Community protection mechanisms for women’s rights in Ecuador

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Amazonian women of Ecuador. Photo: UN Women

67.8% of Indigenous women in Ecuador have suffered some form of violence: physical, psychological, sexual, in failures to pay alimony, inheritance conflicts, and denial of land access. In these cases, the new plurinational and intercultural State recognizes ancestral justice as a conflict resolution option coming out of the 2008 Constitution. Indigenous women demand that the State generate policies to prevent and punish all forms of violence, while also questioning the patriarchal mentality of their authorities.

During the 19th century, the new elite of the Ecuadorian liberal bourgeoisie encouraged debate on the State model, from a colonial and exclusionary perspective. Indigenous peoples were excluded and characterized, in political structures and normative frameworks as the innocent, but abject, and miserable class. Under this reasoning venerable parish priests were appointed as guardians and natural fathers of indigenous people under the 1830 Constitution. Consequently, the question of race became a constitutional argument to justify the violation of rights, violence, and genocides against Indigenous peoples in favor of the interests of [Ecuador’s] rulers.

In the context of enslavement, Indigenous peoples implemented social resistance strategies and proclaimed their rights. Furthermore, they demanded structural change from the current State model and its political system to one that recognized and respected the cultural, political, and economic diversity of each of the ancestral peoples. All proposals generated during this stage of resistance and social struggle were systematized into a political project that was presented to local and international society within the framework of Indigenous uprisings during the 1990s.

This political project did not seek a simple reform of the monocultural state, but rather the absolute restructuring of the political system and the eradication of the hegemonic and actual power that governs. Additionally, it aimed to strengthen the sovereign power of peoples as a fundamental pillar of democracy and governance, and to guarantee the rights of individuals, communities, communes, peoples, and nationalities, as well as the environment. To achieve this, it is necessary to ensure justice and socioeconomic equality for the whole of society.

The connection between the body and the land is crucial for understanding the rights of indigenous women. Photo: Iniciativa Spotlight Ecuador / Johanna Alarcón

Constitutional advances

The plurinational and intercultural state is a new form of social contract that originates in the recognition of cultural diversity, the self-determination of peoples, social justice, and the pursuit of unity in diversity. It is not a proposal that emerged from Indigenous people for Indigenous people, but encompasses the entire society. This is an important difference from the rule of law that was designed by representatives of the bourgeoisie without considering the social, cultural, and economic reality of society.

In this frame, the state also proposes a new form of organization and administration that implies the interculturalization of power, democracy, and governance with communes, communities, peoples, and nationalities, which, according to the Constitution, are holders of rights, have autonomy, and competences. This approach definitively eliminates the monocultural and exclusionary nature of the state.

After several centuries of struggle, in an important but insufficient advance, Indigenous peoples succeeded in characterizing the state as pluricultural and multilingual in the 1998 Constitution. It was only through the 2008 Constitution that Ecuador was recognized as a plurinational and intercultural state. In this legal and political context, a catalog of collective rights was established and the self-determination of Indigenous peoples, based on their rights, practices, knowledge, and principles was recognized with jurisdictional, normative, and self-governing functions in their territories.

Women’s meetings are spaces for reflecting on violence, sharing experiences, and collectively devising strategies. Photo: Minka Comunitaria Contra la Violencia de la Mujer

Indigenous women facing violence

During this process of this historical struggle, the active and permanent participation of women has been fundamental and decisive. They have led strategic processes to create legal and political scenarios that guarantee the rights of all, but especially to ensure that women’s access to justice is guaranteed by both the State and by the authorities of community governments. To this end, they have generated various spaces for debate and analysis on their challenges in a particular way.

One of the most important mandates that arose out of the resolution of the International Meeting of Indigenous Women held in Quito in 2008 was this:  “We demand that the ancestral justice system in our countries be strengthened and that its resolutions be recognized by ordinary justice system. We ask that the States take appropriate measures to guarantee the institutional development of ancestral justice. It is not about creating new judicial structures parallel to the traditional ones in communities with the aim of strengthening access to justice, but about recognizing the competencies, jurisdiction, and wisdom of Indigenous authorities that have traditionally mediated and resolved their own conflicts.”

