Between their stories and our realities: Five Pesos

Between Their Stories and Our Realities -- Chapter 3


Chapter 3: Five Pesos

Five Pesos tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl named Marcela. She is the daughter of a poor woman living in a slum. She has two younger brothers, and their father is unknown. Marcela works in the street opening taxi doors, and doesn't go to school. Her mother works long hours as a maid.

Every day to help her mom, Marcela must bring home five pesos (the equivalent of $5). One day her own "co-workers" steal her money. As she is crying, a maintenance worker at the bus station offers to give her the money. She follows him to get it, but he sexually abuses her. Then he giver her the five pesos.

Five Pesos addresses problems of poverty, child labor, and some of the risks that girls working in the street may encounter. It also portrays the cruelty of sexual abuse.

Approximate duration: 15 minutes.

How is the story of Five Pesos related to the Women's Convention?

This video sets out violations of the right to development and to a life of dignity, which millions of people suffer daily due to poverty. It also shows how class, gender and age inequalities together make for a tough reality for young girls working in the street.

Article 5 of the Convention deals with the social and cultural construction of stereotypes defining the roles of women and men. Article 10 sets out the right to education. The theme of sexual abuse is also presented.

A. Raising Awareness and Sensitivity

Possible Activities:

The coordinator can have participants form pairs to open a personal and intimate dialogue about emotions felt during the video.

Each pair can talk about the video and choose one feeling about it that they'd like to communicate with the group.

Before each presentation, each pair can list issues in the video which would be interesting to analyze as a group.

Each pair's ideas will be shared or presented, and the issues chosen can be addressed in the rest of the workshop.

Expressing Emotions

The coordinator can propose the following guidelines:

In groups of 4 or 5 people, participants can discuss Marcela's story and relate their initial feelings about her life.

Each group can then choose the scene of the video which moved them the most, the scene which caused the strongest reaction.

Finally, each group can explain to the others which scene they chose and why.

B. Analysis and Comprehension

Possible Activities:

The Construction of Stereotypes Based on Gender

Biological differences between women and men are the foundations on which every culture defines what women and men should do. But the roles society shapes go beyond physical differences. They are cultural constructions -- a society's culture shapes its concept of gender. Nonetheless, gender roles become so strong that they are often considered natural.

The coordinator can ask the group to think about the scene where Marcela wakes up and receives "orders" from her mom about what she must do that day.

The group can then consider the following question: if Marcela were a boy, would she have received the same order from her mother? Don't ask the group to answer the question right away, but instead to think about the messages that they received as children regarding:

  • What boys should do or be?
  • What girls should do or be?

Then the groups can think about the present. What are the messages that we transmit to children as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, teachers, and friends regarding:

  • What boys should do or be?
  • What girls should do or be?

NOTE: Have the group think about not only explicit and verbal messages, but also ideas and values transmitted through certain games, toys, behaviors permitted and reprimanded, etc.

The group may want to list these ideas on a large sheet of paper. It can be done following this model:


In the PAST

Girls should do or be ... Boys should do or be ...



Games and Toys




Behavior permitted and not permitted





Girls should do or be ... Boys should do or be ...



Games and Toys




Behavior permitted and not permitted




Both sheets of paper can be presented side by side and participants can think about them for a few minutes. The coordinator can ask again the following question: if Marcela were a boy, would she have received the same order or message from her mother?

The groups can then answer the question, and discuss others such as:

  • In our own communities and families, are there practices and messages we send based on the idea of male superiority?

Article 5 of the Women's Convention can then be read, especially focusing on part a.

Child Labor

According to a report from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in some Latin American countries more than 25% of children work, and they are some of the most exploited workers in the world. In most cases, work signifies exploitation. Poverty is the principal cause of child labor. Street workers in particular are among the most marginalized and exploited of child workers. They are in a continual struggle to survive. Many are pulled into petty crime and prostitution.

The coordinator can divide the group into two teams, giving each group paper, magazines, newspapers, glue, and markers to make a mural.


  • One team should depict the lives of children who live with their families, go to school and enjoy most of their rights.
  • The other team should depict the lives of children working in the streets.

NOTE: Each mural is to show how the children live, what they do, who they are with, their problems and needs, desires, opportunities and futures.

The coordinator can remind each team of the images in the video:

  • The life of Marcela, working and playing in the streets.
  • The life of the girl where Marcela's mom cleans, playing with Barbies.

Each group can then show its mural, and the coordinator can lead a discussion of the ideas that appear in the murals.

Sexual Abuse

Both boys and girls can become victims of sexual abuse, but statistics show that from the age of five, the proportion of girls suffering from sexual abuse begins to grow. In all, 76% of sexual abuse cases involve girls. (UNICEF 1994).

