How Have Austerity Measures Undermined Peruvian Women’s Reproductive Rights?

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Evaluating Fujimori’s Sterilization Campaign During 1996-1998: How Have International Austerity Measures and Neoliberal Economics Undermined Peruvian Women’s Reproductive Rights?

In 1990, Fujimori was relatively unexpectedly elected president of Peru, with his newly formed Cambio 90 party. A dire economic backdrop of hyperinflation and unprecedented foreign debts from the 1980s formed the vulnerable and austere milieu of his dictablanda (soft dictatorship,) regime. “In 1989 GNP contracted by 10.4 percent, the rate of inflation rose to 2,775 percent, and the external debt stood at over US $19 billion” (Stokes, 1997: 211). The crippling rise in poverty due to internationally orchestrated austerity measures and extensive international foreign debts incentivised Fujimori to adopt the IMF’s orthodox neo-liberal austerity packages in 1990, and to implement ‘shock therapy’, colloquially named “Fujishock.”  This radical economic policy sought to curtail hyperinflation and stabilize the economy. It was implemented in the knowledge that such policies would initially harm the most impoverished members of society, but the logic lay in theory that the overall benefits after the immediate ‘shock’ would outweigh the negative affect, reducing hyperinflation and stabilizing the economy. Rather than stabilizing society as projected by the World Bank and IMF, these ill-conceived economic ‘shocks’ intensified inflation and exacerbated widespread poverty in the long term. This context of economic turbulence, of squeezed welfare and state services, is the backdrop for the implementation of Fujimori’s radical demographic sterilization program of 1996-1998.

This essay will begin by contextualizing the gender relations intrinsic to Latin American Culture and Peru. I shall explain how the prevalence of machismo culture since la conquistador has created gendered binaries segregating the roles of women and men in society. It is quintessential to grasp this ideological context, of the ‘inferior woman’ in order to understand why Fujimori’s sterilization campaign was so pervasive and ‘successfully’ and extensively implemented. I shall then evaluate why Peruvian culture, organic notions of society, and Rousseauian ideology of the general will and common good enabled the extreme policy to be implemented so fiercely, and why subsequently it was eventually overthrown with violence and revolt.  After contextualizing, I shall explain the nature of the 1996 draconian population program. This essay will then explain why economic instability and international economic intervention of the IMF formed the bedrock of the policy.  The turbulent economic economy, agitated by international intervention, squeezed Peru to seek economic ‘development’ and reduce poverty in any abstract way possible. Furthermore, Fujimori’s ‘shock therapy’ dictated and guided by the IMF, escalated poverty in Peru, increased inequality, and left the rural, indigenous populations in dire poverty, forcing the government to seize abstract political measures to ameliorate the poverty. I will discuss and evaluated how the demographic policy adopted a clearly racially discriminatory rhetoric, and explains how Fujimori was able to manipulate this poverty and inequality to implement the program.  What is perhaps most insidious about the Fujimori campaign is the way by which he manipulated the complex international and regional web of governance in order to promote his orthodox regime. By simulating the rhetoric used by international and regional feminist groups, and under the guise of women’s ‘empowerment’ and ‘rights to one’s own body’ rhetoric, he disguised the economic ideology of the regime.

By adopting a feminist theoretical perspective, it enables us to critique the role of economic international intervention on an alternative platform, in a unique myriad of ways. With this Peruvian case study, and by putting women’s bodies at the heart of my analysis, we are able to expose the hidden gendered assumptions of international neo-liberal economic policies. A gendered critique recognizes that neoliberal economics depend on the ‘invisible’ work of women and an exploitable workforce. Neo-liberal economics are based on the assumption that women’s reproductive rights and their unpaid labor are taken for granted an unrecognized. During shock therapy, women’s unpaid domestic responsibilities are stretched and exacerbated by the reduction of social welfare. It is this ‘free riding’ of women’s domestic labor that arguably maintains and upholds neo-capitalism and enables the implementation of radical economic ‘therapies’. It shall be argued therefore, that women are the ultimate ‘losers’ of such economic policy. In Peru this is apparent. Fujimori’s radical sterilization campaign epitomizes this, in its exploitative nature in the most direct and personal of ways. Peruvian women’s bodies bear the scars of international economic intervention, and embody the exploitative nature of neo-liberal, free-market, and machismo ideologies that dominate the global stage.