Another demand of that the meeting was that Indigenous authorities responsible for the application of ancestral justice review the forms of resolving cases of violence against women in physical, psychological, or sexual violence, alimony payments, adultery, inheritance conflicts, land access, and impediments to women’s participation. Likewise, States were asked to guarantee the integral exercise of indigenous justice systems and the access of Indigenous women to ordinary justice. To do this, they must respect the commitments and rights recognized in international instruments and protocols.

These resolutions have not yet been fully implemented, as concrete actions remain pending in order to overcome the injustices and violence that Indigenous women face both in their communities and in other public and private spheres. In fact, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses of Ecuador (INEC), the highest percentage of violence is concentrated on Indigenous women, followed by Afro-Ecuadorian women. 67.8% of Indigenous women have suffered some form of violence, which is a very high figure.

Women who have experienced any form of gender-based violence, regardless of the perpetrator or setting, based on their ethnic self-identification (INEC, 2011).

Indigenous jurisdiction against gender violence

In coordination with the community authorities themselves, the Institute for Indigenous Sciences Pacari has taken responsibility for developing actions for the eradication of gender violence based on the resolutions of Indigenous women themselves and constitutional priority. These actions should be addressed by the State comprehensively through the generation of policies and programs that allow for the prevention, elimination, and punishment of all forms of violence. However, these policies have not incorporated the perspective of Indigenous peoples, leaving Indigenous women abandoned and defenseless.

Therefore, in their capacity as jurisdictional authorities, people and nations need to promote debate and define strategies for the prevention of violence, the protection of victims, and the punishment of those responsible. In the exercise of the jurisdictional faculty established in Article 171 of the Constitution of Ecuador, indigenous jurisdiction acts to resolve internal conflicts, but in terms of gender violence, its development is insufficient and weak.

Meanwhile, women themselves are unaware of the full extent of their rights, and community authorities still maintain a patriarchal mindset rooted in colonial and racist conceptions. These ideas have supplanted Indigenous knowledge and practices that seek a more harmonious coexistence of peoples. On the other hand, indigenous peoples do not have efficient mechanisms for the protection and support of victims of violence. Therefore, it is necessary to gradually build, from the Indigenous peoples’ own vision an effective jurisdictional action.

The “Community Minkas Against Women’s Violence” have already trained 245 community authorities on rights and access to justice. Photo: Community Minka Against Women’s Violence

Meetings to strengthen women’s rights

During 2023, the project “Minka Comunitaria Contra la Violencia de la Mujer” (Community Minka Against Women’s Violence) was carried out with the aim of contributing to strengthening the jurisdictional faculties of community governments in protecting women’s rights and guaranteeing access to justice. The project considers legal pluralism, harmonious coexistence, and peaceful relationships between all people and with nature. Approximately, 245 community authorities, both women and men of different ages, have been trained.

The Minka training processes addressed issues from the collective perspective of indigenous peoples: the community life of peoples; the philosophy of complementarity as the basis for harmonious coexistence; the national, international, and community legal framework for the protection of women’s and family rights; communes and communities as territorial units that guarantee rights; Indigenous procedural practice applied to the resolution of violence against women and the family; and coordination mechanisms between Indigenous justice and State instances.

After the self-assessment of the Indigenous authorities, it has been concluded that, although they are exercising Indigenous jurisdictional authority to act against gender violence, this is insufficient and does not guarantee the eradication of violence from communities. These workshops have allowed for understanding rights and competencies, and have also made it possible to establish community commitments to promote strategies to prevent and combat acts of violence in communities.

Mariana Yumbay Yallico

Mariana Yumbay Yallico is a lawyer of the Waranka people and Kichwa Nation. She is also a Doctor of Jurisprudence, Senior Specialist in Collective Rights, and has been a Judge of the National Court of Justice of Ecuador.