Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Where Did the Women Go? Gender Inequalities in Ecuador's Ethno-Politics

Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Where Did the Women Go? Gender Inequalities in Ecuador's Ethno-Politics

Article excerpt

Women have long been at the forefront of Indigenous struggles. In the eighteenth century, Mary Mom oho was leading the legal resistance against land dispossession of Eastern Pequots in New England while Bartolina Sisa terrified the colonial army holding Spanish officials under siege in La Paz, Bolivia. More recently, Zapatista women covered their faces with masks and took up arms to resist military forces in Chiapas, Mexico. In Ecuador, Dolores Cacuango and Tránsito Amaguaña founded the Federation of Indians and led massive historical revolts against exploitation. Such legacies should have contributed to women's solid participation in contemporary Indigenous movements. Yet their historical protagonism did not translate into political leadership. Instead, most Indigenous women were left behind as ethnic struggles became institutionalized.

Indigenous women's rights are a fundamental tenet of global human rights, and their political participation is a key barometer of the scope and quality of democracy. Since the 1970s, Indigenous peoples have articulated their rights within the international human rights regime (Morgan, 2011), and feminist movements have successfully framed "women rights as human rights" (Bunch, 1990). The 1993 Vienna Declaration of Human Rights established the indivisibility and interconnectedness of human rights: political rights are not only an end in itself but also a fundamental means to achieve economic, social, and cultural rights (Sen, 1999). Indigenous women's political rights are core to the larger realization of individual and collective human rights. They also constitute political signals. Processes of democratization that fail to secure Indigenous women's political rights are simply not democratic enough. This article focuses on the political rights of Indigenous women because they are inextricable from Latin American democratic practice and global human rights.

Despite a discourse that advocates social justice, Ecuador's contemporary Indigenous movement counts few women in its leadership. In fact, it suffers from pathologies of power very similar to those it is combating in mestizo society. Gender inequality is not peculiar to Indigenous politics, but the social agendas of Indigenous movements are tarnished by contradictory practices that perpetuate inequalities. Women's absence from ethno-politics reveals the permanence of discriminatory practices as well as the tolerance of insidious impunity in the name of cultural cohesion. The gap between the legal rights of women and their actual implementation is a global problem that should not be blamed on ethno-politics. However, beyond the implementation gap, the Indigenous movement's denial to secure gender rights in the name of cultural preservation is aggravating women's political marginalization. This case-study analysis offers insights into why patriarchal structures remain rampant from local organizing to the national politics of Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

In what follows, I take an intersectional approach to explore the receding presence of women in Ecuador's Indigenous movement since its institutionalization in the mid-1990s. First, I examine the absence of women from the movement, providing comparative and quantitative perspectives and explaining how women were pushed out during its institutionalization in the 1990s. Second, I posit the responsibility of Indigenous institutions that retain sexist attitudes, notably bypassing accountability through claims of cultural exceptionalism. Their denial of structural violence against women is problematic because it contradicts their calls for Indigenous human rights. Third, I explore how Indigenous women's exclusion from formal politics is embedded in broader dynamics. The last section explains the role played by external factors like gendered processes of nation making, the religious imprint of liberation theology during the agrarian reform, and the sexist structures embedded in national politics. …

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