Washington D.C.-A delegation of indigenous and mestiza women environmental defenders from Ecuador will present their experiences of systemic criminalization and repression perpetrated by the Ecuadorian government for protecting the Amazon Rainforest from oil contamination at a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights today. They hope that sharing their experiences will not only shed light on how Ecuador has violated their rights but also pressure Ecuador to change its practices of both perpetrating and permitting abuse of women defenders, especially those who are indigenous. This hearing is presented in partnership with EarthRights International and the Ecuador-based organization Accion Ecologica.
This thematic hearing is an emblematic moment for these defenders; this will be the first time in which a thematic hearing on the situation of defenders in Ecuador will have an all-female panel. It comes during an important time in Ecuador: in August thousands of women peacefully marched in protection of their communities and the environment.
The panel includes women like Margoth Escobar, a 63-year-old small business owner, and mestiza woman who lives in the city of Puyo in the Ecuadorian Amazon, who has devoted much of her life to protecting her natural home and defending of indigenous territories from contamination caused by the oil industry. Escobar has been publically insulted by President Rafael Correa in Ecuador as "crazy old lady" among other epithets, for her participation in peaceful protests and refusal to oil exploration in her region.
“I have had an emotional, historic, and professional relationship with the Yasuni [National Park] for over 20 years. I have worked for the development and promotion of initiatives to keep oil underground since 2005, "says Esperanza Martinez Yanez from Acción Ecológica. “I’ve seen ugly aggressions committed…I saw them [the police] beat three women and throwing them to the ground, I saw them beat a boy who was playing the drums, until his head blead…they [government] released “sabatinas” (national news bulletins through which the President informs the people of weekly events and activities) in which we were insulted as “infantile environmentalists.” “stone throwers,” “lazy,” and “the usual suspects.””
Many of the women have experienced attacks, threats, surveillance from the government, public vilification, unjust accusations of terrorism without fair process, and pretrial detention after peacefully participating in demonstrations. These incidents of criminalization and repression are not without a gendered component. “We as defendors in Ecuador face the government’s sexism. Only the women and not the men were ridiculed. The treatment is different,” says Melva Patricia Gualinga Montalvo, a defender who identifies as Sarayaku.
Women defenders who are indigenous face even more risks than their mestiza counterparts. As Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca and Gloria Hilda Ushigua Santi have been attested, many indigenous women defenders experience ostracization from community members and a general lack of support from men in their communities.
“Often discourse on the situation of environmental defenders in Ecuador primarily focuses on the criminalization and repression of men, even in the context of indigenous rights,” says Maryum Jordan an attorney for EarthRights International. “It is time for domestic and international stakeholders to adequately pay attention to the experiences of these indigenous women defenders and promote positive change that rectifies the types of abuses they disproportionately experience.”