Confederación Nacional de Mujeres Organizadas por la Vida y el Desarrollo Integral (CONAMOVIDI)
This case is based on an interview with Relinda Sosa, President of CONAMOVIDI, on March 5, 2021.
Lima is the administrative capital and largest city in Peru. The area around Lima has been settled for thousands of years, dating back to Pre-Inca and Inca times. The historic center of the city, established in 16th century by Spanish colonists, was designated a World Heritage site in 1988: “Although severely damaged by earthquakes, this ‘City of the Kings’ was, until the middle of the 18th century the capital and most important city of the Spanish dominions in South America (https://www.britannica.com/place/Lima/History).
As the financial and industrial center, Lima has grown rapidly since the 1940s with mass migration from the rural areas. A large proportion of the residents in Lima live in informal settlements on the outskirts of the city, often built through planned ‘invasions’ by organized groups of poor migrants on unused land or hillsides, and in urban slum tenements. Unable to deal with the magnitude of low-income housing shortage, the government eventually provided titles, security of tenure and basic infrastructure to the residents. The residents of “barriadas”" or “pueblos jóvenes” still live in precarious conditions, in poorly constructed buildings and often without sufficient access to clean and fresh water, food or health facilities. The city is vulnerable to earthquakes and impacts of climate change with increasing problems of air quality and shortage of water resources.
La Confederación Nacional de Mujeres Organizadas por la Vida y el Desarrollo Integral (CONAMOVIDI)
CONAMOVIDI is a grassroots social organization at the national level, comprising 58 provincial organizations from 17 regions of Peru. Its work has focused on leadership strengthening, governance and community resilience, and especially on women’s empowerment as agents of change. The organization set the transformation of traditional decision-making in politics as the main strategic goal. CONAMOVIDI arises in the process of political and administrative decentralization, for which the transformation of traditional decision-making in politics was set as the main strategic objective, through the participation of its leaders in coordination with other actors at the local and national level, in dialogue and agreement platforms and participation mechanisms established by legislation, and others initiated by civil society. This included training through forums, seminars, training, to raise the level of the exercise of their individual and collective rights by their associates, as well as the recognition of the contribution of women, including those in the soup kitchens.
Organizations use a wide range of methodologies, tools and strategies, such as "Local to local dialogue", "grassroots academy", "community mapping", "platforms'' to achieve their objectives and thereby contribute to the achievement of the relevant goals of the Sustainable Development Goals, the SENDAI framework and the New Urban Agenda. Having joined the Huairou Commission (HC) in 2008, HC appealed to CONAMOVIDI promoting women as leaders at the community, national, regional and global levels, including strengthening the capacities of grassroots women and supporting economic empowerment''. (https://huairou.org/latin-america-2/).
Vision, Mission and Guiding Principles
Our vision is precisely to be a reference and advocacy organization that impacts public policies, contributing to democracy, social justice, gender equality, in order to improve the living conditions of the population that needs it most, especially the women. Our mission: We are a decentralized, autonomous, sustainable organization with proactive women leaders, recognized by the state and civil society, for the defense of the fundamental rights of women in the family, community and society. A permanent goal is to be able to be spokespersons because our country, like many in the Latin American region, has an elitist structure of political power. Organizing here is a very important strategy, and that is our first framework. We are governed mainly by principles of solidarity and democracy, management capacity and, above all, by mutual respect. Intercultural approaches to our diversity in our country are present in our organizations, and so, it's obvious that the gender approach has been quite a process to understand, recognize, and adopt. Because of the cultural patterns and all that, it's not as simple as theorizing, or just giving a recipe. So, little by little we're trying to be inclusive, but also with respect and understanding. For example, if I was asked about gender focus or sexual diversity 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything. I did not have many arguments to oppose or accept because we come from a tradition that did not have the information and, on the contrary, we had myths and taboos in mind. Broadly speaking, our principles are especially democratic, and political independence has been very important for us.
CONAMOVIDI is a national-level social organization, whose members are provincial and district organizations that articulate and represent soup kitchens, and other local organizations that develop social and productive activities (violence prevention, health promoters, economic ventures) are also members. Membership requirements include being an organization that has basic documents such as minute book, register or membership list (this generally applies to soup kitchens) and a board of directors, and share the objectives of the organization, commit to recognize and accept the statute and other internal regulations. The contributions of the membership are determined in assembly, and those in charge of applying are the president and the board of directors of the organization, they are also considered according to the resources of each organization.
