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Ecuador: Kichwa Women Oppose Oil Exploration on Native Lands

It is a popular saying in Latin America that women always get what they want. In Sarayaku, Ecuador, women from the Kichwa tribe proved the saying to be true. When an oil company came onto their forest lands for oil exploration for future drilling, the women decided to stop them with a simple but flawless plan.

Photo by Ayahuasca and used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Ayahuasca and used under a Creative Commons license.

Esperanza Martinez says on the blog Ecoportal [es], that women told their husbands that if they allowed the companies to work on their lands, they would have to find other women …on different lands. The Kichwas organized a united front against the oil company until it finally had to leave.

This group of Kichwas live in province of Pastaza, on 140 thousand hectares in the Amazon, an area the Ecuadorian Ministry of Mines and Oil identified as Block 23. Several companies attempted to work there throughout the years, but they failed every time due to Kichwa’s opposition to drilling.

Although the decision to resist was made by the entire tribe, women’s participation became a key component. These fearless women will go a long way to preserve the forests and their lands.

Support Women

The blog Observatorio Petrolero Sur [es] publishes what Kichwa leader Franklin Toala said about the role of women during this process:

Uno de los procesos que tuvo Sarayaku, que hay que recalcar, es el magnífico apoyo de las mujeres. La relación que existe entre las mujeres y las comunidades es mucho más fuerte.

One of the processes that Sarayacu went through that needs to be emphasized, is the great support women provided. The relationship between women and the communities is much stronger now.

Ecuadorian newspaper Diario Universal described a chilling scene involving Kichwa women that took place in 2003,when 15 women and children ran for 4 hours through the jungle yelling “anchuri, (get out) anchuri oil companies,” to meet face to face with the oil company’s workers and armed guards. Confrontations took place and eventually the army intervened. But the Kichwas remained on their lands and kept them free of oil drilling.

Petroleum, Climate Change, and Indigenous women

In Ecuador, several regions have already suffered the terrible environmental and health consequences of oil drilling. In Pichincha in the province of Sucumbios, oil drilling has been taking place for 20 years, the air is polluted and the water contaminated because of oil spills. The people have suffered the loss of domestic animals because of drinking contaminated water and the loss of crops because the contaminated land becomes infertile. They are also affected by several skin and respiratory diseases, birth defects, and miscarriages.

Women are once again the most vulnerable to these negative impacts. In petroleum areas of Ecuador the incidence of cancer is three times more comparing to the national average, especially affecting women. Women are in constant contact with contaminated water by washing clothes and bathing their children in the river.

It is no wonder Kichwa women reject oil drilling. They know it will transform their lands, their lives, and the environment for ever.

The Online Community Reacts to the Kichwa Example

Blogger Efren Calapucha shares his feelings on the Kichwa’s stand on the blog Redamazon [es]:

¡Amigos de la Tierra! En este espacio de la selva amazónica con grandes recursos biodiversos se quiere cercenar LA VIDA lo que NO PERMITEREMOS se establezca tan execrable hecho que afectará al Calentamiento Global extinguiéndose los pueblos, la flora y la fauna hasta hoy fortalecidas y guardadas celosamente

Friends of the Earth! In this place in the Amazon rainforest with significant biodiversity resources, LIFE is threatened to be eliminated but we will NOT ALLOW this terrible event to take place here, which will affect climate change; extinguishing communities, fauna and flora, which have been strengthened and safeguarded to this day.

The blog Observatorio Petrolero Sur [es] posts about the remarkable determination of the Kichwas despite the circumstances:

Han pasado dos décadas y hasta el momento la exploración no se concretó, pero la amenaza es permanente. En 20 años pasaron muchas cosas, demandas a nivel nacional e internacional, campañas en un lado y en el otro, y en el territorio la presión fue mucha. Los kichwas sufrieron todo tipo de atropellos, persecuciones e incluso la militarización de Sarayaku; pero siguieron diciendo no.

So far, oil exploration has not occurred, but the threat is constant. Many things have happened over the past 20 years, including national and international lawsuits, campaigns, and there was a lot of pressure. The Kichwas suffered all kinds of abuses, persecutions, and even the militarization of Sarayaku, but they kept saying ‘no.’

The Kichwa community has managed to keep their forests safe so far but the struggle is not over. Of course with Kichwa women among them, they have little to fear.

Watch the Video

A Kichwa child stands defiant with the words “I’m a forest protector” painted on his chest. He appears in the video filmed and posted by Oilwatch, which is about the Sarayaku community’s reaction to the attempt of an oil company to carry out oil exploration in their lands. Click here to watch the video in Spanish.

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