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Une économie solidaire peut-elle être féministe ?

Christine Verschuur
Isabelle Guérin
Isabelle Hillenkamp

Solidarités, travail et rapports sociaux

Weaving at the crossroads of gender and ethnicity. Or can the collective entrepreneurship of women working in the tourism industry of Peru be interpreted as feminist solidarity?

Annelou Ypeij

Texte intégral


  • 1 Sections of this paper have been published before in Ypeij (2012).

1Tourists who visit the small Andean town of Chinchero, located in the Holey Valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru, are usually impressed by the many beautifully dressed women who crowd the streets. These women are weavers and members of associations who invite tourists to their collective workshops located in the town’s centre. They offer tourists a seat and a coca tea. They give a demonstration of the weaving and dying of the wool and, in doing so, they hope to seduce the tourists into buying their arts and crafts. Originally, a typically Andean town of small scale and subsistent farmers with little cash-income possibilities, tourism has changed Chinchero profoundly. This papers deals with the ways the Quechua-speaking women of Chinchero have grabbed new economic opportunities within tourism in a collective way and the changes in ethnic and gender relations that are the result of it. It will especially look at how these income generating activities fit into the discussions of feminist economics and solidarity economies.

  • 2 In my previous study I have based myself on the work of Alison MacEwen Scott in which she argues th (...)

2Feminist economics focus on the – in the mainstream economics often neglected – care economy, household dynamics and divisions between unpaid and paid labour, among many other issues (Benería 2003). Solidarity economy approaches wish to study alternatives to profit-driven economies and is focussed on the collective organisation of economic activities in which solidarity, reciprocity and gender and ethnic equality are key concepts (Utting 2013). It is often initiated from “below” and women play “a primary role as agents” within these economic activities (Guberlet 2009, 738). Based on my own research of the informal economy of Lima of the early 1990s, the degree of control that the small-scale economic actors, whether organised family-based or in associations, exercise over the production process (labour input, access to markets, ownership) are decisive for their level of autonomy in the highly competitive urban economy.2 And autonomy is considered to be a precondition for doing economics in a different, alternative, more solidary way (Guberlet 2009).

3I wish to integrate these approaches into the concept of feminist solidarity which I operationalise as follows: do the participants organise themselves in an inclusive democratic way, do they work towards the equal distribution of benefits, do the participants have control over the production process and do their activities lead to more gender and ethnic equality?

4The organisation of this paper is as follows. First I will give some general information about the tourism development in the Cusco-Machu Picchu region. Then I will introduce Chinchero and the activities of the women weavers. In subsequent sections I will analyse changes in gender relations at the household level and the introduction of new social inequalities by the male mestizo guides who are very important for bringing tourists to Chinchero. These male guides who act as brokers and mediators between the tourists and the women weavers are important for the way tourism is organised in the region. Then follows a section about the way the associations are organised. I will distinguish between different types of leadership. In the last section I will draw some conclusions.

5The paper is based on a six weeks fieldwork that I did in the Cusco area in 2003 and several field visits that I have done since then.

Tourism in the Cuzco-Machu Picchu region

6Tourism in Peru has grown explosively since the 1990s and the capture of the leader of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist organisation (Ypeij 2012). In 1992, Peru received 217,000 international tourists; 18 years later, the figure was over 2 million. The annual growth rate over the last ten years has been around 8 percent. Machu Picchu located in the Sacred Valley is Peru’s flagship tourist attraction. Between 1997 and 2011, the annual number of tourists visiting this Inca archaeological park and site has risen from 294 to 971 million.3 Tourism has thus turned into mass tourism. It is Peru’s fifth source of foreign exchange (behind mining, agriculture, fishery and oil industry) and with 2,242 million US dollars generated almost 4 percent of the country’s gross national product of that year.4