In Peru there are 13,600 Soup Kitchen, which feed more than 800 thousand people. CONAMOVIDI represents 4,500 through provincial and district organizations, the operation of the organization is sustained by the proactivity of 380 women, who are the leaders of the soup kitchens. 250 of them represent the soup kitchens, 80 women are promoters of violence prevention, 30 are promoters of environmental and community resilience and 18 are promoters of anti-COVID in neighborhood committees.
CONAMOVIDI is a national confederation composed of three levels. The first level of organization is in the neighborhoods (soup kitchens and other groups) officially registered in the municipalities. The second level of the organization is the provincial one, also registered in the municipality and the third level is the national one, which is registered as a legal entity in the National Superintendency of Public Registries-SUNARP. At all levels, organizations are represented by a board of directors and have statutes that establish their organizational functioning appropriate to the context, legal representatives and a board. At all levels, there are general assemblies, which have been developed in a virtual way, but with limitations due to a weak Internet connection and the lack of equipment.
CONAMOVIDI serves 55 provinces. Most are in the southern region of Peru. Then there are those in the central region, the north region. The least coverage is in the Amazonian region. A greater percentage of the soup kitchens are located in communities in urban rather than in rural areas.
Space, Budget and main sources of funding
CONAMOVIDI does not own its space. It is provided by one of its members in Lima. Currently CONAMOVIDI does not have specific financing. However, it receives funding from the Huairou Commission (HC), to work jointly with the partner organizations of the Red Groots Peru. It also works in association with other organizations in specific thematic areas, the volunteer work of the leaders constitutes the main counterpart of the organization.
Local, regional, national or international coalitions and partners
CONAMOVIDI trabaja con la Comisión Huairou (HC) y ha establecido la RED GROOTS PERU con la Central de Bancos Comunales, la Red de Mujeres de Lima Este y Servicios educativos el Agustino, todas socias de HC. También es socia de la Red de Economía Solidaria de Perú.
When, how and why did you join the organization?
I myself have sometimes also wondered why I joined the organization. When I came to live in this area, this was a hacienda where there was agriculture and small animals on the edge of what was the center of Lima. We had to live here so that we could access these lands with accessible credit. The commitment was to come and live even when it was not built to take care that there were no invasions, because there was? a lot of land traffic here. When I was young, I was already used to working [hard]. I was always working on something, inside or outside the home, and when I was 15 years old, I worked and studied at night and at least finished high school. Coming here, I had to look for something else to do. I found a soup kitchen, but I didn't know they even existed. I then learned that a soup kitchen was a group of people organized mainly women who provide low-cost food support. I said, we can also do this in my neighborhood where there is no soup kitchen and there are many people who are poor, do not own a home, but take care of the land.
That’s how we started but I really found pleasure when we started to have this formation that was no longer just to have something to eat, but to know our rights and share with people our problems and how to face them. Not everyone came to the soup kitchen for the same necessity, in my case it was not due to the need for food. First, it was out of curiosity, but then there came critical moments when people couldn't pay, but they would come to ask if we could give them a menu or if someone had a leftover. Since we were new, we had no support back then. Sometimes they asked us for credit, but it wasn’t enough for us to be able to buy food again for another day. I had money from my daily expenses, and I completed with the little earnings we obtained, hoping to get the money back and buy one more time for the soup kitchen.
Parallel to this process, we also had the accompaniment of the SEA (Augustine Educational Services) – a Jesuit NGO, with training, consultancies, generating spaces for reflection. I recognized that in the organization we should not limit ourselves to simply thinking about what to eat tomorrow. [Access to food] also depended on improving our environment, having policies, laws, budgets, for this we had to prepare proposals, etc.
I entered the organization in 1988 and have colleagues who started with me in the soup kitchen, and in some cases, they are still working there. Others have already left, but not all have climbed to other fields or even looked for other fields. I see it has to do with that little bug of making political and social change, the commitment that one has with people, because what do we gain from this? In our case, it is learning, experience, recognition, but we also invest a lot of our time. I was one of the members of the organizing committee setting up the National Organization (and its first president). We were a team of 10 or 12 leaders that had a very clear idea of organizing ourselves [around the food issue] because it was a political strategy.
