Indigenous women on the frontlines of Ecuador’s historic protests

For the last few weeks, Ecuador has been rocked by protests against the once popular President Rafael Correa. Though his critics are surprisingly diverse, the indigenous left is among the most organized and vocal about their concerns with Correa’s administration. 

Last month, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) launched a ten day long march from the south of the country to Quito, demanding that indigenous communities be included in conversations about resource extraction on their lands. Along the way, the government began using increasingly repressive and violent tactics against the protestors, and at least 47 people were arrested when the march arrived in Quito. Women protestors have been particularly targeted for their activism, or treated like collateral damage in the police’s attempts to quell the uprising.

Many observers outside of Ecuador are surprised to find CONAIE marching in opposition to Correa, who was once believed to be an important indigenous ally. When President Correa came into office, his was the first stable government the country had seen in decades. Under his administration, the oil industry was able to fund significant spending on social services, and lift thousands out of poverty. But last year, the global price of oil dropped significantly, cutting Ecuador’s revenue in half and putting the country into debt. This has hurt people throughout the country, but indigenous communities suffered not only from the slashes to social spending, but as a result of damaging resource extraction on their lands.

Indigenous organizers of the march claim that the Correa government has been giving out mining concessions without actually consulting the indigenous people and campesinos on whose land the mining would take place. In fact, the march was organized by indigenous leaders who come from the Zamora Chinchipe and Azuay provinces, which are experiencing the effects of large-scale mining already.

As in most indigenous and environmental movements throughout the Americas, indigenous women are quite literally on the frontlines of Ecuador’s indigenous uprising. Women often suffer the most under the poverty, health problems, displacement, and food insecurity that too often come as a result of mining and oil exploration, so it makes sense that they are on the streets advocating for their families and communities. However, indigenous women in Ecuador take huge risks by participating, So far, many women have been beaten, threatened, or even “violently dragged out of their traditional clothing,” according to a statement from CONAIE.

But their work may be proving fruitful on multiple fronts. Just last week, the Supreme Court of Canada granted 47 indigenous Ecuadorian villagers the right to pursue a lawsuit against Chevron and its Canadian subsidiary for harming their way of life and polluting their lands for 18 years. This is important because it opens the door for more communities to seek justice for environmental crimes committed against them by large multinational corporations.

These protests may be historic in size, but Ecuador’s indigenous community has long been organizing for their land and to protect the earth from increasingly common and harmful resource extraction. For those of us who can’t be on the ground with them, it’s our job to bear witness, and spread the word.

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Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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