7The national state is a major player in the way tourism is promoted and developed (Ypeij 2012). Since the presidency of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), Peru’s tourist development programmes have been characterised by neo-liberal economic policies, openness to foreign investments, and the granting of concessions to international companies (Desforges 2000). The tourism industry is dominated by large and medium-sized companies owned by members of the Cuzco urban middle class, political and economic elites from Lima, and foreign companies. Because the jobs they offer require high levels of education, not many are generated for local people from rural backgrounds or for those from the urban lower classes. Despite this, as Cuzco is one of the departments of Peru with the highest levels of poverty, many poor people from urban and rural areas do their utmost to get a piece of the tourism pie (Hill 2007). They have embraced the tourism encounter as a new way of making a living and as an opportunity for social mobility. They create their own work: street vendors, shoeshine boys, beggars, and groups of tourists led by informal guides are omnipresent in the streets of the historic city centre of Cuzco, the tourist villages of Pisac and Chinchero, and many other places along the road to Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley (Ypeij 2012).

The women weavers of Chinchero

8Chinchero is a small village located at a 40 minute bus drive from Cusco on the road towards Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. It is located at 3,800 meters above sea level. It has 2,300 inhabitants in the village itself and another 7,200 in the surrounding 16 communities. The people live on agriculture and construction. Increasingly tourism is becoming an important additional source of income.

9Lonely Planet describes Chichero as a “typical Andean” village with “a colourful Sunday market” and “traditionally dressed locals” (Lonely Planet 2010, 263). The Sunday market is a regional market that brings together the peasants from the surrounding communities who sell and barter their agricultural produce (Henrici 2002). Under the influence of tourism, the market has changed in character as it is expanding in size and handicrafts and other tourist’s items are increasingly being sold. Also there is a daily tourist market in front of the antique cathedral. The “traditionally dressed locals” mentioned in the Lonely Planet are women who wear polleras (woollen layered skirts), hand woven mantas (shawls) and their hair in artistic braids with a typical round head in red and black on top. They speak Quechua as their mother tongue while some of them are monolingual or have only basic knowledge of Spanish. They are members of subsistence farming families who grow potatoes, broad beans and wheat on their chacras.

10Nowadays many women not only work as vendors on the tourist and Sunday markets, but they can also be found inside and outside the many weaving workshops they have established in Chinchero’s small tourist centre during the last decade. The women weavers invite tourists to visit their workshops. They give a demonstration of their weaving art and show how they colour the wool with a natural dye made of all kinds of herbs.

11These women follow the example of Nilda Callañaupa, a woman from Chinchero raised in a Quechua speaking peasant family who throughout her youth lead the typical life of an Andean girl, working in agriculture and herding the family’s sheep. She was, however, the first of her community to go to the university in Cusco to study tourism and anthropology in the 1990s. She also went to a university in the States (Callañaupa Alvarez 2007). As she came in contact with American anthropologists interested in Andean antique and contemporary weavings she realised that Chinchero and the surrounding villages and communities had a long history of weaving. However, she also knew that this art was less and less being transmitted from the older generations to the younger ones. She also noticed that some of the elderly of her community made a modest profit by selling their antique weavings to tourists and collectors. Feeling the need to stop this loss of cultural expression and to revive the traditions of her community she dreamed of an organisation that could support the recuperation of old weaving techniques and simultaneously offer much needed cash to the women involved. As a capable weaver herself who learned the art from her mother, grandmother and other elderly women, she started to organise women in weaving workshops with the aim of reviving the art of weaving while offering the women an income generating opportunity. In 1996 she officially opened the doors of her now famous Centre of Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) with shops-cum-museums in Cusco and Chinchero (Callañaupa Alvarez 2007). Especially luxury tourism tours visit her centres as she offers high quality weavings for high prices. Callañaupa’s organisation CTTC bring together more than 650 women from all over the Sacred Valley in separate associations. Based on my visit to Chinchero in 2010, it is my estimation that there are an additional 8 to 10 organisations with a total of 300 women as associates that have followed Callañaupa’s example.

Changing ethnic and gender identities

  • 5 In Taquile weaving and knitting is also done by men, but women and men specialise in different item (...)