We have delineated the functions of the organization in national space. For example, the national leaders are much busier [with advocacy], making political impact on the rules and policies that are directly linked to our territory. In CONAMOVIDI, It is not enough to work for food programs for the vulnerable and poor population, because the right to food also includes agriculture in all its stages, and in these times family farming is very important. For example, in urban areas, there is no production, but there are populations that require, especially now in the middle of the pandemic, food assistance. In the production areas, they need support for production and mechanisms. We are very clear about these issues and that we could not do anything up there with the Ministers if we were not linked to the grassroots.
To understand the logic of it, we started the soup kitchens in a context of economic crisis, job layoffs, business wars, etc. The crisis did not end suddenly or quickly, even though initially we thought this would be a transitional thing. Soup kitchens, especially in urban areas, face a situation more related to concern with food, meaning putting a plate of food on the table. The law that talks about caring for the population in poverty was proposed as a strategy for the State to subsidize food with soup kitchens and locally produced food, but what does this imply? That the State itself has to promote the local economy fairly with programs, in this case, which are food assistance based. That's our first starting point, and that has worked, not 100%, but that's another story that I wouldn't have enough time to tell you.
On the other hand, we have always been allies of the farmers' associations. At the end of 2007 and 2008, we began to organize a series of events with the Congress and different peasant organizations, farmers. Our main ally was a congresswoman who represented the peasant movement and who led the agenda on food security and sovereignty. We managed to join other congressmen, achieving a political impact in the political-legislative sphere, resulting in the approval of Law No. 30355 family farming.
In the countryside, women now recognize the soup kitchens. This doesn't mean that they live out of the soup kitchens because it is only a support, However, because they are not large landowners or large farmers with sufficient land, they produce on a small and medium scale and fit in a very concrete way. In other words, they complement each other and even more as allies in policies, in this case of family farming. The other strategy that is always present is bringing consumers and producers closer to the local markets, which we do with other guilds.
Foundation and evolution of CONAMOVIDI and the role of women
Although CONAMOVIDI emerged in 2005, it was an accumulation of many experiences. From the first self-managing soup kitchens that emerged in the late 1970, it has been quite a process. I will mention three big milestones since the late 1970s when soup kitchens started in a context of economic crisis. In 1986, there was a first meeting of leaders of self-managed soup kitchens, which was promoted and supported by the Episcopal Commission for Social Action, which is an arm of the Church that has to do with civil society. The purpose of this first meeting was to socialize the work that was carried out in the soup kitchen, analyze the context and identify their needs, problems, and develop a proposal with political impact. Part of the considerations and analysis is that although the soup kitchens and self-management provided food support at a minimum cost, this situation was one of the motivations for the idea that not everything was the responsibility of civil society. For these and other reasons, some agreements emerged, of which two of them are the most important.
First, to strengthen the articulation of the self-managed and parochial soup kitchens, located in Lima and a few in provinces of other departments, in order to have a better legitimacy to dialogue and agree with the authorities, define who would represent them and their action strategy in that context. The second topic was to generate a proposal for the State to participate in the responsibility of feeding the population living in poverty.
In 1990, soup kitchens faced a series of difficulties. In addition to the political violence that had come from the 80s, we had to face the impact of the economic "shock", which generated a food crisis, which was addressed by women through popular soup kitchens, the same ones that had to double the food rations due to the demand of families for food. The government created an emergency program to deliver food products to the soup kitchens and its cost could be minimized, but the work for women was doubled. Even so, the first five years of the Fujimori  the government was interesting because the organization achieved recognition, political influence, etc. After a year of the economic shock, in which we were slowly recovering, in October 1991 the Federation of popular and self-managed canteens of Lima and Callao-FEMOCCPALC was formed.