This essay will begin by contextualizing cultural understanding of the societal role of women in Peru during the 1990s. While contemporary Peru has undoubtedly seen a number of advances in promoting the role of women in society, during the 1990s, after years of economic decline and stagnation, women, especially those who were poor and rural, were largely marginalized to the domestic realms of society. As Summarized by Maria del Carmen Elu de Lenero:

“women’s work has always been conditioned by social discrimination against the female sex… Whenever possible, women are kept inside the family home; and when that is not possible or convenient, they are placed at the lower end of the occupational scale” (1976: 51).

Men were unquestionably dominant in the public spheres and this is largely instilled within machismo ideology. Culturally, society was divided into two spheres, the public and domestic.  I shall consider the significance of machismo ideology at defining the subordinate role of women across Latin American societies. Machismo ideological roots stem back to la conquistador.  As defined by J. Ward, it is an attitude “among men that puts an exaggerated emphasis on masculine power and virility” (Ward: 1997, 115). Machismo ideology perpetuates a certain culture in which it is desirable for women to be perceived as submissive, and vulnerable. Machismo culture celebrates the notions of the dependent women, and female fidelity is considered especially desirable. The ideology instills cultural norms that ‘judges’ a man’s status on his capability to ‘control his woman.’ This is upheld by parallel female machistas (Jorge Gissi Bustos: 1976, 31) ideology that equally normalizes and endorses these ideas. Such ideological-cultural institutions stress the symbolic worth of female fidelity, manipulating and instilling the concept that women’s reproductive rights should be under the control of men. In consideration of this, one has a greater understanding of the cultural implications, and the tactical methodology by which Fujimori implemented the sterilization policies. It recognized that female fertility has symbolically, and consistently been controlled one way or another by men.

The intensity of machismo culture correlates with socio-economic changes. Latin American gender norms are generally perceived as static, fixed and categorical. They are defined within the discourse of female promiscuity. Bustos’ (1976) research interviewed poor male workers in Chile. One slum dweller he interviewed epitomized the relationship. This is directly translated upon women’s bodies as control of their sexuality. His interviews indicated that men were opposed to women working. The worker he interviewed argued,

“most men do not like the idea. They believe that the woman who goes to work does it because she is cheating on her husband” in terms of female education, men were equally against the idea for fear that “she may turn out to be better than they are and become superior, which they dislike profoundly” (Cenfa 1973, cited in Bustos 1976: 37).

These values are most ingrained in rural areas, and among poorer societies, and less ubiquitous between the educated upper and middle classes. Bustos believes that

“the ideological- cultural dominance of the male is closely tied to his economic, legislative, and political control” (1976, 31).

The greater the sense of male oppression, discrimination, threat and economic insecurity felt by a man, the greater the necessity for him to endorse himself as  ‘macho’  (1976, 37). Those who are economically and socially vulnerable are therefore going to feel the need to assert their machismo dominance and authority over their wives by any means possible.  This was evidently the proliferation of machismo culture in Peru after the endorsement of “Fujishock”. These ideologies illustrate the poignancy and cultural obsession with male control over women’s fertility, questionably justifying Fujimori’s draconian demographic policy.

It is within this gendered machismo context, that Fujimori’s regime was initiated. One could argue that entrenched within the core of Peruvian society is the notion that women have always been denied control over their own bodies, and deprived of personal reproductive responsibility or choice. Female subordination and subservience to their husbands or male family members is most prevalent in impoverished Peruvian societies. This was manipulated in the racial and strategic nature of the sterilization campaign, which specifically targeted indigenous poor women, for they were consistently the most vulnerable, uneducated, and easiest to manipulate to consent to the procedure. This is poignantly illustrated, for intentionally, rural women were approached and talked into the procedure by authoritative male physicians.  Again, understanding this gendered machismo context allows us to recognize why the demographic regime was so pervasive.

