Academic journal article Social Development Issues

The Claims of Gender: Indigeneity, Sumak Kawsay, and Horizontal Women's Power in Urban Ecuador under the 2008 Political Constitution

Academic journal article Social Development Issues

The Claims of Gender: Indigeneity, Sumak Kawsay, and Horizontal Women's Power in Urban Ecuador under the 2008 Political Constitution

Article excerpt

Sumak kawsay sin feminismo no hay! (Well-being does not exist without feminism!)

-Traditional Bolivian saying, Mujeres Populares y Diversas (blog)

A person's constitution is the strength of her makeup-what she is about, what she values, and the tools she uses both to carry out the demands made on her and to make good on her promises to others. The political constitutions of states have similar functions. Central to a state's being, its constitution is nonetheless hidden for the most part until made manifest by deed. This article focuses on how the "talk" of the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador has been experienced as a more or less meaningful "walk" by some residents of a neighborhood located in northwestern Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. I touch particularly on the Constitution's partially realized promise of sumak kawsay-an indigenous Kichwa concept minimally translated as "beautiful existence," which has been more broadly defined throughout the nation as "collective well-being"-as experienced by women of different social classes and for whom the policies tied to the rhetoric of well-being have both open and closed opportunities for horizontal organizing and the realization of women's rights as human rights. Before turning to this discussion, I examine aspects of the history of the Ecuadorian women's movement and the successes that are reflected in the 2008 Constitution.

Women's Claim Making in Ecuador

Women account for 50.5 percent of Ecuador's population of more than twelve million. Four out of every ten people live in rural areas, and it is estimated that between 45 percent and 50 percent of the total population is of indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian ancestry. Only 40 percent of Ecuador's economically active population is female; women's unemployment is double that of men. Women earn between 18 percent and 30 percent less than men who possess an equivalent education. Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian women work twenty-three hours a week more than men do who live in rural areas; women in cities work fifteen hours more. More women and girls are illiterate than are boys and men. Because migratory remittances have slowed, women are back in states of dependence on partners more than they were in 1980s and 1990s. It is estimated that eight of every ten Ecuadorian women have suffered physical, psychological, or sexual violence, and 21 percent of girls, boys, and adolescents have been sexually abused. Male violence accounted for 64 percent of women's deaths published in newspapers during 2009. Of these, only three hundred cases were prosecuted (de la Cal Pedroso & Ferrando Sellers, 2011; Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC, 2011). It is clear from these statistics that the work of the women's movement is far from over in Ecuador.

Although the complex history of this movement does not fall into neat "waves," it is important to look at some of its historical patterns. The period from around 1900 to 1930 reflected and contributed to liberal economic, political, and social transformations that resulted in literate Ecuadorian women being the first in Latin America to obtain the right to vote, in 1929. In a variety of publications and artistic work, women defended principles of equality, primarily from perspectives emanating from the elite and middle classes. In popular magazines such as La Mujer and La Mujer Ecuatoriana, writers such as Isabel Donoso and Zoila Ugarte suggested that women focus on education and political participation in achieving goals that could allow them to more productively serve as crucial intermediaries between public and private realms and realize their potential to be more than mothers (Goetschel, Pequeño, Prieto, &Herrera, 2007; "El voto femenino," 1991).

Women's suffrage was debated throughout Latin America from the beginning of the twentieth century by men and women who expressed their views regarding the "sex" of the citizen and whether women's more proper and patriotic role was best realized internally within the home or externally in public space. …

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