SWISSAID strengthens women’s networks in Ecuador. The project has three objectives: to combat violence against women, empower them and provide them with a source of income.
Large sheets of paper spread out on the floor, each with a drawn female body in the middle and the question: «Who am I?». The indigenous women from the community of Cochaloma in the province of Chimborazo in Ecuador sit concentrated around the sheets of paper. In this group, the women are among themselves. In a protected environment, they can open up and share their values, fears and needs without worry. And try to find an answer to the question.
The event is part of a SWISSAID workshop on the topics of leadership, gender equality and fundamental rights. The activities aim to strengthen women’s autonomy and promote their participation in decision-making in families, organizations and cantonal offices .
In Ecuador, women are still seen as inferior and subordinate: They cannot express their opinions freely, nor can they organize and participate in political or social meetings. They are denied an equal place in society. Traditional gender roles and cultural patterns in Ecuador favor boys and men.
The inequality begins at a young age: Girls are less likely to attend school than boys and only complete elementary school. Later on, women are mainly responsible for the household, education and care of the family – and become dependent on their husbands through marriage.
Violence, discrimination, machismo
What is even more worrying is that around 64% of all women in Ecuador are victims of violence in the course of their lives. Psychological, physical, sexual, marital and gynecological-obstetric: the forms of violence are manifold. In 42 percent of cases, violence against women occurs particularly in the home and is largely perpetrated by the partner. Another alarming figure: according to a feminist alliance, 1,503 feminicides were counted in the country between 2014 and 2023 (source: Alianza Feminista Para el Mapeo de los Femi(ni)cidios en el Ecuador).
Ecuador has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and submitted the tenth progress report in 2021. The country is thus taking its commitments to this convention seriously and is making steady progress, particularly in urban areas. In rural and indigenous areas, however, the situation is dramatically different.
Machismo is still a problem in the South American state with a population of around 18.6 million that is difficult to solve and is still socially accepted. This structural discrimination against women and girls represents a major hurdle for the female population of Ecuador in overcoming poverty.
As in many countries around the world, domestic violence also increased in Ecuador during the Covid pandemic, the associated lockdowns and the subsequent economic crisis. To counteract the isolation and help each other, the women formed networks. They became they quickly became an indispensable place for exchange and a meeting place where women could discuss strategic solutions for their common interests and needs.
Women's networks save lives
The women asked SWISSAID for help and support so that these new networks could be further strengthened and promoted. These structures, which are so important for the women, were to be maintained even after the crisis. SWISSAID responded to the request and launched a project with three key objectives: Combating violence against women, empowering women and creating a source of income.
Women’s networks change and save lives. «The women improve their self-esteem, learn about and demand their rights and expand their knowledge and skills in the areas of leadership and political communication. They also learn about management tools that they can immediately apply in their meetings and assemblies», says Oscar Quillupangui, head of the SWISSAID coordination office in Ecuador.
It is thanks to such a network that Carmen, an indigenous farmer who lives in Benitez in the province of Tungurahua, is «still alive», as she says. Due to problems in her family, she felt lonely and useless. Having struggled with depression for several years, she was planning to take her own life. Then her neighbor told her about the women’s network in Tungurahua.
As she had nothing to lose, Carmen attended a meeting where she could share her story and her worries. To her surprise, no one condemned her. On the contrary, the other women gave her valuable support. Since then, Carmen has taken part in all the training courses on offer and has set up her own agroecological farm.
«My life has changed a lot. I regularly attend the workshops with my mother at ourwomen’s group in Tungurahua. There I receive support from my new colleagues and learn a lot ofnew things. Previously spent spent the Time alone at home with my Child and sewed pants or working in the fields. At some point I would like to open my own business so that I can more Money and have time for my child and my lonely mother.»
Norma Mayra Chipantiza Torres, 43.
Independence thanks to loans and scholarships
In addition to courses in agroecology, the indigenous women receive support in accessing savings accounts and loans. This enables the women to increase their household income. Economic empowerment and their own income are crucial for women’s independence and self-determination. They attend courses to improve their basic financial skills beforehand. They decide what the loans are for and how they are to be repaid.
Access to savings and loan funds and the establishment of a fund for educational scholarships are financed by the Dr Lukas Werenfels Programme for the Economic Independence of Women. The women are encouraged to complete their education by means of scholarships in order to improve their career prospects. This is because women’s low level of education contributes to the vicious circle of violence.
«My life and that of my sisters has changed completely. SWISSAID has encouraged us to express our opinions. The organization has also shown us how to appreciate our culinary specialties such as Dulce de Zambo and motivated us to sell them. Now sell i Meals in different places, including also Cereals. Today we have more money and mmy children have always enough to eat.»
Anita René Quille Quille, 42 from Sigualó Alto, Tungurahua province .
First female farmer in parliament
Bélgica Isabel Criollo Sánchez is one of the beneficiaries. The 37-year-old farmer, who lives in Rumichaca Alto in the province of Tungurahua, has taken part in training courses on agroecology and politics.
Her career is impressive: as coordinator and representative of the network in Tungurahua, she also works as a supervisor at the agroecology school «El Colibrí Rebelde». She was also the first female farmer to be delegated to the People’s Parliament.
«The knowledge I have gained has made me more self-confident and encouraged me to stand up for other women. They should not keep their problems to themselves, but should be able to express themselves in order to become free.»
Last year, she received the «Women of Tungurahua» award for her outstanding work.
First female farmer in parliament
How Isabel Criollo Sánchez another 5‘300 women farmers in the provinces of Tungurahua, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo thanks to thesupportr support from SWISSAID their lives for the better changedn. It is estimated that benefit around more 10‘000 People indirectly from the improved living conditions.