“Let your heart be your guide – violence destroys families!”

Ecuador’s constitution sets out equality for women and men and prohibits any discrimination whatsoever. But the reality looks different. Women are repressed and beaten and, in particular, the rural population is firmly caught in the grip of macho behaviour. But there are new ideas to promote equal opportunities. SWISSAID brings them to this Andean country.

Equality is the precondition for genuine development, and yet for many years in the Ecuadorian Andes it was scarcely possible to put matters like equal opportunity or violence on the agenda. This is despite violence being widespread in the predominantly indigenous communities and women having always suffered from macho behaviour.

True, after Nicaragua, Ecuador is attributed with the greatest progress regarding equality in Latin America. Nevertheless, an official survey showed how six out of ten Ecuadorian women admit that in 2011 they were targeted as the victim of sexual violence. While the overall murder rate in the country has been falling for years, from 2008 to 2012 the proportion of women murdered rose from 8.5 to 12 per cent. In addition to women, the violence also affects girls and boys, teenagers, sexual minorities, old age pensioners and those with disabilities.

Successful export to Ecuador

SWISSAID will soon have been working in Ecuador for five years on the issue of equality. But the macho behaviour is so deep-seated that no real breakthrough has been achieved. A sea change only emerged after a meeting with a SWISSAID worker from neighbouring Columbia. She gave such an enthusiastic account of the work of Colombian partner organisation “Colectivo hombres y masculinidades” that the Ecuadorians immediately invited both founders of the collective.

Suddenly, something was achievable that had for a long while seemed out of the question: raising awareness about the issue, and so motivating a change of behaviour. In association with senior managers of the umbrella organisation for the local population of Cotopaxi Province, the MICC, “Colectivo” representatives held the first workshops in Ecuador’s uplands. Their aim was to use role-play exercises and games to break through the spiral of violence.

An unusual scene

“It became clear to us that every man and every woman personally has to put in some effort to spread peace and combat violence in the family”, comments Julio Cesar Pilalumbo retrospectively – as MICC President he represents 33 associations. Senior managers quickly proved convinced. Clearly, the “Colectivo” had succeeded in hitting the right note.

It certainly looks strange when a group of farmers with weather-beaten faces now meets to indulge in memories of their first love, to give each other a back massage, paint colourful designs on their bodies or join small theatrical groups to act out scenes from daily family life or their relationship. These role-plays enable the participants not only to visualise the daily macho behaviour, but also to highlight the opportunities for embracing new male roles and acting without aggression.

Spreading the word in the villages

Since that thought-provoking start and thanks to the support of SWISSAID, MICC has trained numerous women and men who spread the word in the villages and schools in their local Quechua dialect. Leading political figures within the locality publicly express their support for the campaign. The slogan “Let your heart be your guide – violence destroys families” features in their appeal against domestic violence on local television. Nor is there any shortage of plans for the near future: currently, a kit is being compiled with methods and instruments that should make it easier for MICC members in the villages to campaign against violence and macho behaviour. There are plans for more TV adverts and to train additional specialists. “My goal is harmonious relationships among men and women and in the best case scenario a Cotopaxi Province without any violence”, sums up Norma Mayo from MICC.



  • Project number: EC 02/15/05
  • Duration: twelve months
  • Costs: CHF 71’657
  • Number of beneficiaries: 1000 women and men