12After the agrarian reforms of 1968 under General Velasco, material markers of Indianness (chulos, ojotas, bayetas, the distinctive hats, sandals, and thick woollen cloth of the indigenous people) tended to fade away (De la Cadena 1995, 339). However, as the case of Chinchero makes clear, tourism can inspire women to use these identity markers again and strengthen their ethnic identities. Visitors of Chinchero meet many indigenous women on the street who are dressed in their typical outfits who invite them to spend time with them in their workshops. Inside the workshops, Nilda Callañaupa’s discourse on the need for the revival and recuperation of the weaving art and cultural customs is being put into practice. Often workshops are located in secluded yards or small shops and have an intimate atmosphere. Tourists are invited to sit down on low benches covered with alpaca hides. The women stand and bend forward in front of an adobe stove to heat the herbs. Other women are weaving while seated on the ground. More herbs are on display in clay pots on the ground. Fire wood is stored and dyed wool hangs to dry. Guiney pigs are kept in cages. Small children walk around or play with a kitty. Weavings of all sizes decorate the adobe walls and counters. Tourists are served a hot cup of coca tea against the cold. Some workshops are decorated with bunches of flowers. In all, the workshop breathes the intimate character of the Andean home. Though the ultimate goal of inviting the tourists in their workshops is for sure the sale of their weavings, the women take their time to relate to the tourists, explain about their work and pose patiently for the cameras. It is important to note that most weaving is considered to be a feminine task and though some men are nowadays learning how to weave on looms, the most complicated and appreciated patterns are done by women on a so-called backstrap loom that is attached to their bodies.5

13Señora Marleni is a 33 year old married woman and is president of Awana Wasi. This weaving association has 45 members and three different locales in the tourist centre of Chinchero. Señora Marleni identifies herself as a descendent of the Incas. Though she is a baptised catholic, she is interested in rituals based on Andean cosmology. And considering her weaving art, she never underestimates the importance of the income from sales, but in her discourse she puts ample emphasis on her cultural roots, her Quechua mother tongue and customs that are in need of recuperation, study and revival. She told me: “As the president of the organisation I try to continue preserving everything that is from our ancestors, our culture, and further to promote it and to spread it. So that we will not lose it and can pass it from generation to generation (interview in 2010)”.

14The differences in dress between Señora Marleni and her mother are noteworthy. Though her mother’s appearance shows many indigenous identity markers such as braids and a simple synthetic and cotton pollera, Marleni is dressed daily in a heavy woollen pollera, broidered blouse, a handmade jacket, an expensive woven manta and a typical hat. Comparing the appearance of mother and daughter, the daughter’s dress is much more luxurious, expensive and beautiful than the mother’s. Señora Marleni tries to dress like this as much as she can. However, when doing household chores, working the land, or travelling to Cusco, she dresses in a more urban style. In Cusco, she has been robbed of her expensive clothing three times already.

15Though the market association and the weaving associations oblige the women to wear their most luxurious clothing while vending or being present in the workshop, presenting themselves this way to tourists is also something that fills the majority of the women with pride. In that sense their clothing has multiple meanings: it is an important resource to attract tourists to the village and it is a way to earn an income, but it is also strongly related to their weaving art, their being together in the workshops and their wish to learn more about their history and the life of their ancestors. Wearing their most beautiful clothing and working in the weaving associations strengthens the women’s ethnic and feminine identities.

16Becoming involved in weaving associations and other tourism work brings about important changes in women’s daily lives. As a result, the sexual division of labour is shifting. Women invest more and more time in their tourism work and are frequently away from home. This, in combination with the income they earn, leads to changes in gender relations. This process of cultural change is complex, and it generates conflict and resistance. As Señora Nilda Callañaupa put it in an interview:

In our culture, it has always been the men who earned the money. The woman belonged to the house, but with these groups [of women weavers] it is different. We have had positive experiences where the husband is content with his wife’s work and helps at home [with the household chores]. But we have also negative experiences where there have been many discussions and disagreements in the house. At times we had to intervene, and some women have withdrawn for this reason. But, in general, the families involved see this as a good opportunity. The role of women has changed. Before women spent much time on their plots of land, but now they spend more time on their weavings. There has always been a little bit of machismo in our culture. The male feels superior. But he now feels inferior because the woman is earning the money. This definitely is a change.