This essay will now explain, with reference to the concept of organic structures of society, and Latin American ideological structures, why Fujimori’s authoritarian campaign proved to be so effective, was steadily implemented, and almost as swiftly, curtailed. Latin American ideology is not individualist and atomistic in its creed. It is based on the concept of an interconnected body, a relationship of mutual respect purporting the ideological values of Rousseau and the common good. Unlike democratic governance that distinguishes between bipartite divisions between the public and private spheres, Latin American society is structured around the concepts of an organic entity and ‘wholeness’, perceiving society as a single body of complex, interconnected relationships. The various ‘parts’ of the body (which form society), are united and guided by an autonomous ‘head’.  Such an ideology means society is determined by trust and obedience of civilians towards the ruler, who governs in their best interests. A balance of mutual respect is essential to upholding cohesion and order. The governing ‘head’ must respect the values of the societal ‘body’ in order to maintain its mandate, and those who form the body of society must complacency and obediently follow the commands from the head, recognising that they are acting in their best interests. As Howard Wiarda explains, this societal framework of interdependence “served to check abolitionist power and prevent tyranny… the system was still authoritatively led from the top, from above, ultimately in accord with God’s will and law” (Wiarda 2002, 42). Fujimori was able to manipulate the tough economic circumstances to validate radical sterilization policies with a mandate of acting for the greater good with the objective of improving women’s reproductive rights and reducing poverty.

Guillermo O’Donnell (1991) reflects on the implications of such ideology within Fujimori’s regime. He recognises that this ideology explains the apparent uncontrolled quality of Fujimori’s government. “The president is taken to be the embodiment of the nation and the main custodian and definer of its interests” (cited by Susan Stokes: 1997, 210). Presidents are allowed to govern unconstrained for they are elected and trusted to “do what’s best” for the country (Stokes, Ibid). Furthermore, Stokes comments that lack of “horizontal accountability” between the president and the legislature, courts and bureaucracy, means that presidents are able to govern as they see fit and largely uncontested (Stokes, Ibid). This free reign of governance is embodied in the Fujimori’s “bait-and-switch” campaign. He was elected largely with the support of the poor on a manifesto that sought to protect those who were economically vulnerable, those who were scared of the prospects of ‘shock therapy.’ His campaign mandate publicly opposed the draconian fiscal adjustment program. However, once entrusted as president, Fujimori quickly abandoned his economic policy and implemented the hard-nosed IMF package, full in the knowledge that it would have painful implications for the most impoverished members of society; thus his greatest body of public support. It is within this Latin American ideology based on organic notions of society that such a U-turn of policy was feasible without immediate civic revolt. They perceived his radical switch in campaign legitimised by acting for the conspicuous ‘good’. Furthermore, despite widespread fears that the shock therapy would cause popular unrest, the reaction was surprisingly passive. This was partly due to the fact the economic consequences were so extreme that day-to-day economic survival became the priority for a large majority of the population. Protest became perceived as a luxury. The austerity package exemplifies the ways by which international society, dominated by US hegemony, can prolifically shape and harm domestic politics.

In terms of this cultural social context, I shall now consider the imperative role international structural adjustment and economic chaos in Peru had on the implementation of Fujimori’s state-run family planning program.  I argue that the origins of the policy lie in the economic turmoil orchestrated by Internaitonal Economic policies. The logic behind the regime was that a reduced population would lead to an increase in GDP per capita (Ewig: 2006, 644) of Peru. While his demographic program initially advocated contraception-based measures, Fujimori shifted his policy to promote permanent sterilization-led methods, under mounting international and domestic pressure to address deepening socio-economic disparities. Despite indications of some economic growth, market-orientated economic policies implemented during Fujimori’s first term did not yield a decline in poverty or see an increase in employment (Anna-Britt Coe: 2004, 61). Fujimori’s sterilization demographic campaign was therefore a desperate attempt to escalate his poverty relief program. This was based on the reasoning that high fertility rates (in rural areas of 6.3 children)  (Cáceres et al: 2004, 140) exacerbated poverty, put a drain on governmental services and escalated economic inequality within Peru. As the Program manager and minister of Health summarized, “they are poor and are producing more poor people… the government cannot fight poverty without reducing poor people’s fertility” (1998, cited in Coe: 2004, 62).

Fujimori’s regime obsessed with reducing poverty rapidly by any means available. Fujimori

“abandoned its population policies and programs on reproductive health in favor of a coercive and focused anti-choice intervention that enticed women into irreversible surgical procedures… the reduction of the fertility rate among poor rural women became the main goal of Fujimori’s population policy” (Cáceres et al. 2004, 138).

