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The women of Vilcas Women’s Voices were transformed by their collective experience. Taking action together helped them find their voice in other areas of their lives. They began to feel differently about themselves and their abilities. Sometimes it wasn’t easy to convince their fathers or husbands that the changes were for the best. But gradually their relationships at home shifted, as their husbands and family members saw them take leadership. They felt valued and affirmed, and began to play a strong role in decisions at home and in their lives.
Because they focused on their group process, the members of Vilcas Women’s Voices had new ideas about power. They became used to challenging authority and making sure that everyone had an equal voice. Women who could not read or write, or who did not speak Spanish, all felt their ideas were as valuable as anyone else’s ideas. Over time, more youth became involved in community health efforts which strengthened their role as community leaders in general.
Some of the important lessons that the women learned in the process of organizing in their community were:
- value people as the most important resource. Look for them, don’t make them look for you! Talk with women at home and in places where they normally gather, such as markets, bus stops, schools, workplaces, and water sources. Respect each person’s ideas, traditions, and decisions.
- help women help themselves. Listen to women’s concerns, needs and wisdom, and help them identify their own solutions. Plan with, and not for, others, without imposing one idea over any other.
- share knowledge. Learn from those you help, and share what knowledge you have. Help others find the information they need to solve their own problems.
- bring many groups together. Seek the support of allies, including men, youth of both genders, community leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies. Prepare to show them that everyone’s lives can be improved by working together toward common goals.
Small ideas can lead to big changes
Changes that begin with a single community can also spread and inspire others far away. Sometimes one small group’s efforts grow to become a movement for major changes in the world.
Peru’s Health Ministry adopts Quechua women’s traditions. Vilcas Women’s Voices was not the only group in Peru advocating for safe pregnancy and birth care that respected Quechua women’s culture and traditions. Other organizations and health workers also began to see that women’s lives could be saved by making health services comfortable and welcoming for all women, and by combining medical skills with women’s traditions. Since 2005, women in some parts of Peru can choose to observe traditional customs while giving birth in health centers. The Health Ministry supplies birthing stools and requires that medical staff be trained to provide what it calls "vertical childbirth." There are Safe Motherhood Houses in more than 500 communities. Today, more rural Quechua women are going to health centers for care, and fewer women are dying from childbirth-related causes.
Safe motherhood is a human right
Grassroots activists, together with health workers, political leaders, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), advocated for a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on safe motherhood. Stories from communities like Vilcashuamán convinced people that the preventable death of a pregnant woman is not only a tragedy, but also a violation of her human rights.