April 14, 2017

Former Peruvian Congresswoman Speaks of Gender Equality in Politics

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Verónika Mendoza — former congresswoman for Peru’s Cusco region, 2016 presidential candidate and leader of the emergent Peruvian political left — discussed the current political climate in Peru, gender equality and her vision for her own political movement in Stocking Hall Thursday.

In Peru’s 2016 presidential election, Mendoza — leader of the leftist New Peru Movement and champion of progressive causes like environmentalism and human rights — finished third with approximately 20 percent of the national vote.

In the second round of voting, Mendoza rallied against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peru’s incarcerated dictator Alberto Fujimori, in order to help the center-right Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly win the election. Despite this aid, Mendoza said that she does not support the conservative Kuczynski.

Mendoza highlighted recent modest legislative strides made with indigenous, LGBT and women’s rights, all “small” advances she said have been “thwarted by this recent conservative wave.”

Mendoza also cited Kuczynski’s recent decision to cease focus on gender equality in areas of policing, the prison system, hate crimes and education, despite Peru having one of the highest rates of recorded violence against women in Latin America.

“There have been over 1,200 recorded cases in the last month,” Mendoza said, adding that those are only the cases that are brought forward.

Mendoza described her own experience as a woman in the Peruvian political system.

“All women who do this job are victims of prejudice, of stereotyping, of violence,” she said. “In my case I am not only a woman, but I am also young and provincial.”

Mendoza told a story about the 2011 National Congress, during which a conservative congressman called and asked her to attend a press conference “to act as a decoration for the table.”

Mendoza also called out politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle for using condescending language, referring to her as a “nice girl,” or a “good girl.”

Despite frequent demands from her political base that she change the style of her rhetoric to match the anger and aggression of her conservative opponents, Mendoza refuses.

“This reinforces the patriarchal machista idea that to be a good politician, you need to make people respect you by being forceful and aggressive,” she said. “And that’s not what we want. We want to create an environment of dialogue, of consensus, of horizontal government, of transparency.”

Mendoza also expressed worry that the election of Donald Trump may encourage and legitimize hyper-masculine modes of discourse.

As for her own political vision, Mendoza hopes that more democratic dialogue can help set Peru on a path toward progress. She recalled the wave of terrorism in Peru during the 1980s and the oppressive Fujimori regime during the 1990s.

“Our goal is to cut ties with this past and to create a movement that is deeply democratic, and that is deeply rooted in human rights.”

Mendoza attributes the success and growing momentum behind her movement not “to an illuminated enlightened few talking in a room, but rather because we have connections, diverse and precarious as they are, to grassroots movements, including the youth labor movement, indigenous movement, women’s movement and LGBT movement.”

The panel discussion was hosted by the Latin American Studies Program, and was conducted in Spanish followed by an English translation.