I MET ESPERANZA HUAYAMA AGUIRRE IN AUGUST, in the northern Peruvian town of Huancabamba, in the region of Piura. She was wearing a blue dress over a pair of baggy pants, with a long braid spilling out from under a white cap, and stood at under five feet tall. We spoke at a house run by the Asociación de Mujeres Trabajadoras Campesinas de Huancabamba, or AMHBA—an association of working and peasant women. Huayama is fifty-eight years old, and has a sharp, bright voice. She jumped with a teenage energy to answer the phone and greet passers-by in the street, but the wrinkles on her face betrayed her age and struggles. She chanted her story like a mantra.
“In the countryside we have no experience of what our rights are,” she said. “When they came to do the ligadura, as we call it, they told us, ‘Come! We will give you medicines, foods.’ Doctors came from Lima. I already had my seven children. Then we entered the operating room and I saw the other ladies crying and complaining. They closed the door, and we could not leave. They took my blood tests and I said, ‘Doctor, I haven’t gotten my period’ ... He answered me, ‘No, come.’ I went to the bed and fell asleep, but not enough. I heard them cutting me, and also him saying, ‘Damn, this woman is pregnant.’ My god, I did not want to lose the child.”
Huayama, a peasant from the village of Rodeopampa, about three hours drive from Huancabamba, was forcibly sterilised that day, in 1996. She is just one of thousands of people coerced or persuaded into sterilisation by the Peruvian state. “Leave me my baby,” she recalled telling the doctor, “I prefer to die with him.” She continued to carry her baby, a son, until she went into labour, but he was stillborn. Had he lived, he would now have been nineteen years old.