I could talk for days about the countless joys and triumphs involved with traveling the world as a female, but perhaps best of all is the ability to connect with women from all different walks of life.  Whether it’s fellow travelers I met on the road or my incredible Peruvian host family, I am always amazed by how easy it is to relate to the women around me, despite considerable differences in culture and life experiences.  It is for this reason that I feel especially connected to the plight of disadvantaged women, and the atrocious violation of human rights that occur in some parts of the world.

During my time studying and living in Cusco, Peru, I had the fortune of visiting a women’s shelter within the city, which acted as a safe haven for young, unwed mothers, all between the ages of 12-18.  Mantay, which means mother in the South American language, Quechua,  has provided a home for over 70 mothers since it’s creation in 2000.  Mantay teaches women how to care for babies, ensures that both the child and the mother eat a balanced diet, and provides psychological care for the new, and often abandoned, mothers.  Unfortunately, Mantay also serves a greater purpose, that of protecting the rights of women within Peru.

According to an article on global sexual violence released by the NYU Student Health Center, in Peru, 90% of pregnant mothers between 12-16 were raped, most by an immediate family member or family friend.  Even more shocking, court sentences for rapists are determined by the age of the mother, with less the crime’s severity lessening as the violated woman ages.  In the eyes of the Peruvian justice system, a woman raped at the age of 20 is more justifiable than the rape of someone half her age.  As a result, there is often deep shame on the part of the assaulted mother, and little consequence for the men who are responsible.  Some women from Mantay have attempted to take their attacker to court, only to find that the woman was convicted of ‘seduction,’ or that the charges were dropped after the rapist offered to marry his victim.

Abortion is outlawed in Peru, so the woman must either see her pregnancy through, or risk undergoing a dangerous procedure performed by an unqualified doctor.  The situation is very serious, and very grim for the victims of sexual assault.  The majority of the mothers at Mantay were disowned by their families upon discovering their rape, and they were then forced to raise their child with little resources and support.  To improve the quality of life for those residing in the shelter, and as a means of allowing mothers to learn a skill that they can later use to support their families, Mantay has opened a shop in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, which features the products handmade on-site by the mothers.  With souvenirs ranging from key chains to beautiful textiles, tourists can not only buy quality products, but can help fund an amazing organization which works to promote women’s rights in the area.

Many of the social injustices in the world are overwhelmingly complex, and really difficult to change as a tourist or visitor.  Fortunately, it’s possible to travel in a way that minimizes the suffering of others, and to do good while vacationing overseas.  Not everyone has the option of volunteering abroad, but simple changes from the tour groups you hire, to the souvenirs you buy, can help contribute to social change worldwide.  Look for fair trade items, handmade crafts, or feel free to ask the shop keeper where the proceeds from the sale will go.  If you’re traveling a nature attraction, such as a jungle, lake, or volcano, spend the extra couple of bucks it costs to go with a group that has the smallest environmental impact.  The less harm we tourists inflict on the countries we visit, the more opportunity local families have to continue to earn a living off the land.

So ask around, find a group with a good reputation, and give generously when you can.  Your contributions will ensure that future generations have access to a better life, and may someday see the same human rights that we GoGirls hold so dear.  For more information on socially conscious programming in Cusco alone, check out these links below:

FairPlay NGO (a really awesome NGO for volunteer work in Cusco)

Threads of Peru (if you want to fund them stateside, their online store has great gifts ideas for the hippie in your life)

Adventure Life (this tour group is committed to socially and environmentally responsible travel, and frequently donates profits to local groups)

South American Explorers (this unique non-profit group uses volunteers to lead trips and hikes in local areas, so not only do you get great service from passionate English speakers, but you can be sure that you will never be funding social injustice)