New Investment Law in Peru Undermines Rights of Indigenous Women

Date of publication: 
19 August 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new law in Peru encouraging investment in the country’s extractive industries has reignited the debate on the lack of power indigenous women have in the mostly rural societies where they often live. The International Indigenous Women’s Forum, which drew more than 60 native women from across the world to Peru last month, highlighted this important issue.

The forum coincided with the approval of Bill 3627/2013-PE by the Peruvian Congress last month; the new law that has drawn sharp criticism from both human rights and environmental groups in the country and worldwide. The law restricts audits by the Ministry of Environment, changes ecological zoning regulations, reduces the number of days for environmental impact studies to 45 and complicates the process that preserves natural areas.

Support for the law comes as Peru’s political and business elites attempt to reassure foreign investors that the country’s economy will maintain the 6 percent growth rate it has averaged over the last 10 years, amid signs that the decade-long boom may be fizzling. Specifically, the legislation aims to stimulate Peru’s sputtering mining industry — particularly copper and gold production — by creating a regulatory environment more favorable to resource extraction. It also occurs as many nations contend with ways to make the mining and oil extraction industry — primarily in Africa — more open so that income from those sources are distributed more equitably to the people and poverty is reduced.

The backlash against the Peruvian law has been passionate from representatives of Peru’s indigenous population – estimated in 2011 as approximately 13 million people — who are heavily dependent on natural resources and the surrounding environment.

“Instead of strengthening the environmental institutions, management and monitoring, these measures promote the extractive activities, reward those who violate the law, reduce fines and relax environmental standards,” the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs said in a statement.

Throughout conservation and land management policy debates, the voices of indigenous women are notoriously overlooked, even when the discussions affect these populations directly.

“For too long, women in Peru and around the world have been excluded from decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods,” said Omaira Bolaños in a press release. Bolaños is the Latin America regional program director of the Rights and Resources Initiative, which is based in Washington and helps the world’s indigenous people secure the rights to own, control and benefit from the natural resources they depend on. “Historically, governance of land and resources is one of these decisions, with perhaps the most far-reaching and devastating impact.”

Though female voices may have little to no say in policy forums overall, their role in managing and interacting with natural resources is often much greater than that of men. In rural areas of Peru, women make up a major portion of the agricultural work force and contribute to as much as 80 percent of household labor, including gathering water and firewood, tasks that require daily interaction with the natural environment.

Rural women’s proximity to natural environments means they are the most heavily impacted by changing ecosystems, either as a result of misguided land management policies or climate change, as noted in a United Nations Environment Program report, “Women at the Frontline of Climate Change.”

“Because women are at the front lines in terms of dealing with the negative effects of climate change, their voices, perspectives and action are critical to adaptation planning, long-term sustainability and building resilience to shocks and long-term climate change impacts,” Roger-Mark De Souza, the director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said in an interview with PassBlue. “Adaptation plans and community resilience will not succeed without the input of rural indigenous women.”

Support for the new law in Peru now leaves environmental and human-rights groups grasping for strategies to roll back its potentially dire effects.

“The best and perhaps the only way forward is to ensure compliance and enforcement of international norms and laws that protect the rights of indigenous peoples and particularly of women, whose equal participation at all levels of decision-making is crucial,” Janis Alcorn said in an interview as director of country and regional programs for Rights and Resources Initiative. “Without ensuring adoption of these principles in all countries’ legal frameworks, any international climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy will fail to take off.”


Peru’s Self-Sabotage

César Gamboa –

22 July 2014

SAN MARCOS – You may know Peru as the cradle of Incan civilization. Or you may have tasted its outstanding cuisine. But Peru boasts another impressive characteristic: it is among Latin America’s fastest-growing economies, with GDP up by 4.8% year on year in the first quarter of 2014. Peru’s long-term prosperity, however, is far from certain.

In fact, Peru’s economic growth – which is based largely on exports of raw materials and hydrocarbons – is already slowing, from annual rates of 5.5-6.9% over the last three years. And, though the government recognizes the need for growth-enhancing reform, its approach is all wrong.

Specifically, President Ollanta Humala recently won legislative approval of a set of “realistic” procedures to reduce the red tape perceived to be hampering investment in the extractive industries – the very industries on which the economy should become less dependent. The new law seriously weakens Peru’s ability to regulate land use, set environmental quality standards, and rein in corporate misconduct through environmental-impact assessments.

The Peruvian government now has a serious problem. Beyond diminishing Peru’s international credibility as a “climate champion” – an image that some members of the government have been attempting to cultivate – the law jeopardizes Peru’s natural environment and economic-growth prospects.

Peru’s government has not just failed to do what is needed; it has actively worked against its country’s long-term interests. At a time when countries should be regulating land use more strictly, Humala’s “reform” eliminates zoning restrictions.

Moreover, under the new law, subnational governments will no longer be able to limit investments on environmental grounds – decisions that were guided by strict technical standards and highly trained experts. Instead, a national authority – that is, a political body – will call the shots. All of this makes Peru more vulnerable to corporate misconduct that results in environmental damage.

As if that were not enough, the new law, in a reversal of previous legislation, could lead to reduced sentences for offenders, and even allow them to operate with impunity for three years. This is good news for mining, oil, and gas companies eyeing rich reserves under the Amazon rain forest and the Pacific shelf. But, for indigenous communities, it will open a new chapter of dispossession, poverty, and strife; and, for all Peruvians, it amounts to a massive missed opportunity to put the country on a more sustainable development path.

The problem is not the government’s efforts to support businesses; measures to bolster business growth and development would be critical to any economic-reform plan. But allowing companies with poor environmental records to operate with impunity is no solution. A country where legislation is tailor-made to benefit a few, at the expense of the public interest, cannot achieve long-term inclusive prosperity – and is likely to experience social instability.

The new law is not the only problematic policy that Peru’s government has pursued. Last month, the Congress also moved to weaken the government’s environmental oversight, claiming that this would add 1.5-3% to the economy’s growth rate. The government pushed the proposal through in a little more than two weeks, with only token public consultation and no time for reasoned public debate. Given strong opposition from civil-society groups, political parties, the United Nations, and even some business interests, the government’s behavior was both understandable and inexcusable.

In fact, more than 100 organizations rejected the package before it was approved, while calling for higher environmental standards and stricter enforcement. They recognize that what Peru urgently needs is a new, future-oriented economic vision, focused on reducing its reliance on the extractive industries, whose days are numbered. “Green” investment – which, as the World Bank recently proved using robust economic modeling, does not constrain economic growth – is a good place to start.

In September, Humala will go to New York to outline Peru’s “bold and ambitious” actions to head-off the global climate crisis. In December, Peru will host the next round of UN climate negotiations, with governments from around the world gathering in Lima to pursue a comprehensive agreement that supports a transition from environmentally devastating fossil fuels to low-carbon energy solutions.

Peru’s recent actions have severely undercut its ability to act as a global climate leader, to everyone’s detriment. Only with a new strategy based on economic diversification and investment in renewable energy can Peru achieve stable, inclusive, long-term prosperity – and make a real contribution to mitigating climate change.