In December 1991, after a series of comings and goings and rejections from the government, they approved a proposal, which to date is known as the Law of Grassroots Social Organizations, and for some, even more specifically, it is the Law of Popular Soup Kitchens. This was the law that established that the State effectively recognized and contributed to the budget. The law indicates 65% for each food ration, and this translates in approximately 20 percent of what it costs to produce a ration. We did it after a period of social violence where the organizations had to lower their profile, that is, their proactivity. However, I must confess that I was excited because I heard some colleagues speak, discuss with great confidence before the authorities.
Resuming the creation of the FEMOCCPALC, In October 1991, the Federation of Self-managed Soup Kitchens of Lima was established. Why couldn't a national approach be achieved? To be national, you had to have affiliates to provincial-level organizations from the other departments and it was not possible, because there was much more tension in the regions, especially in the south, so Lima was prioritized. Both the advocacy process to achieve Law 25307 was led by the national soup kitchen commission, work commissions and the participation of grassroots groups despite the lags of political violence.
The decade of the 90s could be divided in two stages, the first with what was shared in the previous comments and the second was very complicated by the second Fujimori government, which was characterized by authoritarianism and by the co-optation of social leaders, opposing its guidelines for political patronage. In particular, the leaders of the soup kitchens were targeted with sanctions and cuts to the food program, for attending the events in support of re-election, among other attitudes that we rejected, with complaints in the few independent media that resisted in defense of democracy
As mentioned earlier, one of the things that I value is that we not only take care of cooking, there are some NGOs that provide training on citizenship, leadership, etc. In our case, the district of El Agustino and others in East Lima had training courses from the SEA (Father Francisco told me to do work for our community is not only praying, it is fighting for those who need it most) and in other districts also from other Institutions. But the universe of members of soup kitchens is so wide that not all had these opportunities to access political training, to know their rights, to know what ethics means. At the beginning I was also unaware of the meaning of these words. What I mean is that in these conditions there were people more vulnerable to being manipulated, and they were taken advantage of by some officials and politicians, making them believe that accessing some social program was because “someone managed it to be good people and to do us a favor”, therefore, we had to be grateful and supportive and we should not disagree. However, we were clear in our position, so we fought to defend the right to food and reject the use of poverty for political purposes, we also demanded respect for the autonomy of the organization, as well as the freedom to make a political choice. It was difficult to plan and have a clear approach to the future, as our country was experiencing a political and social crisis, so the objective was to recover democracy and institutionality, an objective that was achieved with a transitional government in 2000, thereby banishing the 3rd Fujimori government. Of course, here there was a national commitment of social and political organizations, of which we were part. In this new scenario we resumed our project to establish CONAMOVIDI.
We got support from Oxfam International . They had always supported us through NGOs or the parish, but at that time, they supported us directly. We did a project that allowed us to get to the regions outside Lima that were 20- 24 hours away by bus. So, we elected an organizing committee for the creation of a national body. I was an adviser, and so, I didn’t join the committee, but I advised them and did the Department level consultations . Visits were made to the regions of Cusco, Puno, Moquegua, Arequipa, Junín and several others to the north, as well as the East and South. And we managed to add 40 provincial organizations between the end of 2000 to 2004. Then, as a result of this visit, in January 2005, we had the first National Convention of Social Organizations. Other organizations had always visited the regions, but never returned. They asked us many times if we were really an organization or if we were in a political campaign for some party. They always asked us that. They had a lot of doubts. We would tell them, for example, “I am from this political party, but to be more transparent, now I don't mind being part of the party. Now I'm interested in women being united.”
We had this gathering in Lima, the Convention with the 40 organizations that I told you about.
That was the first forum of national context, knowing where we were in the context, what our chances were, identifying our problems and needs. The challenge was to make them into achievable goals, or at least achieve the political position that was needed as an organization, which was not a partisan political position, but a form of social movement position. At that moment, the organization was constituted, and I was the first president. That is how we constituted ourselves.