In 1995, Peruvian congress legalized surgical the sterilization of women. The demographic rational was that with fewer dependents, the economic status of the poor would be improved. “The policy was to increase the use of modern contraceptives, especially sterilization, largely among poor, disenfranchised women with little or no formal education” (Coe: 2004, 62). Surgical sterilization is a non-reversible procedure and although routine, required operating on the bodies of women, which is synonymous with health risks in itself. With inadequate numbers of trained practitioners, inappropriate equipment and substandard conditions in rural areas; the targeted location of the program, it was only a matter of time before complications would arise.

The sinister character of the program arguably lies in formalities of implementing the policies and the conditions under which the procedures were performed. It exploited and manipulated those who were most vulnerable; poor, uneducated, indigenous, rural women. Firstly, the program was arguably flawed, for it did not consider that the effectiveness of the policy might have been greater if men (Who were notoriously polygamous and more sexually free in machismo ideology) may have been a more efficient way to reduce fertility rates. In its fierce commitment to rapidly reduce fertility, the program was extensively and authoritatively implemented (Coe: 2004, 62). Previously, sterilization had only been an accessible method of contraception available to women if they had a health risk, were above a certain age, or had four or more children. Furthermore, sterilization was abhorred by the Catholic Church and was not largely at odds with Peruvian culture, as a means of contraception. Furthermore, because the policy was implemented so rapidly, the ministry of Health (MoH) was unable to ensure sufficient training, and get appropriate equipment in such a short period of time.

It quickly became evident however that as the regime became institutionalized, it was highly insensitive, and it failed to sufficiently acknowledge the women on whose bodies the procedure was performed. Little care was taken for the physical and emotional consequences of sterilization. High quotas were set, practitioners were threatened with being fired if they were not met, and vast numbers of women did not formally consented to the procedure, or were aware that the procedure was irreversible. “Oral contraception were intentionally withheld to promote permanent sterilization, deception, food or clothing incentives, and humiliating threats against poor women of rural areas or other coercive methods were used to obtain consent” (Cáceres et al. 140).  According to the MoH, the total number of sterilizations performed annually rose from less that 15,999 prior to 1995, to 67,000 in 1996 and approximately 115,000 in 1997 (Coe: 2004, 62). Blatant deception was prolific, and economic incentives and threats were commonly used to reach obligatory targets. Among the victims were women with no children and post-menopausal women. “There was little done in terms of checking medical histories, quality of service, informed consent, counseling or follow up care” (Cáceres et al: 2010, 140).  Coercion and abuse was endemic and many physicians reported that did not inform the women that they were going to be sterilized, in some instances, women’s interviews show that some were performing the procedure when women were under anesthetic for alternate operations (Ibid). The program clearly inadequately protected, and violated women’s human rights.  As this discussion has shown, the fact that Fujimori’s sterilization policy was only introduced in response to the economic desperation triggered by the IMF and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs, one could argue that the harm caused to the women, was undeniably indirectly a consequence of these international austerity packages. I am by no means suggesting that they could have envisaged such a draconian fertility scheme. Merely, that the calculated and inflexible ‘economic theories’ of the IMF and World Bank, consistently fail to engage and consider the fragility and the social context within which the policies were being enforced. They simply plugged in the ‘Peruvian figures’ into their austerity ‘calculator’, inadequately considering the social implication the policies may have on the unique societies upon which they are implicated.  This exemplifies the fragile and complex relationship between the national and international spheres of society.

Perhaps the most insidious nature of the program was the fact that it was transparent in its overtly racial overtones and propaganda regime. Moreover, as will be discussed, Fujimori cloaked the real economic motives of the sterilization program by adopting and manipulating rhetoric of international and regional feminism in the promotion of female ‘reproductive rights’ and ‘sexual empowerment’. As cynically summarized by Christine Ewig:

“Peru’s problematic sterilization campaigns of the mid-1990s are in many ways an old story of the instrumental use of women by national planners and international organizations as a means of controlling population growth and promoting economic development… elite, primarily white, male policy makers sought control of  [indigenous] women’s bodies as a means of meeting their goals of economic growth” (Ewig, 2006: 633 & 644).

