In honour of International Women’s Day this year, we are profiling 4 incredible women who inspire us. In their own way, each one is proving to the world that women hold the keys to change and progress – by leading their communities to prosperity; championing cultural heritage in contemporary fashion; fighting for indigenous rights; and standing up to corporate bullies.
RUPERTA CONDORI MERMA
Ruperta is one of the weavers we work with at Threads of Peru. I love to tell the story of how we met, way back in 2012, a moment of serendipity that sparked a deep relationship of trust and friendship with our organization.
Ruperta never ceases to inspire me. She is a leader in her community and an incredible powerhouse of personal and physical strength. At 53 years of age, she grew up at a time when girls did not go to high school and even boys were unlikely to go beyond grade school. Nevertheless, she worked hard and learned to speak and write in Spanish on her own before beginning her family of 8 children. Her dedication gave her a set of basic skills that helped her to stand apart from her peers and be an inspiration to them.
She now dedicates herself to leading a group of women weavers called Awaq Mayki in their community – Upis, one of the most remote in the Andes, at the foot of the revered Ausangate mountain – and dedicate herself to promoting their craft.
Currently, we have Senkapa and Wato bracelets made by Ruperta and her group, as well as Tika pompoms, but we’re super excited to soon launch a new line of cushions that highlight the special weaving techniques they’re famous for!
As a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to promoting traditional culture and economic opportunities for rural, indigenous women in the Peruvian Andes, we at Threads of Peru just love Meche Correa’s dedication to highlighting Peru’s cultural heritage in her contemporary designs.
Meche (a nickname for Mercedes) has worked for the last 25 years creating beautiful designs that incorporate traditional weaving and embroidery, bringing the centuries-old textile culture of Peru – from the highlands and the jungle – to the runway. Her pieces are modern and highly fashionable, yet still embody the spirit of the culture behind them.
Working with artisans is extremely important to her. It’s more than just a business relationship, but a personal commitment. As she commented for an article in Nueva Mujer, “Many of these communities are very poor, and for me, it’s more than a commitment, it’s about not abandoning them, and continuing to send them pieces to make.”
We couldn’t agree more. The work we do with artisans is not about employing a labourer. It’s about building and maintaining relationships. It’s about building strong communities, and strengthening cultural traditions.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an incredible inspiration to the people of Guatemala, and indigenous communities across the globe. Of K’iche’ Maya descent, Rigoberta was born and raised in a small community in Northern Guatemala. As a young person, she campaigned against the violence perpetrated by the Guatemalan army during the country’s 36-year civil war, continuing to lead resistance even while in exile in Mexico. She has since continued to champion indigenous rights and indigenous feminism, even forming an indigenous political party in order to give voice to the plight of indigenous communities in her country.
Showing tremendous courage and an unflagging spirit, Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, among other awards, “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation”. Her work and dedication to promoting indigenous rights is a true inspiration for us.
Closer to home, in the northern region of Cajamarca, Peru, Maxima Acuña demonstrates the power that a single individual has to make change by standing up for her rights. Like the artisans that we work with around Cusco, Maxima is a weaver and subsistence farmer, relying on her income as an artisan and on the produce her family grows for her living.
Since the mid-2000s, she has been locked in a legal battle with local mining companies over land – her land. The mining companies want access to a nearby lake in order to expand an open pit mine, but the land already belongs to Maxima and her family. The dispute has spilled outside the courtroom and the family has suffered physical abuse and threats, and even had their house burned down – twice.
Over time, her case gained international attention and organizations like Amnesty International and the Organization of American States became involved, providing support and protection. Although the criminal charges brought against her by the mining company have been dismissed, she continues to face antagonism, vandalism, and assault of her person and property.
But she doesn’t back down. When asked about whether the threat of assassination, like that of fellow human rights activist Berta Caceres in Honduras, she replied, “this isn’t a cause of fear for me – it’s not a motive for us to stop fighting, to stop defending.”
The fight continues.