It was well received by different organizations that already knew us personally because of our Lima experience. Some of us are migrants from the Andean or Amazonian area, and it is not the same as being from the capital. Being a migrant, you get ‘soaked’ much faster with the logic and the language of the people. I think that also helped a lot. During the first years we didn't have projects because the little funding they gave us was to form the organization, not to work on projects. Some NGOs invited us and incorporated us into their projects through political participation, citizen participation, etc. All those first steps were honestly very wonderful because at the same time, the country was going through decentralization. The first things that were decentralized were the programs aimed at the soup kitchens. In the provinces, people did not know that there was a law that created the food program and that our predecessors were responsible for its approval. The law also gave rise to a participation mechanism, which was not something that their mayor was giving them. Then you can imagine when the municipalities found out. Some of them didn't like us, but others did. We said we needed 40 women from the organizations to introduce them as official spokespersons. The women were doing the job. Some became partners with CONAMOVIDI because these were sometimes temporary jobs. They're not permanent, but the organization is a home for us all. We had social workers, technicians, experts in more technical or academic subjects, but [their knowledge needed to be complemented] as they say, “from the office” because they didn't always have a lot of field experience.
Things have changed in the sense that a lot of women are no longer in the same soup kitchen. They are no longer the leaders of the soup kitchen, but they are partners of the organization and they have positions of representation, such as councilwoman, both at the provincial level and at the regional level. They have been able to assume these positions because they have gained experience. I call this the first stage of political training because although we trained, the learning was greater - "learning by doing and learning among peers'. They were empowered and were able to defend their rights. However, I do believe the organization has achieved something very important in this country: political independence from all governments and election campaigns. Why is [independence from party politics] so important? Because if we support one and if the other whom you didn't support wins, they don’t consider you the same way. So, we never gave political support as an organization and make it clear that, as individuals, we may be committed but we cannot suspend the organization if there is no agreement on it. Right now, we are preparing for a meeting with all the candidates so that they listen to our suggestions and explain to us how they will respond to our proposals and demands, although we know they sometimes forget when they are in office, and everything they committed to are lies.
It happened to us with [the former president Alejandro] Toledo  in 2001. He pledged to make amendments to the legislation, and we even made him sign an Agreement to implement it during the first three or four months. Half a year passed, and he did not do it, but was always telling us later and later. But it never happened. After many months, we showed up in front of the Ministries and the Congress. Then, in less than 24 hours, he called us and delegated it to the Ministry. I was lucky because at that time I was able to be part of the advisory team to that legislation.
Nothing was given to us easily, we had to fight for it. That is how I think we can make change happen. Not only us, but other organizations as well. There is a bad practice of some politicians to think that organizations should limit themselves to receiving support and their actions are not promoted with agents of change, in proposal, surveillance, etc. There are times when obstacles are created, which sometimes makes it difficult for citizens to act. I myself was a candidate for Congress for a while, and when I went to sectors where I thought there might be people who could understand the proposal we had, the first thing they asked me was if I had brought a little gift for them. That hurt my liver. That's why I never wanted to run again because I knew I wasn't going to make it. Still, I did want to know the inside, but I just didn't have the support of the party because, of course, I wasn't their militant. I also realized that they don't always value work. To date, I have 30 years of work in the community, and I have done a thousand things. But in a political campaign, you are worth everything you have, not how much you have done. That’s the reality, and that tells me we have to be very cautious in our organization, and opportunism does not always have good results. So, you have to have a plan A and a plan B, and if you commit to someone you have to know what happens, what responsibilities are assumed and of course what expenses you will have, and what happens if it is fulfilled.
That's a little bit of our philosophy, our values. You could also say we have achieved a change in people's perception. The people in the province thought [soup kitchens program] was all a gift, and that everything was out of good will. They now know their rights, and they have moved on to other spheres. That’s why we have generated networks of legal counselors that help the victims in proceedings. It has certainly been affected in this time of the pandemic. We also have organizers who work on resilience and climate change. We have a very wide network with each leader running her own group because it would be impossible to get to everyone. This is the position of CONAMOVIDI at the national level.
Major achievements and challenges
We have always been agents of change and contributed to policies and their implementation at the community level, in neighborhoods, and at the provincial and regional levels. We have been able to contribute at the local, provincial, and national levels. Obviously, we don't always do it alone, but we’ve had greater leadership because of this way of seeing and recognizing ourselves as an organization with individual and collective rights. Above all, I always remind my colleagues and my partners not to forget that we are an organization of citizens, not beneficiaries of programs. They want to typecast us as a social service program, and therefore, only look at us as that. We have succeeded in internalizing this concept of women’s rights in the authorities. I have been told by many that most of the authorities know now who the women of CONAMOVIDI are.