Women’s bodies were essentialized to simply a practical means to reduce poverty, and there was little to any consideration of the psychological impact coerced sterilization had on the women it targeted. This was paramount for sterilization campaigns targeted poor, less educated, rural women who had little access to alternative measures of contraception. The numbers of urban women who underwent the procedure was marginal in comparison. The reforms reflected a class and racial bias of the Peruvian elite.

Christine Ewig’s essay looks at the implications of racism that has been historically profuse in Peru since la conquistador.  She considers whether racism was masked and adopted into the Fujimori population policies. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Latin American health systems promoted the study of eugenics. In some instances marriages were barred due to ‘unsuitable’ combinations of eugenics (Ewig: 2006, 637). Society was overtly segregated and racialized with clear social divisions between the elite and minority Europeans, the Mestizos and the indigenous majority of Amerindians. She continues, that during the 1930s, “eugenics also became part of state immigration policies, as countries sought to attract white, European immigrants” (Ibid). Although racism in Peru is far less omnipresent than it was in the early twentieth century, nonetheless, in the context of Fujimori’s sterilization campaign, Ewig insists there is a clearly racial element to the propaganda campaign and towards those who the program targeted. She critically and closely analyzed the racial implications within the propaganda posters used to encourage women to opt for sterilization.  The propaganda posters sent the message that fertility control could lead to an elevation of class status. As Ewig’s analysis shows, Fujimori’s campaign intensified racism throughout Peru, by poignantly stigmatizing rural indigenous women.

I shall now consider the sinister way in which Fujimori’s demographic sterilization campaign ‘hijacked’ international and national feminist rhetoric in order to disguise and gain public consent and international backing of this authoritarian population initiative. This illustrates the multilateral nature of the program. This argument is again made most explicitly by Ewig, but is reiterated by Cáceres et al. Within the framework of Catholic values and strict fertility legislation prior to Fujimori’s regime, the general public attitude towards contraception and family planning was skeptical at best. Fertility numbers were relatively high and contraception, though available was not especially widespread. Current legislation only permits abortion when the life of the mother is in danger. Fujimori, to overcome these cultural obstacles, therefore sought to adopt feminist ‘empowerment’ rhetoric. He worked in collaboration with feminist organizations, to manipulate Peruvian women’s reproductive health concerns to his strategic economic advantage. The government was already nationally being lobbied by feminist organizations to advance women’s reproductive rights and choices. As Coe recalls, “unsafe abortion accounts for 16% of pregnancy related deaths, and “approximately 66 abortions occur for every 100 live births in Peru” (2004, 58). Furthermore, machismo culture, and masculine means that it is perceived a social ‘duty’ for women to bare many children. According to Coe, in Peru, “sixty percent of all pregnancies are unwanted, and an estimated twenty-five percent of all sexually active women of reproductive age are not adequately protected against an unwanted pregnancy” (Coe: 2004, 58). Furthermore, akin to machismo culture, intimate partner violence is widespread throughout Peru (Ibid, 59). An interview with feminist activist Gladys Acosta, who discusses the implications of globalization on women, discusses the correlation in rising numbers of domestic violence towards women in economic downturns. She says it “is nothing new for women, abuse at home and the contempt of this machista culture, have always featured in our lives.” (1994:171). Prior to Fujimori’s campaign, Peruvian feminists had been actively fighting for the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies (ibid) due to the alarming number of female mortalities due to complications in pregnancies or illegal abortion.  Fujimori cunningly monopolized and utilized this feminist rhetoric, campaigning that “poor women should also be able to access services to regulate their fertility” (Cáceres et al. 2004, 137) in order to advance his own economic-driven motives.

As has been discussed, Fujimori arguably ‘bandwagoned’ off the plight of Peruvian feminists to portray himself as supporting the female campaign to emancipate their own bodies.  His regime indicates how one can utilize the International ‘governance of fragmegration’ (Rousenau: 2000) to ones own favor. As Ewig summarized, “Peru’s experience with family planning alerts us to the increasingly complex ways that global and national feminist agendas can be co-opted for non- even anti feminist goals” (Ewig: 2006, 635). She deplores the sinister nature of Fujimori administration, that “hijacked” the global feminist language developed at Cairo’s 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development and “instrumentally used Peruvian feminists themselves to push a traditional Malthusian population policy that placed national economic development above women’s human rights”(Ewig: 2006, 634-635). Fujimori’s tactical methodology epitomizes the power of interconnected non-state global institutions, and the ability to manipulate the international ‘web of fragmegration’   to his own advantage.

