Madre Mar is a self-led group of local mothers advocating for safe water access, improved sanitation and menstrual hygiene (WASH) in Lobitos, a small-scale fishing village along Northern Peru’s bone-dry coastline. Madre Mar is supported by female activists, athletes audiovisual artists, and health educators from Peru and around the world promoting gender equity in WASH.
Hand-washing with soap is the first line of defense in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet over 35% of the global population lacks access to necessary WASH facilities. The burden disproportionately falls on women as caretakers and the primary users, providers and managers of WASH at the household level without adequate representation in decision-making processes. The absence of menstrual hygiene education and facilities further undermines gender equity. Stigma, shame, and silence among young girls continue into adulthood and maintain power hierarchies that constrain female participation. Madre Mar strives to transform gender relations and support women and girls as agents of actionable change to lead healthy lives and participate in social, economic, environmental conservation and political activity. WASH is one essential pathway to achieve these goals.
Nestled into an isolated bone-dry stretch of Northern Peru's coastline, Lobitos is an artisanal fishing village that has undergone three distinct epochs of political domination — European colonialism, the nation-state autonomy, and neoliberal globalization. The extraction of oil began in Lobitos at the start of the twentieth century, with the arrival of the British oil company Lobitos Oilfields Limited. The infrastructure built alongside the plant included a desalination plant. The fishing village benefited from the potable water available to residents though it as intimately controlled by the foreigners. In 1968, the Peruvian military took over the town, expelling the foreign enterprises and destroying the infrastructure, including the desalination plant, which meant no more water.
Today, water is sporatically pumped into the town. The water is limited and contaminated, leaving residents and visitors vulnerable to bacteria and parasites. Moreover, the disproportionate responsibility women and girls bear as primary users, providers and managers of water, sanitation and hygiene at the household level is yet to be matched by a commensurate representation in decision-making.