We were stakeholders and active participants of the gender policy that was passed two years ago. Our country has always had a gender equality plan that was updated every five years, but there is now a gender policy. We have always contributed. Our contribution is reflected in the plans, but also in gender politics. There is a stigma of us coming from the soup kitchens but the fact that they considered us there, was also a way of recognizing us.
Then between 1998 and 1999, we managed to have an Agreement with the Judiciary to train and educate accredited judicial organizers to be authorized by the Power of Attorney. We achieved this Agreement because we had legal status, which is a requirement to formalize agreements [with the government]. During the pandemic itself, together with three other groups of organizations, we lobbied for making sanitary protection materials part of the state budget. We wanted health kits for women in the soup kitchens. We did this through our Working Meetings that have been recognized at the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion as well. We wanted them to subsidize these items for the last six months of 2020 but got three. We also got an additional budget to increase more beneficiaries and we continue working for more budget, due to the increase in people who need food, as a result of the pandemic.
That may be an obvious issue that the state does not foresee because it is thought that women are immune to everything. They are on the front lines, the soup kitchens never stopped cooking. But the State was so delayed in providing sanitary protection elements, so they became additional expenses for people who have lost all their work. That has been embodied as a standard form of process. We are in the process of revision and regularization of everything that goes into the process of buying food, which is also bureaucratic. What can I do if I am in an emergency, and today I need to eat, but it turns out that the food will be purchased in two months’ time? We don’t agree with that and we're in that process with alliances. Those are some concrete achievements that we have had in this time. As part of another Working Meeting at the level of the municipality of Lima, which is the capital, we have also contributed to an advocacy process for the issue of a congressional rule where in the context of the emergency, the soup kitchens are given attention during the pandemic as a strategy of food care. We are in a pandemic and a food health crisis. People are starving to death in the streets. They go out to work despite the pandemic because they do not have anything to eat, but the standards for buying food continue as if nothing had happened.
This rule recognizes the role of soup kitchens in a context of disasters such as the pandemic, because this health emergency situation has triggered a food emergency and requires agile purchasing mechanisms. You cannot continue buying food for the soup kitchens, as if we were in normal times as if nothing happened. We hope that this standard will improve the response to the food needs in this time of pandemic. We know risk management standards and we work on it from a community resilience perspective.
We do these advocacy processes in meetings with different authorities, congress, ministries, and others. Although we have earned rights, we must monitor for compliance. We do not stay waiting, rather we advocate to be part of the dialogues and decision making, because we know that the obstacles are always there. One obstacle is the issue of bureaucracy, another is political patronage, as well as the resistance of the state government to make budget decisions. Obviously, the geography of our country offers us many opportunities to buy local products, in other cases it is an obstacle because it is distant, expansive and difficult to access. We do not have a budget to mobilize all the leaders and expand the work on site. Today, thanks to networks and social networks, we have been able to maintain it. It's obviously not the same as being there in person, but at least we can keep this process going.
Coalitions and community and citywide planning activities
Locally, we are affiliated with the Peru Solidarity Economy Network. We share the principles of social, care, non-profit work, and solidarity economy based on producing and consuming ethically and responsibly. We are also part of the World March of Women, which is a global feminist network. Despite the resistance of authorities to citizen participation, we have as allies some local governments (municipal employees, mayors, etc.). Our leaders are always seeking the way to establish dialogues, create a platform with various stakeholders, and we seek to sustain these alliances.
We’ve always had allies, but those commitments were made because of decentralization. We had the Ministry of Women that was the governing body of social programs at the time. Nowadays there is a ministry specifically for that. We organize events in the regions and coordinate with officials of the Ministry. So, you can imagine that in the provinces, women and the mayors themselves thought that we, too, were representatives of the Ministry. They gave [us] a terrific reception, because it served them. The only thing the official had to do was sometimes just to endorse what we said. One even told us, “I just came for a walk, because you know everything, and you do everything.” So, if I have to say that everything's okay, it is okay, but well, we are doing the job. The ministry was a good ally back then. We issued standards, we changed laws. Otherwise here laws are made thinking only about the Capital.
