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October 2021

Soc Sci Med. 1998 Oct; 47(8): 1005-15.

Environment, vulnerability, and gender in Andean ethnomedicine.

Larme AC.

University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 78284-7910, USA.

In Cuyo Cuyo, in the southern Peruvian highlands, ethnomedicine is rife with images of human vulnerability to a hostile and unpredictable environment. This is represented in the ethnomedical system by a focus on wayras, air- or wind-borne illnesses that enter through vulnerable body openings such as the head, orifices, lower back, and feet. Women are viewed to be more vulnerable, or débil, than men to illness because they have an extra orifice, the vagina, they lose copious amounts of blood, which is thought to be irreplaceable, during childbirth. and because they suffer more negative emotions, which are thought to attract wayras and other illnesses to the body. The relationship of ethnomedical beliefs to the Andean physical and political economic environment is explored within the context of social and economic change. Negative beliefs about women's bodies have negative effects on women's roles and position vis-à-vis men in present day Cuyo Cuyo. Ethnomedical beliefs reflect and reinforce gender inequalities in present day Peru and are part of a cultural ideology that in general devalues women. This case study demonstrates that power is a key dimension in the cultural construction of medical knowledge. whether in non-Western or Western societies.

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