17The leaders of other organisations also report that before the advent of weaving centres, the women mainly worked at home and in agriculture. Income-generating activities were mainly the reserve of men. Nowadays, however, some women are remarkably economically successful and earn more than men. In the case of Marileni, she is at times away from home the entire day working while her husband stays there to look after their little children. Compared to her fellow-villagers she is rather wealthy. She has worked in the United States for a few months teaching weaving courses. Her earnings enabled her, once back in Chinchero, to invest in her house and buy a car. In his study on indigenous weavers in Guatemala, Little (2004, 220) reaches comparable conclusions and stresses women’s new positions as breadwinners.

The introduction of new gender and ethnic inequalities

18Observations in weavers’ workshop Virgen de las Nieves:

The women are talking in Quechua so I can’t follow them but they also use the Spanish words “guides” and “commission” and they point at a little tray with a few coins they have received as tips. They laugh loudly. I understand that they are talking about tour guides and the commission they want. Then a (male) guide enters. The women poke each other, look a guide. He walks around, refuses the tea the women offer him and leaves without having said a word. Very arrogant. I want to leave too and when I climb up the stair another man enters and mumbles something to me. I had forgotten my notebook so I return. There is a lot of uproar. The man is irritated and walking up and down. He talks, argues and the women respond “No, no, no”. To a woman standing next to me I ask what is happening. The man turns out to be the guide and chauffeur of the two young female tourists who have been inside for a few moments. “They have bought at other workshops, not with us”, the women ensure me. The guide who is looking for his commission isn’t convinced and leaves angry. The women are confused. During the 40 minutes I have visited this workshop the subject of tour guides and their commission have come to the foreground three times. This really is an issue. (Field notes, October 2, 2010).

  • 6 In Cusco, guides are registered with three unions: Agotur, Colitur and Progatur (Bosman 2006, 203). (...)

19Tour guides are indeed an issue. Since my observations in Chinchero I have become aware that tour guides in Peruvian tourism play a much bigger role than has been presumed in the literature. Not only are they indeed the mediator, explorer, role models, pathfinders etc. as has been previously argued (Dahles 2002; Cohen 1985), but they are also functioning in a social setting which is characterised by huge social inequalities based on class, gender and ethnicity and related practices of sexism and racism. Being a tourist guide is a protected profession in Peru in the sense that one needs a higher education of three to five years and needs to be registered by a union of tourists guides (Bosman 2006, 203). To keep one’s registration up-to-date guides have to follow refresher courses on a regular basis. In Cusco, 80 per cent of the registered guides are males6. In addition, the majority of the guides have an urban lifestyle and their mother tongue is Spanish, i.e. they consider themselves to be mestizo. Their urban and mestizo background and their masculinities makes that the contacts between the guides and the women weavers are riddled with gender, class and ethnic differences.

20As most tourists visit Chinchero as part of a one day excursion through the Sacred Valley, local tour guides form an important aspect in the organisation of tourism in the region. Tourists can buy the excursion at local travel agencies in Cusco. It takes the tourists to Pisaq, Ollantaytambo and on the return to Cusco the tour pays a call to Chinchero. This means that most tourists arrive at around 6:00 pm, often already when dusk is falling. The tourists who visit Chinchero during the day come there often through more private and luxurious trips organised by a hotel or because they have contracted a private guide. In the late afternoon bus after bus appears at the parking lot in the centre of Chinchero. The tourists have 45 minutes to an hour to visit the tourist market, the cathedral or to go to one of the weavers workshops. The weavers are in the street trying to attract the attention of the tourists.

21Guides are decisive for the way tourists move through the village. Guides often lead their groups straight to the ruins and the market, especially if their schedule is tight. They advise the tourists where to go, how much to pay for the handicrafts and how much tip to pay for making a photo of an indigenous woman. The women, who depend largely on the willingness of the guides to bring their groups to their centres, try to maintain good relations with them. And guides only bring tourists to those workshops where there is no discussion about their commission. In a conversation I had with the husband of Marleni he used the word corruptness when we talked about the commission of the guides. He told me that the amount the guides ask is between 15 and 20 per cent of every handicraft sold. He considered this to be far too high. Conflicts over commissions are not uncommon. But the husband of Marleni also indicated that he was remodelling the workshop according to the advices of a befriended guide. Guides are perceived as knowing what tourists want and their advice is taken seriously.

