Doris Consuelo Sánchez Santillán: supporting women through business

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Doris Consuelo Sánchez Santillán: supporting women through business

Doris Consuelo Sánchez Santillán, 36 years old, lives in Cheto, Chachapoyas province, Peru, where she runs a successful small business making and selling yoghurt and other milk products. She employs mainly students and unmarried mothers in her factory, seeing this as a "social commitment" to those with limited opportunities. Like most of her employees, she belongs to the indigenous Quechua community.

Doris has overcome a series of obstacles to get to where she is today. As a child, and the oldest daughter of a poor farming family, she had to "perform the role of a mother" as well as tend their poultry. She left school after primary level as her father was against girls' education. Later she moved to her aunt's home in Lima where she went to secondary school but felt she was exploited by her relatives: "I was supposed to…[do] all the household chores without getting any salary; they just gave me some used clothes, only the leftovers…" She began nursing training in Lima but was seriously injured by a car bomb in 1992, during the anti-government campaign by the Shining Path group.

The trauma and injuries she sustained forced her to return home, where she found opportunities for women were beginning to open up. After doing community-based training on managing local resources in 2004, Doris decided to set up her own business.

The first task was to win over and train local farmers, who were not used to selling milk. "Sometimes their milk wasn't accepted," she says, "and they had to prepare it once again because it didn't comply with the quality standards. But... now we have plenty of top-quality milk." She also had to persuade people to supply them with local fruit, such as papayas and pineapples, for use in her products: "before…those fruits were disregarded… When we asked the peasants to give us those fruits, they laughed at us..." Now, she says, "even the kids bring fruits to us. They trade them for yogurt, or they sell them for money…"

Soon after returning to Cheto from Lima, Doris was elected as the first ever female municipal officer. She says this was a rewarding position but she faced opposition: "Many people would have never voted for a woman, they argued...that women shouldn't be in charge of those matters."

Doris is also a member of a women's network that collects funds for people in need, and assists rural people who travel to Chachapoyas for medical care. While she is critical of government services, Doris also feels that a conformist attitude and lack of imagination often prevent people from breaking out of poverty. Nevertheless, she is optimistic about the possibility of change, believing that with hard work and perseverance, people can improve their lives. She tells her daughter: "You have to be better than me, you have to study harder, follow a career." Her own aspirations are to "open more stores, diversify our products, try new fruits..." She continues, "I would also like a bigger factory, so we could send more products to other places…to create more employment for more women...and help my beloved home village Cheto to grow and develop."