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Setting a good example

By Chris Hufstader
A sign at the municipal offices of San Juan Bautista explains that the staff extends preferential treatment to pregnant women, elderly, and young people. Photo: Percy Ramirez/Oxfam America

Third in a series of four

Near the city of Huamanga is a smaller municipality called Jesus Nazareno. After the city of Huamanga passed a new ordinance to address racism and discrimination, Jesus Nazareno took steps to do the same in 2008.

Jesus Nazareno is a community founded by people fleeing the violence of the 1980s guerilla war. This conflict originated in the highlands of Ayacucho, and indigenous people there suffered terribly at the hands of both the Shining Path rebels and the Peruvian military. Many were survivors of horrible human rights violations. The founders of Jesus Nazareno had the protection of human rights firmly in the foundation of their new community.

“We took this initiative to create a non-discrimination ordinance to counter the prejudice against campesinos, rural people, even disabled people,” says Nancy Contreras, who works for the Jesus Nazareno government. She says the central message the municipality wants to send with the ordinance is that everyone is equal in Jesus Nazareno. “We are all the same here, poor or not poor, disabled or not.” Contreras says Jesus Nazareno wanted to take measures that would help people gain equal access to those things local government does that can help people climb out of poverty: education, health care, and assistance for disabled people and the elderly.

At a meeting of staff, regidoras and regidoros, and volunteers at the municipal office, the scope of the ordinance starts to become clear:

  • In the schools, the municipality brought in a local NGO to promote bilingual education, multiculturalism, and human rights. They recruited teachers, parents, and students to participate in special programs to encourage more students and teachers to interact in Quechua, and show that there is no shame in being an indigenous person. Parents encouraged more education in indigenous culture, and more than 30 teachers have participated in special training to encourage multicultural approaches to education. They are working with trained student leaders who help promote the program in the school.
  • In a related area, municipal purchases for school lunch programs are now broadening their sourcing of milk products to ensure indigenous dairy farmers have an opportunity to sell their milk—whether they can speak Spanish or not.
  • Jesus Nazareno requires all new buildings to have proper access for disabled people. According to Severino Ramos, a volunteer who ensures handicapped people get equal treatment at the municipal offices, this is one area where the municipality is distinguishing itself. In many towns, Ramos, who gets around much of the time in a wheelchair, says, “The ramps are more like traps.”

Part of the team

On the other side of the city of Huamanga, San Juan Bautista developed an anti-discrimination ordinance later the same year. APRODEH helped train staff at the city hall, and aired radio spots to teach citizens about the new ordinance. Since then, one regidora named Magaly Bautista, 28, says she has seen significant differences in the ways people relate to each other in the town since she took up her elected post four years ago. “They’ve changed the way they relate to people,” she says. “I’ve seen changes in people’s conduct; it’s very fulfilling to be a part of it.”

Bautista says the new ordinance has created some positive things for her personally. Coming in to office as a 24-year-old, and a representative from the opposition political party, she says, “I felt discriminated against because I am young…all the people in power were over 40, and they always put me last.”

Now, she says “I have definitely seen changes since the ordinance passed two years ago…young people have gone from being passive to taking up a dynamic role in the government. They participate more in events, and the majority of public officials are women.

“I feel part of the team, and people listen to my opinions.”