Running against the flow in Peru

Peruvian journalist Graciela Tiburcio Loayza, aged 23, on her journey towards becoming a women’s rights activist.

You could say my activism started when I was a child. Despite my insecurities, I pointed out injustices whenever I saw them. This often got me into trouble. In high school, when I refused to follow the other girls, I was bullied. Sometimes I felt really alone.

A few years ago, my family’s economic situation changed and I had to move to one of the poorest districts of Lima. I realized then that there were big differences in our society. Moving to Villa Maria del Triunfo not only changed my view of the world, it also changed the way people saw me. Those who used to be my friends no longer hung out with me and those who said they loved me, stopped supporting me. It hit me very hard. At the same time, I met people with big hearts who helped me and my family to move forward despite our difficulties.

A leaflet with a candle on it

When I started college, I realized that the injustices that I had experienced were nothing compared to what my classmates had lived through. Getting into journalism allowed me to meet people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities and hear about the discrimination they face.

I, too, faced discrimination as a woman. Every day, on my three-hour commute to university, I was harassed by young and old men. Many of my professors also made sexist jokes. Once I told a professor it wasn’t funny. He didn’t reply.

One day, I saw a flyer with information about a marathon called “Run against the Flow”. In the corner of the flyer was an image of a candle surrounded by wire. I decided to find out more and that is when I discovered Amnesty International.

I promised myself that my voice would speak for all the other voices who were silenced.

Graciela Tiburcio Loayza

The first activity I attended was a flashmob for the International Day against Homophobia. It was unforgettable. I met people who shared the same ideals as me and for the first time I did not feel alone, for the first time I felt I could identify with others and I felt safe. That was when I decided to be an agent of change. From that moment I decided I would no longer feel afraid to be outspoken. I promised myself that my voice would speak for all the other voices who were silenced.

About the same time I joined Amnesty, many organizations in the country were gathering signatures to push a bill for the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape. Inside Amnesty International, we were told that we, as an organization, were going to support this initiative through the My Body My Rights campaign. It seemed really logical to me, and I had no hesitation in being a part of it. That is when I realized we all should support women’s choice.

Insults and threats

It wasn’t always easy. While campaigning for abortion rights, people would shout: “I wish your mother had aborted you” or “You do not know anything, you are too young”. Some of my friends were even threatened with rape. Fortunately, my family has always supported my activism, even when it was difficult for them to understand certain issues, like gay marriage. The support of my family and friends has kept me going.

I am also part of Amnesty’s “Against their will” campaign, demanding justice and reparations for indigenous women who were forcibly sterilized during the 1990s. A lot of organizations have been asking for the same thing. However, Amnesty International Peru was the first to ask for a National Register of these women to actually get them justice.

It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, you can always start again.

Graciela Tiburcio Loayza

Our work is not in vain

This year, I am travelling outside Peru for the first time. Amnesty has given me the opportunity to attend the UN Commission on the Status of Women. When I entered the United Nations building, I felt really proud of myself for the hard work I have done so far. I also felt very grateful to Amnesty for tasking me with representing our movement in this space. Above all, I wish more activists could get opportunities likes these. This is a perfect chance to put the reality of women and girls on the agenda, not only from Peru but across Latin America. I feel honoured to be able to do this.

Once I am back in Peru I will share what I have learnt here and I will prepare new activists so that they, too, can participate in the future. Being part of the Amnesty International delegation at the Commission on the Status of Women has given me the opportunity to realize that I am not alone in this fight, that there are so many other people and organizations working towards the same goals. That is the message I want to share: our commitment and work is not in vain and our fight will have positive results which future generations will be able to enjoy.

It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, you can always start again. You will always have people beside you giving you strength and fighting by your side.

My Body My Rights is Amnesty’s global campaign for sexual and reproductive rights. Right now we’re calling on Ireland to change its abortion law. Sign our petition today.