Nowadays everything is digital, but in that time, [it wasn’t, but] we had already created an app for everyone to enter their soup kitchens beneficiaries. While in Lima, with all the access to information, they could achieve it, rural areas did not have enough broadband access to the Internet. They also were not trained for the use of that app. Someone in the ministry told me that they trained the officials. But the notification for the training came to us yesterday and the appointment date was three days ago. With all of these arguments and photos and everything, we asked the Ministry for a meeting. Immediately they gave us an extension of three months, or six months depending on the case. Honestly, that gave me a lot of satisfaction. We got the support of NGOSs, but the education was difficult in general.
I really believe that a problem we have today is not being able to systematize [information collection on the impact of our work]. In general, the participation of organizations is mostly in the urban areas, such as in Lima where I can monitor them more closely, and there is greater intervention in the territory. For example, the neighborhood management groups have to deal with all the basic services: water, light, etc. And in the context of Covid, a strategy promoted by the government was to establish anti-Covid neighborhood committees. Three organizations, both the network and the communal banks, participate in the Cadel Agustino district. We also have colleagues who are included in those committees around issues of care and health in districts in the northern region, like San Martin and Carabayllo. They have more plans, but they need more government support, especially in areas where services are missing, of course. Perhaps we need to collect the information more systematically to show precisely, the strengths and how to better support the groups. We don't have enough people to do all that work, because of the scale in which we work, which is quite large. Sometimes we try to identify the impact that has to be made by the organization, but it’s difficult.
With the Huairou Commission, we are supporting the preparation of a plan mainly for Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Ecuador for the next five years, evaluating the impact of Covid and determining response strategies. The Huairou Commission has several allies from the United Nations agencies, UN Habitat, UN Women, Risk Management Strategy, FAO, etc. That's a little bit about our alliances. Today, I prefer working on mobilization issues and on making strategies around leadership building. That’s our strength, and if it weren’t for that, I would get involved in more things.
Planning / advocacy related to climate change and disasters
We are participating in a project being developed in the South. There are some difficulties at the local government level because they have not yet finished recovering from the earthquake of 2007. Now because of COVID, it has slowed down, and there is no regular practice of institutionalizing processes and agreements. Here in the capital, as well as in Lambayeque, we are developing some strategies and implementing urban orchards and community gardens with organic products, free of GMO. We’ve tried involving the local authorities, but it's a pretty fragile process because officials change and not much progress is made.
There have been projects with better success, for example here in El Agustino, where they are developing organic bio-orchards and hydroponics with the municipality as an ally. At least they have influenced agencies at the municipal level, but in the Ministries, you have to be accredited and compete with the big NGOs.
The real impact [of the pandemic] isn't just what we hear on the news; that is only half of what really happens. It's still terrible, and people have no idea about the issues of organizations, like soup kitchens. More than a hundred leaders have passed away. We don't know how many more because we're talking about the ones that are kitchen soup presidents. We don't have an accurate count because obviously not everyone tells if they had COVID. I do not know which is worse, the impact on health or the food crisis that due to the economic impact affects the poorest and the new poor that the pandemic has produced. The population statistics indicate more than 50 percent initially, but how many informal workers have not been taken into account? They also contribute to the economy. For example, my neighborhood appears urbanized with services, but in each house, there are four or five families. Some of them are owners, but in many other cases they are tenants and informal workers. That is hidden poverty that has worsened because they are precisely informal workers.
That's where more attention is needed. In the case of soup kitchens, they provide food at a basic cost, but they can't give it for free because we don’t have additional subsidies. It has no income, but you have to listen to the story of how every family has been impacted. There are whole families that have died, young families. There are many children who have been orphaned. We have neighborhoods, “Quintas”, where whole families got COVID, and no one left their homes. They delivered baskets to those families so that they wouldn't go out and infect the others. I know several people that received oxygen tanks at their homes and in many cases, they are not in the statistics. For example, a woman had to be cared for at home by a nurse for ten days, out of fear of going to the hospital. People die in the hospitals because there are no beds, no ICUs and no oxygen, nothing. As a grassroots organization, we have implemented some minimal economic initiatives because in the urban area there is not much land available. We give out small credits, but with the pandemic we have suspended the provision of those credits because people do not have work, they don’t have anything really, they are just thinking about surviving.
