Diakonia - People change the world
Today Maritza Marcavillaca Vargas in Peru is an independent woman and a natural leader for her people. Photo: Claes Herrlander.

Maritza in Peru gave 8,000 farmers a livelihood

Maritza Marcavillaca Vargas in Peru is a passionate change maker who is working courageously alongside others so that people living in poverty can gain power over their own lives.

4/15/2014 Publisher: Esther Flores Sedman

Seven years to convince tha authorities

At first sight, she gives the impression of being one greengrocer among many, sitting there and stripping away the outer leaves of her spring onion. She isn’t. It’s thanks to Maritza that the weekly market in Cuzco, Peru exists.

It took her seven years to get the authorities to make the previously unused market place on the outskirts of the city permanent. In the beginning there were two hundred women – now, almost eight thousand farmers make a living from the market.

“And I’m trying to get more people to join us, because together we can safeguard our rights,” says Maritza.

Indigenous feminist

Maritza Marcavillaca Vargas calls herself an indigenous feminist. She’s a Quechua and has fought hard – and is still fighting – the rights of both indigenous peoples and women. But she has paid a high price for these rights. When she started to get involved in the unions, her husband accused her of both infidelity and being power-hungry.

“At that time, I was dependent and discriminated. Abused both physically and emotionally,” she recalls.

Supported by Diakonia’s partner organization Flora Tristán

But through Diakonia’s partner organization, the women’s centre Flora Tristán, she learned about how democracy, the legal system and women’s rights are connected. Enough to tell her husband to leave if it didn’t suit him. He stayed.

“But I had to prove myself through my actions,” she says.

Saved up for a piece of land and made sure the children went to school

It was Maritza that saved up for the land they own and made sure their five children got an education. Along with the children, she has been running a tourist business for a number of years and also owns a small shop, a bodega, in her home village of Urquillos.

“All this without asking my husband for a penny!” she says proudly. “He now respects and appreciates me.”

Works in the union and politically to improve the situation of indigenous people

Today Maritza is chair of the women’s association in the region, which works to ensure that indigenous farmers and craftspeople participate in decisions that concern them.

Alongside her union involvement she’s also politically active, despite the fact that she’s also endured harassment in that area.

“We have no access to politics. We’re discriminated for the simple reason that we’re an indigenous people. When they see that we have plaits and wear skirts, they dismiss us as ignorant peasants,” she says, gesticulating at her apron.

Women must achieve half the power

She dismisses the laws that exist to protect her rights as letra muerta, dead text – not worth the paper they’re written on. And in her opinion, no real change will come about until women have half the power. That’s why she’s also trying to convince more women to enter politics.

“I’ll never manage to get the men to support my proposals alone. Never!” she exclaims.

The dream: More women taking control of their lives

Over time, she can still see that a certain change has taken place, even in the attitudes of many men.

“However hard they think it is, they can now see what we’re capable of. And in ten years’ time, there won’t just be one Maritza, there’ll be several and then I’ll be happy,” she says.