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.

Paredes told Mongabay that Moreno’s government has made several advancements with the indigenous community compared to the last administration of Rafael Correa, particularly in the areas of bilingual education and reinforcing free, prior and informed consent regulations for mining projects. Despite these advancements, there are several points within the women’s mandate that the president likely will not accept, added Paredes, particularly those relating to ceasing oil extraction activities.

Ecuador’s economy has long depended on oil and gas for economic stability and growth. On Tuesday, while the Amazonian women were outside the presidential palace, Moreno launched a bidding round for foreign companies to invest in Ecuador’s oil and gas sector, hoping to raise another $800 million and explore new reserves.

The list of demands

In their official mandate, the women demand that all oil and mining activities in the Amazon rainforest stop, particularly several projects currently underway in the Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. Oil extraction has been happening near Yasuni for over ten years, however several new oil projects are encroaching on the protected territory of the non-contacted indigenous communities, the Tagaeri and Taromenane.

The groups is also demanding that all contracts be cancelled for future extraction projects, immediate cleanup of environmental damage caused by the extractive sector, and amnesty “for fellow Shuar nationality who have been Evicted and persecuted politicians, so that they can return to their communities Nanktints and Tundayme,” the document states.

Amazonian women protesting in Quito, Ecuador, on March 12, 2018. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.
Amazonian women protesting in Quito, Ecuador, on March 12, 2018. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

They also make it clear that they are opposed to the prior consultation process as it is being practiced, which requires that oil and mining companies consult communities who live near areas where they plan to begin extractive activities.

“We reject the socializations or ‘consultations’ by extractive projects because in our decision-making spaces we have already decided no more extractive projects in our territories, and our right to self-determination must be respected. In addition, ‘socializations and consultations ‘ do not meet or comply with international standards of free, prior and informed consent as stipulated in the in the case Sarayaku vs. the Ecuadorian Government,” it reads.

But some of the mandate’s top priorities also include issues more specific to women. This includes the need to stop the increase of sexual violence in these areas where extractive industries operate.

“There are a lot of drugs, prostitution, alcoholism, a lot of things that women get involved in, whether they want to or not, for a bit of money,” Sandra Tukup, a Shuar leader from the Amazonian province of Morona-Santiago, told Mongabay.

Morona-Santiago is a bio-diversity hotspot, but is also a strategic mining area and has seen an increase in new mining concessions in past years.

The area known as the Cordillera del Condor is particularly rich in copper, and several Chinese and Canadian mega-mining projects are already underway, and have already displaced several Shuar communities, including Nankits and Tundayme.

“Women don’t have anywhere to work, but are just used for the miners there. So, as women, those miners make fun of them, the miners also use them for prostitution,” said Tukup. “There is no respect, but a mockery of women. And as a woman, that hurts me a lot.”

What the Amazonian women demand are more investigations into the issue of sexual abuse and to generate more statistical information on the issue, so the government can: create better public policy to protect women in these areas, and apply the necessary sanctions to those actors in the oil and mining industries found guilty of such acts.

At the time of publication, the Ministry of Justice had not responded to several requests for comment, to respond whether any mechanisms exist to protect women’s rights in extractive areas.

The women’s mandate also reminds the government of its international commitments to protect indigenous people, since it has signed both the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention 169, and has adopted the United Nations 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Preparing the mandate

According to Castillo, the vice president of CONFENIAE, the women’s mandate has been months in the making, but finally came to fruition after a three-day meeting over the weekend near the Amazonian city of Puyo when the women finally put demands on paper.

The women’s union began earlier this month, when over 300 indigenous women from all over the Amazon arrived to Puyo to take part in the International Women’s Day march. Most women marched to celebrate women’s achievements, but many also took the time to denounce the extractive activities in the Amazon threatening their social fabric.

Rosa Chuji, from the community of Amazonian Quechua from Sarayaku, participated as organizer of the march of the Amazonian women against the extractivism on March 9, 2018. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.
Rosa Chuji, from the community of Amazonian Quechua from Sarayaku, participated as an organizer of the march of the Amazonian women against the extractivism on March 9, 2018. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

“Here, women are defending our rights, our rights to territory, for our kids,” said a young woman named Zoraya of the Zapara nationality. “We have been keeping [the oil industry] out up until now, but they are trying to kick us out,” Zoraya said. “The women in particular have always been fighting to keep them out, to stop the contamination.”

Some women traveled for over 12 hours by foot, boat and bus just to take part in the weekend’s events, including both the march and the following meetings. Various nationalities were present, including the indigenous Shuar, Achuar, Woarani, Quichua, Cofan, and Sapara among others.

Following the march, women undertook a special tribunal, organized by local environmentalist organization Accion Ecologica (Ecological Action) to address various issues they’ve seen develop in indigenous communities.

Accion Ecologica President Esperanza Martinez said the goal of the tribunal was to develop solutions for three major issues women in the Amazon face: how to resolve internal conflicts in communities brought on by the extractive businesses and the government, how to maintain solidarity between communities who are experiencing similar struggles, and how to reactivate local economies that are suffering from poverty because of the lifestyle changes brought on by the extractive industries.

One by one, women took the microphone to denounce various acts in their communities caused by the extractive sector, including, contaminating local rivers, destruction of their chakras (small communal fields), the loss of local wildlife, increase cases of threats to indigenous environmental defenders and increased cases of female harassments. In some cases, the woman spoke their native indigenous languages, including Quechua, Shiwia and Waorani to the diverse crowd.

“Then the oil comes in, they come in for money, but not the community. In the community, we have our fields, we have our chakras, we hunt, and we live on that. They are contaminating our environment, our rivers where we nourish ourselves, what we live on. That’s what we’re defending,” Castillo, from the Quechua nationality, told Mongabay Friday.

According to Martinez, the government has done very little to help indigenous women of the Amazon, particularly since they continue to approve mining, oil and other agroindustrial projects that affect these communities, while tending to “ignore women and their visions about life and development.”

A defender of the Amazon shelters her son from possible aggression by the police. Minutes before, some women received verbal attacks by the police in Quito, Ecuador, on March 12, 2018. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.
An indigenous protester shelters her son from possible aggression by the police in Quito, Ecuador, on March 12, 2018. Minutes before, some women received verbal attacks from police. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

But Martinez also said she heard many interesting ideas put forth by the women themselves to take their economies back, regardless of lack of government protections. This includes selling artisanal products, developing their own ecotourism, cultivating cacao, and other community projects.

“It’s women who are leading the resistance movements in practically the whole country right now,” said Martinez, adding that, “Today I heard all communities reaffirm their resistance to extractive activities and to continue to defend their territories.”

Coverage of this topic was also produced in Spanish for Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) site by Ecuador-based freelance journalist Kimberley Brown, whom you can find on Twitter at KimberleyJBrown. Her story in Spanish was published on our Latam site on March 15, 2018.

Banner image: The vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), Zoila Castillo confronts a policeman demanding that she be let into the government palace of Carondelet to personally deliver to the president the order they prepared on March 12, 2018. Photo by Jonatan Rosas.

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