In 2009, Peruvian President Alan Garcia issued the State a historic pardon for centuries of abuse, exclusion, and discrimination towards the Afro-descendant population in Peru. That same year, the CERD – the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – expressed its concern for the lack of official data available on Afro-Peruvians. Since then, Peru has sought to address the criticism, and in 2016 it ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and other Forms of Intolerance. Despite progress, Afro-Peruvian socio-economic and political needs continue to be ignored. The discussion of their rights is seldom present on political party agendas. And the Peruvian government has failed to take affirmative action or generate public policies aimed at promoting their development. 

This Sunday, October 22, 2017, Peru will hold a national census taking account of Afro-Peruvians for the first time.  

Race and Equality interviewed Cecilia Ramirez, the director of the Center for the Development of Black Peruvian Women (CEDEMUNEP), who is a member of the Technical Inter-Institutional Committee on Ethnicity Statistics, which oversees the census process, from formulating its questions to communicating its results.  

Why is this Sunday’s national census so important for Afro-Descendant peoples? 

The census will reveal crucial demographics about our peoples, not only about how many we are and where we live, but also about the conditions we are in. The last time a census in Peru included a question about racial identity was back in 1940. That was 77 years ago. 

So there was no ethnic/racial question in past census surveys? 

Since 1961, race had been determined in the census through a question pertaining to one’s mother tongue spoken at home. Now for the first time in the history of Peru, an ethnic question will ask citizens to self-identify themselves ethnically. In this sense, Afro-Peruvians will be able to choose from 6 categories: Negro (Black), Zambo, Moreno (Brown), Mulato (mixed race), Afro-Peruvian or Afro-descendant.     

Have indigenous populations also been excluded from the census? 

Indigenous identification has been included in three prior censuses. But none have included Afro-Peruvians. This census’ official title is “The 12th for Population, 7th for Housing, and 3rd for Indigenous Communities”. We like to call it “The 1st for Afro-Peruvians”. 

Do you have an estimate of the Afro-descendant population in Peru? 

There is no official data of course. And many numbers are being thrown out there: from 0.1%, 5%, and even 9%. 

How about their socio-economic situation? 

Despite the government showing some initiative to improve the situation for Afro-Peruvians, inequality is still rampant in terms of education, health and employment. 

How long has CEDEMUNEP been advocating for an Afro-Peruvian inclusive census? 

We began raising the issue in 2010, and released a report on the human rights situation of the Afro-Peruvian population. The initiative was taken up again a little over 5 years ago in the context of the census planning, with the support of Global Rights, Race and Equality, as well as in collaboration with the National Institute of Computing and Statistics (INEI), the Ministry of Culture, the Ombudsman’s office, the National Elections Jury, some local governments and indigenous/afro-descendant organizations, such as Chirapaq, among others. We’ve also had tremendous support from partners such as the Ford Foundation, who have and continue to support us. They have played an important role in our advocacy efforts.  

What are some of the challenges you have faced? 

There is a lack of awareness and understanding of the issues facing the Afro-Peruvian population among all levels of society. Without this awareness, it is difficult for there to be genuine political will. Including a racial question in the census has therefore proven to be a challenge. 

Has there been any progress? 

Things were initially very complicated and there are still issues that need to be resolved, but we have made progress. The biggest obstacle was to include an ethnic question in the census. And we’ve accomplished that goal. But new challenges will surface from the census’ findings. 

So your work has been to educate the authorities on these issues? 

Yes, to educate and to raise awareness, not just at the national level, but also internationally. We’ve launched an advocacy campaign at the local and national level to sensitize the Peruvian people, and particularly the Afro-Peruvian people to the importance of having an ethnic self-identification question in the census. 

How has international support furthered your cause? 

No State likes to be shamed in front of other nations so the Peruvian government had to keep up with the progress made across Latin America. During the census planning, the Afro-descendant movement raised the importance of including an ethnic question in the national census. Since then, our international allies, such as CEPAL, UNFPA, and UN Women have supported us by issuing recommendations highlighting the importance of the question. This has helped the cause significantly.  

What consequences might the census results have on Peru?  

We have developed a national plan for the Afro-Peruvian peoples, called PLADEPA. This is an important development initiative, made in consultation with civil society. It is now vital that financial resources be made available for its implementation.  

What will happen in 6 months, when the census results are published? 

There will be no more excuses, as we will have access to indicators that illustrate the current situation and conditions in which Afro-Peruvians currently live. We will have clear evidence of the inequality that we face. This information must be translated into affirmative action and public policies, which account for Afro-Peruvians in all government programs, as well as poverty reduction plans. 

What can be done with these findings? 

There is a pressing responsibility for the State and Afro-Peruvian civil society to strengthen their ties. We must work together to generate change. 

And what are your hopes for the future? 

I hope the Peruvian government can adequately respond to the needs of Afro-Peruvian Peoples, and that they realize that poverty in our society is directly related to racism and racial discrimination. I hope that real political will can exist to bridge the inequality we face. I hope for better education, better healthcare, better jobs, and an increase in political representation. To invest in Afro-Peruvians is to invest in the country’s development, as we have historically contributed to building this nation, and we will continue to do so.   

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