The radical and violent way by which Fujimori’s draconian regime was eventually expelled is again characteristic of Peruvian, and Latin American structures of society; of the guiding ‘head’ losing its mandate to govern. While it suggests that it was a positive step for Peruvian feminists for getting reproductive rights onto the political agenda, this is perhaps equally questionable. It in fact stands to reiterate the marginalization of women from public spheres of society and the relative institutional weakness of the feminist campaign. Moreover, it exemplified the lack of control women have over their bodies and reproductive rights. Once Fujimori was expelled from his presidency on charges of corruption, the pendulum of reproductive issues swung the other way with the introduction of Toledo’s ultra-conservative and radical reproductive policies that triggered feminist and social uproar. In response to public outcry of Fujimori’s regime, Toledo appointed Solari and Carbone as ministers of health. They monopolized upon Fujimori’s regime to implement a strict anti-choice campaign. They sought to entrench traditionalist Catholic concepts of the responsibilities of women in the family as mainly motherhood and obedience. “The MoH… removed all official policies and programs designed to advance gender equity and reproductive health services… modern contraceptives, condoms and post-abortion care almost disappeared from public hospitals” (Cáceres et al., 146). Moreover, for the first time internationally, fetuses were granted constitutional rights. Poignantly, Article 2 of the constitution states:

“Every person has the right: 1. to life, his identity, his moral, psychic and physical integrity and his free development and well-being. The unborn child is a rights-bearing subject, in any event which is beneficial for him” (Policial Constitution of Peru: 3).

Solari’s ultra-conservative policies became so orthodox, in 2003, congress named March 26th, the ‘National Day of the Unborn Child’ (Cáceres et al., 146) and tried to introduce the “National Unborn Child registry”. In civil frustration and anger to these draconian enforcements, civil outcry and a spell of violence eventually demanded that Toledo stopped the Solari/ Carbone policies (Ibid, 157). This U-turn of policy from ultra- radical to ultra-conservative, once again symbolizes the lack of control women in Peru have over their reproductive rights. Furthermore, only within a society based on organic ideology, was government able to reshape policy so dramatically.

Nonetheless, in response to public outcry, one must recognize the symbolic progressive importance of Toledo’s appointment of Pilar Mazzetti as Minster of health in 2004.  She had previously been a surgeon, and was committed to improving and promoting women’s reproductive rights. Since she came into power, she quietly and consistently denounced and removed the radical policies of Solari and Carbone, stabilizing civil tension. Moreover, she was the first women to hold that position and, regardless of whether it was a ‘tactical’ appointment by Toledo or not, appointing a woman, as Minister of Health was a progressive and poignant step for the Peruvian women’s movement. This therefore suggests that women’s reproductive rights are becoming increasingly upheld and recognized. However, it is still relatively early days to see whether this will be consistent. History has shown how reproductive rights are one of the first to be affected by regime change in Peru.

This essay shall now adopt a feminist theoretical perspective to critically analyze and the gendered implications of international Structural Adjustment. Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) are defined by Pfeiffer, and Chapman as “the practical tools used by international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the IMF and World Bank at country level to promote the market fundamentalism that constitutes neo-liberalism” (2010, 150).

“IFIs provide loans and debt relief to a target country if certain conditions are met; governments must reduce their public sector workforce, and lower remaining salaries, cut public sector budgets, remove subsidies and price controls, devalue local currency, sell state-owned enterprises and services, reduce taxes on foreign investment, weaken state environmental labor regulations and deregulate movement of capital” (Ibid).

Peru’s Structural Adjustment policy was particularly radical, due to the extent that Peru’s economic stagnation and decline was rapid after the international economic crash of the 1980s. Consequently, its economy was particularly fragile and unstable. This created a highly orthodox austerity package. Ten days after Fujimori’s inauguration:

 “tanks rolled onto the streets of Lima in preparation for the announcement… of a package of dramatic price adjustments… The price of gasoline rose by 3,140 percent, [and] the price of kerosene… by 6,964 percent. Subsidies from many basic foodstuffs were removed, and their prices soared: bread by 1,567 percent, cooking oil by 639 percent, sugar by 552 percent, and rice by 533 percent. Medicine prices rose on average by 1,385 percent” (Stokes: 1997, 214).

