The Quipu project is an innovative form of participatory research with communities affected by forced sterilisation in Peru (Brown and Tucker 2017). It is a collaboration between transmedia documentary company Chaka Studio, Dr Karen Tucker, Professor Matthew Brown and four local women’s organisations in Peru.
The sterilisations took place as part of a government family programme in the late 1990s. Many of the almost 300,000 women and men who were sterilised as part of this programme did not give their consent for this to happen. They were lied to, pressurised and, in some cases, physically forced to undergo sterilisation, often in unhygienic conditions and with little attempt to provide suitable aftercare. At least 17 people, 15 women and 2 men, died as a result of improperly carried out sterilisations, and others suffered serious complications such as paralysis of limbs and heart failure. Peru’s Ministry of Health has never acknowledged the violation of rights that took place in the family planning programme, nor established a mechanism to compensate those affected.
The Quipu project allows individuals affected by forced sterilisation in Peru, most of whom have no access to the internet, to add their audio testimony to an online archive via a free phoneline. The archive connects to an interactive online documentary that, through a combination of video, text and images, explains the historical and political context and allows users to listen to the recorded testimonies in their original form (in Spanish or one of two indigenous languages, Quechua and Shipibo). Users of the phoneline can also listen to the archive of testimonies, providing an opportunity for affected individuals to situate their personal experiences in relation to others’ experiences, in many cases for the first time.
The project has received high-level media coverage in outlets including the Guardian, El País, the New York Times, BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and Peru’s La República and El Comercio. A Guardian-commissioned film about the project was released in February 2017. The film, Quipu: Calls for Justice, follows two of the Peruvian activists who have played key roles in the project as they fight for recognition and women’s rights. More than 30,000 people have watched the film on the Youtube channel, and many of them have left messages of support. This media coverage has not only directed the attention of a global audience to the experiences of the predominantly indigenous women who were forcibly sterilised in Peru, it has also shifted the discourse on this episode of recent Peruvian history towards a recognition of indigenous women’s rights and agency.
The Quipu project has also made a significant contribution to indigenous women’s organising in Peru, creating opportunities for organisations in different parts of the country (Huancabamba in the northern Andes, Anta, Cusco and Ayacucho in the southern Andes, and Pucallpa in the Amazon) that had previously been working in isolation to connect and strengthen their campaigning activities. It has supported the strengthening and public visibility of local women’s leaders, including Esperanza Huayama, who was interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour in July 2017. This has facilitated the emergence of indigenous discourses on reproductive rights and body politics in the country, topics which had previously been dominated by the perspectives of urban elites.
Quipu has received funding from numerous academic and non-academic sources, including the AHRC REACT-Hub, AHRC Global Challenges Fund, CrossCurrents Doc Fund, Hotdocs, Tribeca Film Institute, the Fledging Fund, Women Make Movies, Fondo de Acción Urgente, and generous crowdfunding supporters.