When choosing to come to Peru, not only was I expecting long black braids, colorful fabrics and Andean music. I was also expecting a good doses of sexism.

A man overlooking the cattle market in Cajamarca

Every day, I’m ready to answer the routine questions: Aren’t you married? Don’t you have children? Are you traveling alone? Aren’t you scared?

It is unthinkable, for the average Peruvian, that at the age of 28 I’m still single and intending to be for a veeeery long time. No, I’m not married. No, I don’t have children. Yes, I’m traveling all by myself and no, I’m not scared at all.

Me (nos scared at all) in Chan Chan

It becomes annoying to always reply to the same questions, but truth is that Italy and Peru are culturally very far away, and I have to deal with it while traveling.

In a country where it is totally normal for girls to be mother at 16 and granny at 35, the surprise for my status is understandable.

A sixteen years old and her baby in Laymebamba

During my traveling from Yurimaguas to Trujillo, I stopped in a small village 150 km from Moyobamba called Aguas Claras.

I went for lunch to the comedor popular, where I was served by a young lady. Seeing a gringa in the village, a woman came to talk to me while I was eating my fried fish.

What started like a random conversation between me and Olga ended up being my tentative to empower the three women sitting before me.

Carmen is 23 and mother of 3. She and her cousin Rosita, 15, have never heard of a condom. Sure, they know about contraception (the pill, nothing else), but they rarely use it.

I look at Carmen. She looks sad. I think again at my great conviction I got ever since I walked the Camino de Santiago two years ago: that you can be who you choose to be, and go as far as you want to arrive. But what sort of life can a girl like Carmen have?

It’s not the man who is sexist: it’s the woman. The woman who, like Carmen, is OK with the fact that her husband lives hundreds of kilometers away while she works her ass off to raise her three children.

It came automatic to write that the children are only hers, as fathers are an exception more than the rule, here in Peru. Men often abandon their families, and women are used to raising their children alone.

They quietly accept the fact that their husbands might just leave one day, and they rarely take into consideration the idea of having another man.

Women at the Sunday market in Cajabamba

The concept of amor serrano – más me pegas, más te quiero (translation: the more you beat me, the more I love you) is mainly spread in the highlands (la sierra). According to it, the man beating the woman is some twisted way of showing his love for her.

A couple in the village of San Pablo

Between 2013 and 2014, Peru ranked second in Latin America for femicide. The book No te mueras por mí is a collection of real letters and messages written by men looking for forgiveness after beating their partners.

The pages are filled with messages such as “it will never happen again” and “I promise this is not me”. The book, which prologue is written by the Nobel-prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, consists of two parts: the first part, printed in white paper, is full of love letters. The other half, printed in black paper, shows what happened to the victim after she received the letter. Another beating, sometimes death.

Women collecting their children from school in Los Baños del Inca

2 thoughts on “Amor Serrano: Machismo in Peru”

  1. Now I need to find that book you were writing about. I hope I can find it also in English otherwise I need to learn new language.. thank you Elena, I really enjoyed reading all the information about The relationships between men and women – so interesting! Travel & enjoy

  2. Really nice article. We experienced similar things in Guatemala, where femecide is also a huge issue. We also had an opportunity to join a protest to raise awareness about Femecide. I’ll definitely check out the book you mentioned. “Ni una más!”

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