These increases had a devastating short-term effect on public household budgets. The number of people suffering extreme poverty increased from seven to twelve million immediately after the “shock” was initially implemented (Uguíñiz, cited in Stokes: 1997,225). Everyday living became arduous and survival, the default. It was this political and social unrest and surge of inequality and poverty that enabled the Sterilization program to be so effective and insidiously far-reaching.

Adopting a gendered theoretical perspective is particularly useful for critically evaluating the impact of international policy and economic austerity. A Feminist perspective highlights the consequences of widespread international and interventionist economic policy on the very bodies of the people it is implemented on. A gendered theoretical criticism puts people at the heart of its discourse, in ways that alternate theories fail to. Furthermore, unlike Realism, or neo-liberalism, feminist scholarship has a ‘grass roots’ approach, speaking not just women but for the marginalised voices in society. It puts the human at the centre of its argument challenging the structuralist international theories that deny this human element. As Enloe says, ‘the personal is Global, the Global is gendered’ (Enloe: 2000). A feminist theoretical perspective offers a flexible discourse and platform to challenge the seeming authority and unquestioned structure of global society. As concisely recognised by Charlotte Hooper (2013), International Relations are a discipline heavily implicated in the construction and promotion of hegemonic masculinities. It appears that the normative usefulness of the feminist experience is therefore to uncover and challenge these masculine gendered constructions and presumptions, which domineers the international framework relatively unnoticed. They attempt to disclose how the male- dominated hierarchies of power affect those who are marginalised in the system. As this essay has shown by its area focus of Peru, these theoretical issues were magnified and manipulated within Fujimori’s sterilization campaign of 1996- 1998.

I will conclude by discuss the ‘invisible’ gendered nature of Structural Adjustment Programs and international economic intervention. As summarised by Pamela Sparr, neo-liberal free market economics assumes that society exists outside of the economy. Scientific “economic analysis takes the existing society for granted and abstracts [that there is] no necessary relationship between society and economics… the individual, rather than a group, class or society is the relevant unit of analysis” (Sparr: 1994, 2-3) She continues, criticising the assumptions of neo-liberalism.

“Policy-makers have assumed “that women’s unpaid domestic work is indefinitely flexible and free- regardless of how resources are allocated… in cutting back on public services for instance, governments have implicitly relied on a quite army of wives, co-wives, mothers, daughters, aunts… to pick up the slack” (Sparr: 1994, 16-17).

Baharti Sadasivam likewise critically evaluates the gendered dimensions of SAPs. She first notes the gendered assumptions that are made. She recognises that the macroeconomic view of the household is one of a united entity governed by men, as is the case in Peruvian machismos. They misconceive the household as “a unified, welfare maximising unit that pools and shares recourses” (Sadasivam: 1997, 639).  Evidence has shown however, that this is not necessarily the case, “men tend to maintain their expenditures, while women are expected to make ends meet… by working longer hours within and outside the home” (ibid). Sparr likewise agrees, arguing that men are more likely to spend any excess income on luxuries whereas women are more inclined to spend it on domestic needs. Therefore, “a joint utility function may not be a safe assumption given men’s and women’s tendency towards different spending patterns” (Sparr: 1994, 18). Machismo ideology maintains and expects this gendered binary of the ‘sacrificing woman’, ‘dominant man’. One could argue that this is why Fujimori used economic, food and clothing incentives within the sterilization program for the most impoverished, knowing that women would feel responsible to improve the conditions of their household by any means possible. As highlighted, SAPs in practice, place additional burdens of household management on women. With the use of incentives, this inexorably would have indirectly influenced the most impoverished women’s decision on whether to consent to the sterilization procedure or not.

