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CommunityPrevention Stories
Diego Cacho, 2018

Co-Creating Systems for Primary Prevention of Gender-Based Violence with Communities in the Peruvian Amazon

  • Developed by the community, for the community, the GAP project is a unique initiative to prevent gender-based violence (GBV) in remote, low-resource settings. The project is a partnership between the communities of the Lower Napo River, DB Peru and University College London. We use Participatory Action Research (PAR) to develop community-driven insights and interventions for the primary prevention of GBV in the Peruvian Amazon.

In the Amazon basin of Peru, up to four in every five women experience violence in their lifetime. However, remote river communities often face insurmountable barriers to access gender-based violence (GBV) prevention or response services. In the jungle, government services are severely limited or absent. Even where they exist, accessing secondary or tertiary violence prevention services is almost impossible due to geographic, economic, cultural and other systemic barriers. Therefore, ‘mainstream’ prevention and response strategies are not appropriate in this setting and do not address pressing community needs.

In these small rural Amazon communities, the division between public and private life is often less distinct than in urban areas; community identity is of great importance, and relationship networks are complex and intimate. In this context, communities require primary prevention approaches that work towards uncovering and mobilising local resources and building community responses, rather than traditional biomedical ethics approaches that tend to uphold autonomy and individuality over communal interest.

With these challenges in mind, the Gender-based violence in the Amazon of Peru (GAP, or in Spanish Violencia de Género en las Amazonas Peruanas, ViGAP) project was conceptualised in collaboration with 25 communities in the Lower Napo River in the Peruvian Amazon. The GAP project promotes local insights and mobilises local resources for GBV prevention with external support.

The Beginning

Prior to the launch of the GAP project, the extent of GBV was identified through years of working with communities in the region, and through immersive field research conducted in 2015 by our research team. Thereafter, DB Peru—a local non-profit organisation with over 15 years of experience working with the community—held a meeting with local leaders and promotores (lay community health workers) to discuss the situation. It emerged that the communities were concerned about violence and wanted to do something about it. Following a brainstorming with leaders from 25 communities, we decided to develop a promotor-led community mobilisation and education programme to target GBV in the Lower Napo River Communities. Supported by DB Peru and University College London, the promotores have used a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach to tackle GBV through community mobilisation and education.

The Peruvian Amazon Context

We work with the communities of the Lower Napo River, a group of 25 villages comprising around 5,000 inhabitants, about four hours upriver from Mazan. Each community consists of around 200 people who live a predominantly subsistence agricultural life. Although they have Indigenous heritage, many identify as mestizo ribereños. Most live in severe poverty and do not have access to running water or toilets. The highest level of education for 83% of women we surveyed was at or below primary level. These conditions are not unique to the Lower Napo River; the majority of ribereño communities in the Amazon basin live in comparable circumstances.

In the Peruvian Amazon, the high rates of GBV reflect historical events of colonisation and political marginalisation, intersecting with ethnicity, class and geography. Rural Peru has some of the world’s highest reported rates of GBV: the WHO Multi-Country Report on Women’s Health and Violence Against Women identified a lifetime prevalence of 61%. Recent figures released by the organisation Promsex showed that 79% of women, between the ages of 18 and 29, in the Amazonian port town of Mazan reported experiencing sexual violence at some point in their life. In the context of poverty and geographic remoteness, transactional and commercial sex work leaves many women vulnerable to violence and has shown to increase risks of HIV transmission.

Conceptual Framework and Activities

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a collaborative approach to study a specific issue and create social change by promoting democratic, equitable participation of researchers, practitioners and community members, in an iterative process of reflection, planning, action and evaluation. Our team has included ‘engagement and ethics’ to our PAR approach. Using PAR, the GAP team has engaged in extensive community consultation, established a context-specific ethical framework for violence prevention, identified the root causes of GBV in the communities, designed appropriate, risk-factor specific interventions, mobilised a range of local resources, and connected to broader government programmes.

So far, the GAP Project has facilitated capacity-building via in-depth 20-day leadership training for eight promotores between November 2017 and March 2019. In addition, the project has engaged with over 80 community leaders in 21 communities, and has targeted over 800 community members in eight specific LNR communities throughout the year. In total, 57 formal GAP project activities ran in eight communities during the pilot window. These activities targeted the underlying risk factors of alcohol misuse, machismo and gender norms, exposure to violence through local media, lack of knowledge on rights and values, and poverty and money management in the home.

Reflections on the Project and Next Steps

At the conclusion of the pilot year, the promotores and community leaders declared it a success. We used a number of approaches to reflect on the impact of the project including community mapping and qualitative interviews. Whilst formal results are pending, the community leaders felt that the GAP programme added value to each of the communities, enhanced knowledge about violence, improved communication between partners, reduced harmful alcohol use, and helped support great community cohesion. Due to the perceived value of the project, our team decided that we would like to find ways to continue the project. Going forward, our immediate goals are to strengthen the team of leaders and their knowledge and skills in violence prevention and community mobilisation within their own communities. Our medium to long-term goals are to expand the project to adjacent communities, and then to the whole region, strengthening community roots and building sustained government support along the way.

In summary, the GAP Project is the first primary preventative strategy for GBV in the Lower Napo River, and the first community mobilisation project of its type in Peru. To our knowledge, it is also the first project to foster a PAR approach to violence prevention in a low-resource, isolated, rural setting. Although the GAP project is located in Amazonian Peru, it has implications for other remote communities, and may be a powerful model for community health workers around the world. Most importantly, the GAP project demonstrates the positive impact of community participation in developing systems for violence prevention which value local knowledge and resources.

The GAP Team

José Diaz is a community leader from the community of Huanana, and a volunteer working with the DB Peru.

Julio Hector Bancho Tello is a community health agent of the community of San Juan de Floresta, and a leader of this project.

Iraida Sala Tuanama has been working as a promotora of San Alejandro for 11 years.

Jaime Perez Rivera is a promotor for 30 years at the community Primero de Enero.

Hernan Perez Inuma is a community health agent in Irlanda for 18 years.

Carlos Lavy is a community health agent of LIDA.

Dr Geordan Shannon is a feminist, medical doctor, and global health academic based at the UCL Institute for Global Health, Centre for Gender and Global Health and Centre for Global Health Economics.

Dr Jenevieve Mannell is a leading researcher on violence against women and girls (VAWG) in low-income countries, and is a lecturer at the Institute for Global Health at UCL.

Diana Bowie co-founded DB Peru in 2002 to improve access to healthcare and education for people living in remote areas of the Amazon.

Renzo Peña co-founded DB Peru, which represents two organisations with the same mission in the USA and in Peru.

Read more about the GAP team here.

(This story was written by Geordan Shannon)

Date published
  • 2019
  • Geordan Shannon
Published by The Prevention Collaborative