QUITO, ECUADOR – Nearly 100 indigenous women of the Ecuadorian Amazon spent five days protesting outside the country’s Presidential Palace last week. They were demanding a meeting with President Lenin Moreno and to personally deliver their political mandate. Authorities eventually agreed to a meeting between the protesters and the president, currently set for March 22.
The “Mandate of Amazonian Women Defenders of the Jungle of the Bases against Extractivism” includes 22 points that the women say should be addressed immediately, most of which involve putting a stop to all oil and mining activities in the Amazon, an industry that has particularly dire consequences for women, they say.
Point 2 of the document notes land-use issues:
“We demand the annulment of the contracts and/or agreements and concessions granted by the Ecuadorian government to the oil and mining companies in the center-south of the Amazon, and we demand that the indigenous territories and peoples be declared free of activities of extractive products such as oil, mining, hydroelectrics and logging.”
Zoila Castillo, vice president of the Amazonian Indigenous Parliament of Ecuador, says these industries have caused major social problems.
“It’s been more than 30 years that we have been organizing,” Castillo said in an interview. “Women are now saying enough with oil, but they keep exploiting more and more. Total contamination – be it illnesses, be it prostitution, be it drug abuse, alcoholism – all of this for a lack of work. There is no work.”
Indigenous women who live around extractive areas are often the most vulnerable populations, according to several studies. They tend to face stronger economic barriers than men after their traditional lifestyles in the jungle are destroyed by contamination or community displacements, and they have a harder time than men finding work in local towns. This often leads to increased cases of prostitution as a means to make money, drug abuse and alcoholism, according to the latest study by Oxfam published in March 2017.
The women waited at the presidential palace on Monday for almost six hours, carrying anti-extractives banners, wearing traditional clothing, occasionally chanting, and vowing not to leave before speaking directly to the president. They returned to the same place Tuesday and Wednesday, and waited all day while continuing to demand a meeting with the president and making speeches through a loudspeaker in a central plaza.
But according to officials, Moreno could not attend to the group since he was out of town, on his way home from Chile, where he had been traveling for work.
Waorani leader Alicia Cahuwia told Mongabay that indigenous women have long been having meetings with the Secretary of Political Management (an arm of the presidential office that serves as a mediator between citizens and government activities), but the government body “makes false promises” that create conflict and divides indigenous communities, so they feel that it cannot be trusted.
(Photo Credit: Jonatan Rosas)