March is Women's History Month, a time that invites us to reflect on the different ways of being a woman. We would therefore like to share the stories of Peruvian women deprived of their liberty. Their life experiences put into question narratives of control and patriarchal dominance — when what is considered female becomes less important than what is considered male, thus creating structural inequalities between men and women.
Prisons are often viewed as male environments in our social imagination. They have been built in accordance with the needs and experiences of men while disregarding those of women. They are also defined by violent dynamics. However, there are almost 75,000 women in prisons throughout the world, and these women show resilience and strategies to rebuild their lives behind bars. As researchers, we decided not to focus on their crimes, as this can lead to these women being pigeonholed and opens the door to more stigmatization.
In spite of challenging life stories and difficult prison conditions, there are women in prison today seeking to create new opportunities for themselves. This is the case of Medalith Ravichahua, owner of “The Queen's.”
During her ten years in prison, Ravichahua began working as a hairstylist. Recently, on her way home from a long day at work, she told us about her time in the prison’s hair salon:
I was always working and working. That was how I de-stressed. I would work in the hair salon until about 9 or 10 in the evening […] It was my only way of being free.
Having the chance to work while in prison was not only a source of income, but also became an important resource in preserving her identity and protecting her mental health.
Identity and mental health are a collective experience, especially in societies blighted by inequality. Creating positive projects with those around her in prison, as well as those waiting for her outside, ultimately transformed her time in prison.
One day, Ravichahua, with her long nails and always impeccable hair, took on the challenge of learning to use a hammer and file during a shoemaking workshop. As the granddaughter of a shoemaker, she became invested in setting up her own footwear business from prison. And thus The Queen's was born.
As the son of an inmate, he didn’t make any difference and treated them like his mom. […] My son was empathetic and fulfilled his entrepreneurial role.
It’s not a matter of being a businesswoman and production, production, production. No. Because money won’t free them, but their therapy will.
Unlike men, who have more freedom, whose wives can bring their things and who can go out and the likes, we can’t […] The difference between men and women is huge. This is because men have more freedom in all aspects, while women have outright restrictions.
Despite all this, Ravichahua successfully established a brand that has appeared in fashion shows, won inter-prison competitions, and was recognized at various institutional events. However, her greatest achievement was The Queen's becoming the first formal business to be launched by a women’s prison inmate and thereby providing work opportunities for other imprisoned women, like her:
This lets my friends know that they shouldn’t listen to what they tell us. We want to leave with a goal in mind. We must learn new things and remember that we should be model inmates. A prime example of resocialization. No matter what they say, we will keep pushing ahead.