As a textile artist, I wanted to go to the Andean highlands of Peru and meet the present day women weavers and find out about their lives.
A few years ago I made a study of Incan textiles. Samples of these textiles survived over the centuries because they were buried in tombs in dry desert conditions. I wondered about the early Inca women and whether they were the master weavers they are today. In researching this question, it appears that both men and women created textiles, but it was a skill that women of all classes were expected to accomplish.
Women of the Andean highlands today are supremely skilled. They tend sheep, llamas, and alpacas, and use their wool for weaving. These women are amongst the most hardy women I have ever met. This is not surprising when you consider that they live at altitudes from 7,000 to 15,000 feet, in very sparse environments with adverse climatic conditions. In talking to them, I found them to be much like I imagine our early pioneer women must have been; confident, efficient, and skilled at performing basic life tasks.
In spite of their strength and skills, they are discriminated against both as women and as native Inca. Many are illiterate and have never had the opportunity to go to school. Adequate health care is lacking. Many live in isolated highland villages and only have access to health care by traveling into a major city. Domestic violence is also an issue. In a WHO study 61% of rural women reported that they had experienced domestic violence.