The coordinator can describe the scene where the taxi drivers exchange the following dialogue:

Taxi Driver 1: "Two more years and Marcela won't need to beg ..."

Taxi Driver 2: "Why?"

Taxi Driver 1: "Don't you see how she is developing?"

Then the coordinator can raise the following questions to start a debate:

  • What do ideas like that mean for a girl in Marcela's situation?
  • Who is responsible for child abuse and child prostitution?

The coordinator can recall the scene in the video where Marcela suffers sexual abuse to get her five pesos, and ask:

  • Who is responsible for the abuse, and why?
  • Could Marcela, a girl of eleven, have refused? How, or why not?
  • What are some of the causes and consequences of sexual abuse in her life?

NOTE: The coordinator can inform the group that the story of Marcela is a true story of a girl from Tucuman, Argentina. Every time she needs to bring five pesos to her mom, she turns to the same man, who offers her money in exchange for sex. The debate can turn to the problem of girls' prostitution. The coordinator can present the following statistic:

Each year, one million girls in the world fall into prostitution.

In Asia, more than a million girls and boys are involved in prostitution.

In the US, the number is 100,000.

Article 6 of the Women's Convention can then be read and analyzed, as well as the General Recommendation No. 19: Violence Against Women, and related to the problems discussed.

Female Heads of Households

"Invisible Adjustment" is the name given to the efforts of women, especially poor women, to survive, manage growing domestic responsibilities, and to avoid sudden falls in their quality of life when social spending is cut back. Cuts in government investments in health services, education and other needs mean that women shoulder increasing burdens and household costs (UNICEF 1989). This increase in work affects women of all ages -- mothers, girls, older sisters, and grandmothers.

The coordinator can present the following:

In one of every four households of the world a women is head of the family.

Poverty affects women differently than men, as women bear most of the costs of invisible adjustment (UNICEF 1989).

Divide the group into two teams and have them:

  • Identify the woman in the video who is head of a family and think about her life.
  • Discuss some characteristics of women heads of families in participants' communities.
  • Create a Drama "A Day in the Life of a Female Head of Household," focusing on her responsibilities.

Each team can present its work in front of the group.

The coordinator can then ask the following question:

When a women is the head of a family, it means that the man is absent. When a man is head of a family, it doesn't mean that the woman is absent. Why?

The teams can meet again and discuss the question, and prepare another Drama, "A Day in the Life of a Male Head of Household," focusing on his responsibilities.

The Dramas can then be presented and a debate initiated about gender inequalities in heading a family.

C. Strategies for Change

Possible Activities:

Changing Stereotypes

By not questioning gender stereotypes, we give different and unequal opportunities to people based on sex. But if we can change our gender-based notions about what is possible, we can open up opportunities for all -- girls, boys, women and men. We can begin by sending new messages to our kids, both in the family and in school.

Read and discuss Article 10, part c, and Article 5, part b of the Women's Convention.

Propose new messages, games, toys and educational materials (books, stories, etc.) that we can offer our children, with the objective of developing greater possibilities for the future.




Girls should do or be ...

Boys should do or be ...



Games and Toys




Educational Materials




Planning a Project

Discrimination is very complex and takes place at many levels. Effective solutions to end discrimination must begin at a very basic level. The following exercise is designed to help participants develop basic tools and concrete proposals to work toward eliminating discrimination against girls and women.

The coordinator can divide the group into teams of at least eight people.

Each team can define a problem of discrimination shared or recognized by everyone.

Read an article of the Women's Convention related to the problem.

Then the group can address its problem, perhaps using the following format:

Finally, each team can present its project summary to the rest of the group. It is important to have a discussion and debate about the feasibility of each project in the participants' communities. If the group can agree on one as most important, collective efforts can be put toward that one, with the others to follow.

A World Turned Upside-Down

The coordinator can present the following song, written on a poster:

There was a time
Of a good little wolf
That was mistreated
By all the little sheep.

And there was a time
Of a bad prince
A beautiful witch
And an honest pirate.

All these things
Existed once
When I dreamt
About a world turned upside-down.

The group can be divided into teams of 4 or 5 people. Have the teams build on the song, thinking about a different world for girls who live like Marcela and for women who live like her mom. Each team can then present its song.

D. Evaluation

Universality and Indivisibility of Human Rights

On a large piece of paper, each participant can list a human right or a situation of discrimination that was addressed in the workshop.

Participants, in turn, can add words that are related to the ones already written, and explain the relation.

When all participants have written something on the paper, the group can continue the exercise, adding more relations between the words already written, and/or adding new words. The finished product can be discussed in detail in order to understand the ideas of universality and indivisibility of human rights.


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