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< prev - next > Social and economic development discovering technologists (Printable PDF)
Gender and Technology Training Guidelines
Session 15 - Case Studies
6. Coping with a lack of electricity in marginal urban areas
The group of women called the Roses of America was based in one of the poorest
marginalized urban areas of the city of Tacna. The lack of electricity underlined all
the disadvantages of these women, who were largely Andean immigrants. As the men
had to work from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. to survive in the economic crisis faced by Peru, it
was left to the women to look for strategies to survive the grinding poverty and the
deficient conditions under which they lived in the marginalised urban settlements.
Coming to live as immigrants in marginalized urban areas forces these women to
adjust to limited space and to different guidelines as far as nourishment, utilities,
education, health, transport, work and leisure were concerned. Women had to
organise their day around the care of their younger children. Therefore whatever they
did had to be done close to home.
In this environment, women were perhaps more aware of poverty and of sexual
division of labour. Even if they took part in commercial pursuits like hawking and
peddling, they had to take more risks, such as the possibility of suffering abuse, and
they had to demand even more of themselves if they were to fulfil their domestic
duties as well. Added to all this, they had to endure a permanent depreciation of their
The absence of electricity prevented them from making the most of their evenings,
which they wanted to use to speed up the textile work they were involved in, they
wanted to feel secure in their homes and to facilitate the task of caring for their
children. Therefore it was necessary to make their nights less dark and the streets
which they used lit up.
To do thi,s the immigrant women from the high plateau used several devices that they
had learnt from their ancestors. For example the use of the Mecha chua which was a
handmade candle crafted from local materials like sebum of alpaca, Llama or sheep
mixed with hot kerosene and strongly compacted and put on a small clay plate, with a
twisted cayto in the middle. But this candle was smelly and smoky and was able to
give good light only for a couple of hours.
They had to consider viable options in terms of money as well. A candle every two
days was too expensive. Even a second hand car battery was not feasible. Glass lamps
were too fragile and didn't give much light. The women tried mixing fuel with water of
other combustible substances, but this too didn't work.
As a result of the limitations of these lamps women gradually turned to another kind
of lamp which was made with empty milk cans into which they put strips of braided
rag or a twisted wick, after fastening the can at both ends. Domestic kerosene was
used as fuel. This lamp did not smoke or blacken too badly.