22The women weavers depend on the guides for their incomes. And the guides in turn depend on the tourists for their income. Tourists who enjoy themselves and who like the weavings and other handicrafts of the women are willing to spend money. This increases the commissions of the guides. And tourists who had a good excursion may reward the guide an additional tip at the end of the tour. Guides touring with groups of tourists have a large responsibility for their well-being and their positive experience. If one or two tourists do not obey the guide (you have half an hour in this village, so be back on time) the excursion may turn into a sour experience for the group. This may result in less commissions and tips. On the longer term it may harm the guide’s reputation and threaten his future work possibilities. For the guides it is therefore important that tourists are satisfied with their work. To bring a tour to a good end they need leadership. This leadership is constantly being performed and communicated to the tourists. Guides present themselves as knowledgeable and informed. They advise tourists when and what to do and how to do it. They promise them a special experience. Also in their mediation between the women weavers and the tourists their authoritative position and knowledge is constantly performed. Guides may for example warn tourists about high prices and advise to buy at another place. The leadership that the guides perform is associated with a masculine identity and male values such a superiority and machismo. This mingles with ethnic inequalities and values about the supposed inferiority of the Quechuaspeaking population. In their dealing with the women weavers and their enthusiasm to impress tourists these values may turn into arrogance and disdainfulness. The women weavers of Chinchero have experienced this on several occasions such as guides demanding a commission undeservedly, being angry or starting a quarrel and other forms of intimidation. But they are not in a position to act against it. Without the guides, hardly any tourists would visit their workshops.

Control, democracy and leadership

23The weaving workshops in Chinchero can be placed in the context of many more initiatives being developed inside and outside Peru. For example in Tarabuco in Bolivia, tourism development also inspired the revival of the weaving art. There the NGO ASUR has taken the initiative and in the same way as the weavers in Chinchero the ASUR uses a discourse about the recuperation of cultural traditions while providing the weaving women with an income. However, in Bolivia, ASUR has organised the production process in such a way that it controls it to a large extend. The NGO decides what items and patterns the women have to weave, when their products should be ready and how much money their products are worth. ASUR buys the weavings from the women and subsequently resells them in its museum-com-shop in Sucre. The women weavers of Tarabuco therefore exercise far less control over the production process and the input of their labour than the women weavers of Chinchero. The way ASUR organises and controls the production process resembles unequal subcontracting relations that one can find in the large scale textile industry (Fernandez 2006; Ypeij 2000).

24The women weavers of Chinchero seem to work on a much more independent basis and under their own conditions. They themselves have initiated their associations, not an outside NGO and they themselves determine how their work is organised and what products, techniques and patterns to make. But a more scrupulous analysis reveals large differences between the associations. Some organisations are a collective initiative and led in a democratic way. Virgen de las Nieves, for example, is a vendors association that has existed for over 30 years. Originally the activities of their members only consisted of working in the market. A few years ago, they opened a weaving workshop. They have a board that meets frequently. They take decisions in consultation with their membership and board members change regularly. Other associations may encounter problems with the rotation of board members, because they do not have sufficient members who are willing and able to take upon themselves such a responsibility. One can imagine that leading an association with the tourism industry requires of knowledge of basic maths and Spanish and skills such as literacy. Besides, being a leader requires additional time input and women may have too many household and family responsibilities to do so. Leaders may stay on the boards for long time periods thus endangering the democratic functioning of the organisation. Awana Wasi of which Marleni is the president is an example of this. According to Marleni, the members continue to re-elect her as president, for this reason she is the only president the association has had. I have heard rumours by women of other organisations that she is ruling in an authoritarian way and that she exploit the members of her association. The fact that she is economically better-off than average may be the reason behind this gossiping, but that she is has been the only association’s leader is a fact. Other workshops may have a different organisational logic all together. Expo Andina, for example is a family business owned by a married couple. Together with their grown-up children they run a restaurant and develop other tourist activities. They have invited some women weavers to sell their products in the yard of the restaurant as a way of giving their activities an additional authentic flavour. These women may be obliged not only to pay commission to the guides but also to the restaurant owners.


