When Peruvian-born Lucía Stavig, a Penn-Mellon Just Futures Postdoctoral Fellow working in the the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies, talks about ayllu, the ancestral social structure of the Quechua people, it’s more than just a family tree of who’s related to who. It’s an entire world, a sacred community of plants and animals; mountains and valleys; lakes and rivers; people and their ancestors. “Oftentimes, we think about illness and health as individual,” when, in fact, they’re connected to the world, she says.
When Stavig discovered that from 1996 to 2000, an estimated 314,000 Peruvians were sterilized as part of a national campaign for reproductive health and family planning, she was outraged. “Statistical analysis shows that only 35% of them received full and informed consent,” she says, meaning the other 65% were forcibly sterilized. The vast majority—95%—were Indigenous women.
Stavig wanted to study this. But she didn’t want to set down a tape recorder, ask women to share their stories, and listen to them cry. Instead, she wanted to show how healing was possible by reconnecting women’s bodies to the land.
She reached out to Hilaria Supa Huamán, an Indigenous Peruvian politician and human rights activist, who created a center to help Indigenous women and their communities heal from forced sterilization. More than 20 years later, these women still suffer from headaches, stomachaches, anxiety, and insomnia, Stavig says. “Do you think it’s PTSD?” she asked Huamán. “What you call PTSD, we call spirituality,” Huamán responded.
Located in the Anta province about an hour outside of Cusco, the center, called Mosoq Pakari Sumac Kawsay Healing House, was built using traditional architecture on sacred lands surrounding a lake. “It’s a collective,” Stavig says. “Even in its physical space, it’s meant to help women reconnect with the land.”
Forced sterilization, dispossession of lands, mining—all these processes strip resources from the ayllu rather than work toward the collective well-being of Indigenous people, Stavig says. “In trying to heal from sterilization, women at the center are healing the world around them, coming back into relation with the land, coming back into relation with one another.”
On Nov. 1, Stavig is presenting her research on “The Cosmopolitics of Health: Healing and Radical Resurgence in the Andes” in a hybrid event as part of the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies internal speaker series.