In 1999, a handful of Quechua-speaking women in Cusco, Peru banded together to support victims of domestic violence and those in dire need. Las Defensoras (defenders) handled complaints of domestic abuse and sexual harassment, offered counseling, helped file legal paperwork, and sought out whatever assistance was available for those living in extreme poverty. Most of the victims were (and continue to be) poor indigenous women and children trapped in the pueblos jóvenes (shantytowns) around the city. It is here that the defensoras do battle on a daily basis, walking the dirt streets the tourists never see.
Prior to 2000 it was estimated that a third of Cusco’s residents lived in the slums and that up to 70% of the female Quechua population were sufferers of domestic abuse who never came forward. Many simply did not know they had the option.
Today, Peru’s Defensorías Comunitarias (community defense) number over 35,000 women who have grown their volunteer organization to a national level. These remarkable ladies continue to provide a first line of defense, reaching out to those who do not yet know how to take that initial step in controlling their own lives.