Plans for the future and long-term sustainability of the organization
We are in the process of collecting and evaluating all our experiences and making a plan with our allies, and prioritizing some strategies, such as the issue of women's economic empowerment. The state's support is transparent so that people know what to commit to. I think that if women had access to work and had resources available, soup kitchens wouldn’t be in such demand. We are trying to evaluate the situation in some pilot districts in order to start these economic initiatives. Several programs are emerging from the state, but they are temporary. Even if they are temporary and directed to the population affected by COVID, they must also have a share for women because they are always left behind. They carry the burden of the family at home. Our plan is to make more alliances with local authorities to help economic empowerment. There are women who have been deeply affected, but in some cases, there have been opportunities to find a way to do business.
Older women sometimes have resistance to digital technology, but those that are a little younger have developed businesses selling cleaning or protection products on Facebook. Others have ventured into food and meals. For example, we have a partner who has an online training on how to make healthy food products, and it did very well until she got sick with COVID. She is already coming out of that, and she did not lose hope of getting back because everything is done online. That wasn't possible before, but she trained herself. We talked about those successful experiences and how to systematize them so that they can be promoted and refer colleagues. This pandemic has made us see what works and what doesn't.
Lessons from CONAMOVIDI’s experiences
One thing people should learn is more constant and permanent leadership capacity in the process of social control. The other issue is the ability for women to negotiate at the local level and to implement, not only aid, but also how to give continuity to their initiatives. Many have built community gardens, for example, in the peripheral areas where they have more space. They are not too large but are at least about 50 or 70 [square] meters. For example, we told those with community gardens, “If you can get organized, you can strengthen that space.” It is already an income, an economic means, and families can support themselves with that.
I am also thinking of lessons learned about supporting each other. In the urban area it is not possible to have a big business, but perhaps, it could be a kind of cooperative and complementary economic activity. We also have groups in the rural area outside Lima, that belong to the province of Lima. They are already starting their agriculture production, and they will continue with breeding smaller animals that can be sent to the market. We are addressing the health food sector and its economic aspects.
What makes a women-led organization unique?
"Due to the configuration of society, women are the ones who spend most time with the families and in the community, therefore they know it better than men who often only sleep in the area and then go to work far away...Despite their position, though, and due to the macho culture that exists in Latin America, women are often invisible. This is why we are working to ensure they are involved in the planning process, because of the data and knowledge they have." (http://www.wunrn.org/news/2014/10_14/10_06/100614_women.htm)
Women’s experiences are articulated in their spaces. These are women's organizations, so that's where the freedom of speech, opinion, politics and autonomy of the organization appears. That is a collective right, but also an individual right. We have fought for that a lot. In the case of CONAMOVIDI, the soup kitchens are not only a place for serving food to poor people; it is an organization.
First, this [food from soup kitchens] is a free constitutional right to everyone. Second, women or families who are in extreme poverty are concerned about what they eat and how they are going to live day to day. They do not have good cell phones to communicate, which nowadays is a need. Since they do not have stable economic conditions, they do not have time to train.
We grassroots women contribute to a series of gender policies, social policies, health policies, governance, etc. The contributions are diverse and our partners in the provinces also do the same. We see things differently and there are still many barriers to overcome, many challenges, but we are in that process.
 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberto_Fujimori (1990-2000)
 Oxfam International is “a global movement of people who are fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice. Across regions from the local to the global, we work with people to bring change that lasts. Our work is grounded in the commitment to the universality of human rights. Driven by diversity and founding our asks in evidence and experience, we take sides against poverty and injustice everywhere. Feminist approaches guide all our analysis, action and interaction.” (https://www.oxfam.org/en/what-we-do/about )
 Peru was divided into 24 departments (departamentos; singular: departamento) until the creation of the regions in 2002. These regions are governed by Regional Governments. Many people still use the old departamentos term when referring to the current regions of Peru, although it is now obsolete. Peru's territory, according to the Regionalization Law, which was passed on November 18, 2002, is divided into 26 units: 25 regions (regiones; singular: región) and the Lima Province. The regions are subdivided into provinces (provincias), which are composed of districts (distritos). There are 196 provinces and 1,869 districts in Peru (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Administrative_divisions_of_Peru).