Woven throughout the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, environment and social – is the complex and knotty thread of gender equality. As a cross-cutting issue that pervades all aspects of the development spectrum, gender has increasingly gained attention on the international agenda and its prioritisation is widely recognised to be essential to successful and sustainable development. Indeed an increasing number of studies reveal that gender inequalities are extracting high economic costs and leading to social inequities and environmental degradation around the world.

The economic situation of women in developing countries is dire. Seventy percent of the world’s 1.3 billion people living on less than US$ 1 a day are women or girls. United Nations and World Bank studies show that focusing on women in development assistance and poverty reduction strategies leads to faster economic growth than “gender neutral” approaches. Gender-sensitive development assistance can be a powerful force for empowering women to compete in land, labour and product markets enabling them to make economic, social and environmental contributions to sustainable development. In Peru, the combined effects of existing gender inequalities in both the private and public sphere with the legacy of the 1980s economic crisis that continues to inhibit progress reveal that incorporating a gender perspective into Peru’s development agenda has never been more important.

Peru is a country steeped in deeply gendered norms and traditions rooted in what can only be termed machismo. The cult of the Virgin Mary – or Marianismo as it is better known – prevails in Latin America, and Peru is no exception. Women are expected to fulfil their duties as long-suffering mothers and wives while men maintain their status as head of the household and primary breadwinner. Women are often financial contributors to the household although the burden of domestic labour is rarely shared equally if at all between men and women. Household resource distribution and decision-making is a site of constant negotiation, with women’s voices often muted in a sphere where male authority prevails. In Ollantaytambo, these pre-existing inequalities are somewhat compounded by other existential pressures. For example, the majority of those living within Ollanta and in the surrounding communities are reliant on the seasonal tourist trade for a liveable income, which has enjoyed a boom in the last 25 years. More recently intermittent disruptions – largely due to climate-change-related disasters such as the severe flooding in January 2010, but also in part to the global economic crisis which has seen a considerable drop in the number of tourists visiting Machu Picchu – have had devastating impacts on the livelihoods of Ollantino/as.

Awamaki Lab recognizes the incontrovertible link between women’s economic empowerment and sustainable development in the face of such challenges. The project endeavors to harness the talents and capabilities of local women, empowering them to be respected business entrepreneurs who make an important contribution to the local economy in the face of external pressures such as climate change and precarious tourist flows. Economically, it will eventually provide the weavers and seamstresses with a solid and sustainable income. Through facilitating access to a global market that extends beyond tourism, the women weavers of the Sacred Valley and seamstresses of Ollantaytambo increase their independent economic activity, bringing a sustainable income into the household thereby increasing their voice both within the domestic sphere and into the community beyond. On a more profound level, the project aims to enable the women to develop the professional and emotional skills necessary for building the self-esteem that will ultimately lead to social transformation.

Today’s blog is a repost of an original blog written for the Awamaki Lab website by former volunteer Hanna Adler, with photo by Jessic Suarez. Though its focus is on the seamstresses of Awamaki Lab, its emphasis on empowering women to develop professional skills lies equally at the heart of  our current campaign to create the Spanish Teacher’s Co-Op. Please help us bring sustainable income to the women of Ollantaytambo by donating on October 19th via Global Giving, or spreading the word by ‘liking’ or sharing this post with your friends on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.