Musings on Gender and Tradition in Ecuador

The family I am placed in is undoubtably privileged in the grand scheme of things; they are extremely established in Pimampiro and their name is well-known. Additionally, they, like most folk perceived as respectable, are also Catholic. A prayer and crossing themselves before every trip, occasionally attending church, praying in a circle together, and reading Bible stories with the children. Yet, it must be noted that here open piety is encouraged greatly and widely seen, from buses plastered with Jesus’ image, to cars that say “Only God will reign.” When something good happens, according to my host family, it is usually because God willed it. In fact, one of our first trips was to the pilgrimage to a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the north of Ecuador.


Life in Ecuador appears to be largely gendered. Of the three adult women in my home, only one works and the other two stay at home. My host grandfather has openly denounced his own daughter for being a single mother because that is not the way a family should be, and my host grandmother laments how she would like to see her daughter married and with at least another hermano for her son.


My favorite place to sit during breakfast is under the small painting of Da Vinci’s Last Supper so I can watch the door whose frame the image of a clasped-hand Virgin Mary is precariously balanced. The mornings are filled with tortillas, typical greeting kisses, and for my host mother, getting down on a knee and asking for benediction from her father until he blesses her. Grandpa almost always sits at the head of the table, is served first, eats first, and leaves first. At dinner during Christmas Eve, he and his brothers were served first and made no attempt to wait for the others to be served. Additionally, the food was made entirely by the women and the women not only had to wait until everyone was served to eat, but they had to eat standing in the kitchen because there was no more room at the table.


Yet only 6 hours away on the coast in Esmeraldas, there is the the UOCE, or Unión de Organizaciones Campesinos de Esmeraldas, women are becoming leaders in their communities and balancing out typical perceptions of power and leadership. The economy in the Esmeraldas is suffering after the earthquake in 2016 and an attempt at revitalization through tourism is run almost entirely by women—the money handling, the food, and the housing. There is a community of inclusion and loyalty, as well as strong encouragement to tackle and challenge stereotypical gender roles.


I was lucky enough to witness the graduation ceremony for the agro-ecological school run by UOCE. Based in indigenous rituals, it was focused on the passing of knowledge from the older generation to the younger. A large fire in the middle represented the wealth of sage knowledge, and each child lit a candle to take away their own small flame. Yet, what is important is that each child had a mentor who spoke on their behalf about their qualities and potential. Additionally, as far as gender goes, the emphasis was placed on a woman running the ritual as a bruja, or wise woman. UOCE puts on emphasis on equality and justice in everything they do, even from energizing shouts of “viva las mujeres!” This same woman who ran almost all the classes and presentations was made of fire, keeping everyone accountable and in line. Boys who had never cooked in their lives before were in charge of meals, while girls were taught that speaking up instead of always only listening could be a beneficial thing.


Without making any clear conclusions, to me it is interesting to see the parallels and perpendiculars between two clearly divided social groups and two places of differing religious inclusivity. Now, my question to set out is why? Why are things like the way they are, and what can be done to initiate change? Perhaps I will be able to look to the work of the UOCE to try and implement that in the small town of Pimampiro.