru.
In the highland communities of southern Peru, freezing temperatures lash the faces of highland locals from May to August. This terrible cold also plays home to brave girls and women who fought discrimination and managed to attain basic education to get on in their lives.
These Andean Aymara-speaking women set up organisations such as the Abya Yala Aymaran Women’s Union (UMA), where they could get together to advocate for their rights and work to empower women in the communities. The UMA provides an essential contact and leverage tool for their sisters who live in the farthest settlements: radio.
The studio may be simple, but it has everything it needs. Covered in a colourful Aguayo cloth, the table has four microphones to broadcast the voice of their Aymaran sisters. Every Thursday from six to seven in the evening, the Wiñay Panqara programme is broadcast, hosted by the elder, Rosa Palomino. The Second World Conference of Indigenous Women opened on Thursday 12th August and Wiñay Panqara dedicated its entire show to the event.
A traditional song opens the programme. When the music fades, Rosa Palomino welcomes all her sister listeners in their own native language. She wears a traditional black hat worn by Aymaran women and an Aguayo shawl to keep her warm in the cold mountain range over 4,000 metres above sea level.
‘Today the Second World Conference of Indigenous Women begins…’ states Palomino in Aymara, explaining where the event is being held, its global nature and what it is aiming for. Facing Rosa Palomino is the young Sulma Yucra, with braided hair and wearing a hoody, who explains how the coming days of the global meeting will debate advocacy strategies in decision-making spaces to recognise and protect the rights of Indigenous Women, whilst contributions from Indigenous Women themselves will be heard. Next to her, Judith Paucar explains how it is a global logistical effort by organisations from around the world.
Other sisters contribute through interviews and opinions from their communities. In Laconi, a village on the shores of Lake Titicaca in the district of Platería, Elvira Ari comments on air that she is closely following the World Conference of Indigenous Women, although it is a little difficult for her to understand the Spanish interpreting; however, she truly grasps it all when the radio show summarises the proceedings in Aymara.
The conference sessions are held in four languages with simultaneous interpreting in English, Spanish, Russian and French. The UMA broadcasts the sessions with the Spanish interpreting, and then summarises the content in Aymara. Like Elvira, over 150,000 people listen to the radio in their native language. In Peru alone, over half a million people speak Aymara. If we add in the Aymaran languages spoken in Bolivia and Chile, there are over two million Aymara speakers in the Andean mountain range.
Elvira Ari recounts during Wiñay Panqara that she was surprised that countries as far away as Russia were home to Indigenous Women with similar struggles to those faced by Aymaran women. And that their clothes were also colourful and vibrant!
The Wiñay Panqara programme is broadcast every Thursday from 6 to 7 pm on the same day as the sessions at the Second World Conference. This coincidence helps our Aymaran sisters feel part of the event too. Aymaran women are entrepreneurs but lack internet access; this lack of social network familiarity makes it difficult for them to register and participate in digital community spaces.
In light of this, the radio brings the conference home to them with debates on rights, problems, proposals and events at grassroots social organisations, with the aim of ‘leaving no one behind and moving forward together’, as one of the event’s slogans puts it.
The opening session on Thursday 12th August reviewed ‘paths taken and our realities’—a reflection on the Indigenous Women’s movement’s progress and the processes put together in the run up to the Second World Conference of Indigenous Women.
On 19th and 26th August, the UMA and the Puno Region Indigenous Communicator Network closely followed the conferences and work sessions, where elder sisters shared their organisational experience with younger attendees.
‘Global work is difficult if you do not do local work. The work done comes from the efforts of local women and it is important to know the space before undertaking any work,’ underlined Dr Myrna Kay Cunningham from La Mosquitia in Nicaragua, underlining the importance of grassroots organisations.
Some of what they shared was heard, communicated and translated on the Wiñay Panqara radio show. To do this, Mamá Rosa Palomino introduces them from the studio:
‘Everyone pay attention, quiet please, we’re going to listen the great Indigenous Woman and Leader who is hugely committed to Indigenous Women’s processes and who is a teacher for me, so let’s listen,’ states Palomino into the microphone in the studio where the words of Myrna Kay Cunningham are translated into Aymara.
Sulma Yucra and Virginia Salcedo, two Indigenous Youths aged 19 and 23, smile timidly and happily in the studio. They are following the world conference closely to broadcast it in Aymara to Indigenous Women in Peru and around the world.
‘Building alliances with different sectors to build strength and see whether what we are planning is doable; not being afraid of occupying spaces we have promoted where, at times, we give way to men or other people,’ states Myrna Kay Cunningham from FILAC.
‘Our demands should be not just as women but as women from communities and Indigenous Peoples with collective rights,’ she continues. ‘We should respect ourselves and not be the ones denigrating the work that other Indigenous Women are doing. We need to add, learn and create,’ she states, inviting organisations and women to be united and think collectively.
On the third day of the conference, 26th August, it was important to look inside the Indigenous Women’s Movement and at how and where new struggles are being organised. The intervention by our sister Jacinta Silakam from the pastoralist communities of Kenya was vital; she spoke about the importance of support and empowerment for Indigenous Women with disabilities. These women remain in communities and have the same ability to internalise knowledge, share it and be vessels of wisdom which they can impart to future generations and the entire community.
Our Wayu sister and Venezuelan parliamentarian, Noelí Pocaterra, underlined the importance of humility, humanity and collective Indigenous values—profound words that encourage Indigenous Organisations and provide advice on how the world needs a female perspective. ‘What lessons have you learnt as an Indigenous leader?’ Pocaterra was asked by the moderator of the session. She replied:
‘Learning, building my identity was what I learnt from my family. From the time I was born until the age of 12, my learning was led by my grandmother and aunt, women with an oral tradition who did not speak Spanish. My classrooms were in different settings: the kitchen, going out for firewood, going for water, everyday life, loving nature, loving thy neighbour, respecting elders, boys and girls.’
She continued: ‘They showed me not to judge but to first investigate; they showed me the importance of the little things, a sense of gratitude, resisting a culture that excluded us.’
Pocaterra’s approach is focused on helping others; this is what her mother taught her, encouraging her to study and understand other cultures, including western culture. She is proud of her ancestral past and Indigenous learning in her community. Her strength has been to understand others and developing tolerance, ‘but be no fool,’ as she stresses.
Pocaterra insisted on working with girls, boys and youths in the community so that a sense of identity endures. She also stressed speaking in our native languages and ensuring that future generations feel proud of their culture in order to stand up to discrimination. Moreover, she would encourage these types of activities and workshops to continue, as well as being present at the United Nations, the Permanent Forum and in as many representation spaces as possible.
After hearing the many contributions, the conference came to close on Thursday 2nd September. The days were filled with communication, learning and sharing over Wiñay Panqara and social networks, although radio was the main source for Indigenous Aymaran Women.
Wiñay Panqara will continue to recount the progress made by Indigenous Women. In response to the contributions heard, the following words echo in the studio, bringing the broadcast to a close: ‘Jallalla, long live Indigenous Women! Jallalla, long live the World Conference!’