Pro-Choice Movement Gains Momentum in Peru

Last September, one of IWHC’s partner organizations, PROMSEX, along with other feminist organizations in Peru, launched the “Déjala Decidir” (“Let Her Decide”) campaign to collect at least 60,000 signatures in support of a proposal that would decriminalize abortion in the case of rape. (Currently, abortion is only permitted when the woman’s life or health is at risk.)  Roughly a year after the launch of the campaign, our colleagues have achieved an impressive victory, collecting nearly 100,000 signatures in 13 regions of the country.

The campaign has raised awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence in the country, where 1 in 5 women experience sexual violence before the age of 15, and where 9 out of 10 pregnancies of girls under the age of 15 are the product of incest. Peru is among the countries with the highest rate of sexual violence in South America.

IWHC recently visited Peru to talk to our colleagues about their achievement, strategies, and challenges.

PROMSEX, together  with the feminist groups DEMUS (Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, or “Study for the Defense of Women’s Rights”), Flora Tristán-Center of the Peruvian Woman, Catholics for the Right to Decide-Peru, CLADEM-Peru (Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, or “Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights”), and Movimiento Manuela Ramos, used various methods to attract support for their cause. The campaign collected signatures at public and community events, as well as outside universities, schools, and shopping centers.  By June 2013, the campaign’s Facebook page had more than 20,000 likes, and a YouTube channel with six videos that explain the campaign’s purpose and arguments.

On May 28, International Day of Action for Women’s Health, the campaign held a press conference to display the first 60,000 signatures collected in support of the proposal. The event succeeded in increasing the campaign’s visibility, showcasing public support for abortion in cases of rape, and dispelling the notion that there is little support for choice in Peru.  

The campaign was covered extensively by newspapers, radio and TV. A national newspaper, Diario 16, declared its support daily on its front page during the campaign’s signature drive. Dejala Decidir also attracted very active support from two congresswomen, Verónika Mendoza and Rosa Mavila, as well as various public figures in Peru such as Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa. A diverse array of allies, including the largest labor union in Peru, LGBTI organizations, and student organizations,  all expressed support. By September 2013, 35 organizations had joined the campaign.

Surprisingly, young men were the most likely demographic to sign the petition in support of a law. Our colleagues at PROMSEX speculate that young women were less likely to publicly endorse the campaign because of the stigma surrounding abortion, and the fear that signing the petition could be perceived as admitting they had an abortion. The strength and influence of the Catholic Church — especially with young women — may have factored into these results.

The campaign is now facing opposition by anti-choice organizations and the Catholic Church — not only challenging their efforts to expand access to abortion — but also trying to criminalize abortion without exception. These groups launched a counter-campaign to collect signatures in favor of a legislative initiative to promote the “right to be born” for every “child.” There is also a push in Congress to challenge the existing law that permits abortion to save the life or health of the woman, which has been the law in Peru since 1924. If opponents succeed, the Peruvian government would favor the rights of a fetus over the rights of women.

The  Déjala Decidir campaign intends to present its proposal and corresponding signatures to Congress for debate in early 2014. In the meantime, PROMSEX and its colleagues will continue to educate legislators about the importance of choice for victims of sexual violence.

While our colleagues face considerable challenges, they’ve already achieved an important victory by far exceeding the number of signatures required to push for a debate on the decriminalization of abortion in the case of rape, while also raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence in Peru and educating the population on why choice for victims of rape is critical. This achievement disproves anti-choice groups’ claims that Peru is a society that opposes abortion in all cases. Widespread support for the campaign has moved public opinion in favor of greater rights for women and increased public awareness of sexual violence.  

We and our partners hope the campaign will ultimately result in greater recognition of the reproductive rights of Peruvian women.

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