Sadasivam recognises alternative harmful, gendered implications of SAPs. “The transition from a command economy to a market system has had …debilitating effects for women who have suffered disproportionately from rising unemployment, poor pay and reduced childcare services” (1997, 641). Machismo ideology equally exacerbates this, for the concept of the ‘breadwinning male’ figurehead meant that women’s work was often the first to be sacrificed with structural adjustment austerity. Women’s positions of responsibility are intensified but without earning recognition. In the case of Peru’s, “Fujishock” in 1990 reforms, due to the expected impact of the program, the government designed to protect the poor by introducing a compensatory social program (Figueroa: 1995, 386). The minister of finance,

“on the evening before the reforms took effect, publicly promised $400 million in spending over a period of five months in order to  protect the incomes of the 7 million people classified as living in extreme poverty….[However,] actual government expenditures on compensatory social programs fell far short of the promised amount. Total transfers were only $88 million”  (Figueroa: 1995, 386).

However, what was even more contentious, arguably racial, about Fujimori’s economic policy, was that these compensatory social spending, were not directed at the areas of greatest poverty (Figueroa: 1995, 387). This is exemplified in the fact that Lima received sixty percent of the funding, while Puno (one of the poorest areas of Peru) received only one percent (Ibid). This intensified inequalities within Peru. This again reiterates the argument, that Fujimori’s population policy directly stems from the impact of Structural adjustment. Desperate attempts to reduce inequality, and reduce the disparities of fertility rates were perceived a plausible solution to alleviate economic poverty, raise GDP per capita and increase economic development.  As will be discussed, IMF’s austerity package, arguably laid the founding stones of Fujimori’s authoritarian sterilization campaign.

In evaluative analysis, I shall now consider the existing circumstances in Peru. Currently, Peruvian law on female reproductive rights are seemingly more stabilized. Abortion remains only available to women whose life is threatened, but the implementation of radical reproductive campaigns have abated. Though it is early days to comment with certainty, it seems this calmer social and political environment will enable women’s organizations to work to retain women’s franchise over their bodies and reproductive rights, and protect them from being subject to violations among tumultuous political demographic campaigns. Furthermore, increasing numbers of women in the political spheres due to the introduction of  affirmative action quotas ensuring that the “candidate lists for the seats in the Congress must include at least 30% women” (Quota Project: 2013). Suggests that societal expectation of the ‘domestic’ women is abating. Currently, 22% of those in congress are women (Ibid). With these statistics, it suggests that women are now in authoritative positions to dispel the implementation of a harmful and gendered policy. Furthermore, the intensity of the initial impact of structural Adjustment is subsiding, and as a result, political tensions appear more dispelled.  However, one could perhaps argue this is simply a ‘lull’ before the storm. With the impending escalation of widespread fiscal stagnation throughout Latin America, once again the reproductive rights of women in Peru might be forced into the political limelight. Nonetheless one hopes that after a history such tumultuous extremes however, women will be prepared, and able to mobilize and fight to maintain the right to their own bodies.

In conclusion, this essay has shown the importance of reproductive rights as a key, and vulnerable socio-economic indicator.  With the case study of Fujimori’s sterilization campaign of 1996-1998, it has illustrated the harmful implication of fiscal management at the international level, implemented by Structural Adjustment Programs. Furthermore, adopting a feminist theoretical perspective has exposed the ‘gendered’ assumption on which SAPs are founded. It highlights in inappropriateness of its ‘individualist’ neo-liberal credentials on a society founded on notions of organic ‘wholeness’. Moreover, they assume and normalized the role of subservient women, and took their domestic labor for granted. Reproductive rights are overlooked, and are a tacit bedrock upon which policy and society is structured. Looking at Peru’s policies towards the reproductive rights and role of women in society is quintessential to understanding the wider structures and ideology of Peruvian society. Furthermore, by analyzing Fujimori regime, one can see the complex relationship Peru has with the international spheres. It exposed the potential harmful social implications International Structural Adjustment can have on the societies they are implemented. ‘Direction from above’ systematical fails to engage with the socio-cultural nature of the region in question. Furthermore, this area study has highlighted how organic understandings of society, which dominate across Latin America, exacerbated and enabled Fujimori and Toledo’s demographic policies to be so radical. Evaluating Peru’s fierce reproductive policy it an important way for the west to evaluate the insidious ways in which economic intervention and pressures from above can indirectly harm the very wombs of society.


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Written by: Sophia Gore
Written at: Queens University, Canada
Written for: Normand Pirrault
Date written: April 2014


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