25In this paper I have shed light on the functioning of the weavers associations in Chinchero. There numbers are rapidly increasing since the tourism industry in Peru is booming. Most associations follow the example of Nilda Callañaupa who established her NGO-like organisations already in 1996. I estimated that in the Chinchero area and beyond there are currently around 900 to 1000 women organised in weaving organisations. The associations enable the women to earn an additional income next to their agricultural work. The economic success of some women is remarkable.

26The associations put much emphasis on the fact that they revive cultural traditions and recuperate weaving techniques. The women dress in their most beautiful hand-spun indigenous clothing and have a characteristic hairdo. They present themselves as the ethnic other, knowing that tourists are interested in an authentic experience (Wilson and Ypeij 2012). However it is too simple to state that they only use their identities in a strategic way. They convert their cultural capital into an economic one but in doing so they also strengthen their ethnic identities. They are proud of their weaving art, of their appearance and of who they are.

27Considering the criteria I have distinguished to interpret the workshops in terms of feminist solidarity a very nuanced image appears. Through their work women become breadwinners, which provokes changes in the conservative sexual division of labour. Though their husbands may have objected to their work in the past, it is increasingly considered to be normal that the women are active in the associations. This may reposition the women at the household level and towards their husbands. However, new gender and ethnic inequalities are introduced by the fact that guides have appeared on the tourist scene. They accompany tourists to the weaving centres and are predominantly males who consider themselves to be mestizos. They may have a racist and disdainful attitude towards the women. The women are not in a position to act against this because they depend on the guides to bring in tourists. The answer to the question of whether the women’s work leads to more gender equality therefore is nuanced: at the level of the household the income the women provides indeed may lead to more gender equality towards their husbands, but the way tourism is organised in Peru may curb this development by the introduction of new gender and ethnic inequalities. Considering the democratic ruling of the organisations this case leads to mixed conclusions too. Though at first the women’s associations may give the impression that they are communal income-generating activities or communal enterprises based on a collective initiative and self-organisation, a more in-depth questioning has revealed that they have a variety of organisational structures. These associations are not automatically fully based on solidarity or democracy. They may be privately owned business or associations whose leader rules for years. Also sharp income differences become visible if one takes a closer look at the workshops. Even when all women may earn an income, the leaders especially may have improved their economic position in a considerable way. In respect to the control over the labour and production process the workshops of Chinchero compare favourably with other cases in the region. In Chinchero the women themselves have taken the initiative and produce under their own conditions. For their sales markets they depend on the guides to bring in tourists, this may limit their earnings.


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1 Sections of this paper have been published before in Ypeij (2012).

2 In my previous study I have based myself on the work of Alison MacEwen Scott in which she argues that the (self‑employed) producer is “of course constrained by market mechanisms governing the demand for his products … and the supply of his factors of production” but within these constrains he has autonomy over his production process. This autonomy can be conceptualized as 1) juridical ownership 2) direct appropriation of the profits and 3) control over the decision-making processes which arise out of production (MacEwen 1979, 106). As my own study shows, this autonomy contributes positively to the level of his/her income (Ypeij 2000).

3 Source : Ministerio de Comercio Exterior y Turismo, -web/portals/0/turismo/sitios %20turisticos/Cus_MAPI_Ciudad_LLeg_Nac_Extr.xls

4 Source: Observatorio Turistico del Peru, BADATUR,

5 In Taquile weaving and knitting is also done by men, but women and men specialise in different items and techniques (Ypeij and Zorn 2007)

6 In Cusco, guides are registered with three unions: Agotur, Colitur and Progatur (Bosman 2006, 203). Agotur has published a list of its guides. Based on their surnames I have counted the number of males and females. Of the 691 registered guides on the list, in 34 cases their surnames did not reveal their gender. Of the remaining 657, 522 (79,5%) were males and 135 (20,5%) were females (


Annelou Ypeij is a feminist anthropologist and Latin Americanist. Broadly formulated, her research interest encompasses gender, ethnicity, poverty and social mobility. For a decade, she has studied tourism in the Machu Picchu region of Peru with a special interest for local initiatives and local control over the tourism project.


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