Leslie searles

The inferno of the Awajun women




Stories of the Awajun Women from the Peruvian Amazon threatened by climate change, hunger, deforestation, the HIV epidemic, and suicides.

When extracting the yucca plant from her farm, it seems Eliana Ikam is removing the heart from its bowels. Her strength contrasts with her petite and fragile figure. Eliana is 27 years old and has four children. She, like other women in the Amazon, is responsible for taking care of the children and the farm. However, climate change and deforestation are destroying the family economy and increasing hunger in the Awajun communities. The reduction in their crops, climate alterations, and illegal mining have impoverished the communities and altered the role that the women used to have in the community. Men no longer hunt because the forest has been depredated and they would rather work in illegal mining or migrate to the city, while the women stay at home to take care of the family. The rise in migration by the men in search of work outside their communities has increased the presence of sexually transmitted disease including HIV.


In an investigation by journalist Nelly Luna, she shows that the Amazonas is the region which has the largest indigenous population with HIV. Luna says that during the last five years the epidemic has increased 6 times and expanded to several Awajun communities. From 35 reported cases in 2011, this has increased to 227 in 2015. Of these cases, 50 were adolescent women.


This situation is made worse by the increase in female suicides. A study made in 2012 by Unicef says that the suicide phenomenon in the Awajun culture is a mechanism from earlier times and is produced in response to interpersonal conflicts. However, in the last couple of years suicides are occurring more often and health centers are not properly prepared to treat this issue. Some Awajun tales tell stories of women found in the woods, hanged by their hair from the trees. A study made by Luzmila Ruiz Sanda, about the suicides in the community of Yutupis in the Santiago River, concludes that of 33 cases of suicide, 70% were by women. Of these, 52 % were caused by amorous deceptions, 24% by abuse and 18% due to abandonment.