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The Fight Against Femicide in Ecuador: An Interview with Tatiana Ortiz
As the Executive Director of Centro Ecuatoriano para la Promoción y Acción de la Mujer (CEPAM), Tatiana Ortiz has her hands full. Not only is Tatiana responsible for implementing the organization’s strategic political objectives, but she also guides program development and execution and leads advocacy projects on sexual and reproductive health issues.
Based in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most populous city, CEPAM has developed innovative program models that successfully prevent gender-based violence, provide counseling and legal assistance to women who have experienced violence, and sensitize healthcare and legal professionals to their needs. The organization also provides technical assistance to government clinics to increase the scope of support for survivors of violence.
These days, Tatiana has been spending much of her time working to convince the Ecuadorian governments to recognize femicide as its own category of crime against women.
What motivates you to work to end gender-based violence in Ecuador?
It comes from recognizing the place of subordination that women occupy in society and the repercussions gender inequality has in families, communities, and societies. I have been a doctor for more than 25 years and have seen firsthand the connection between women’s health needs and our society’s normalization of violence. But working at CEPAM made it possible for me to look at my profession differently, through the lens of human rights, and understand that health problems can be caused by gender inequities. This led me to understanding gender-based violence through the practice of medicine. For example, the consequence of social submission for many women is death.
What is gender-based violence like in Ecuador?
The idea of female dependency and subordination is rooted in our society, and violence continues without any sanctions from society, the legal system, families, or media. Recently, we had an important breakthrough in obtaining official national statistics on gender-based violence. Previously, all information came from civil society organizations, like the United Nations, but the government conducted a National Poll on Family Relationships and Gender Based Violence against Women in 2011. The survey revealed that 6 out of 10 women have experienced some type of violence, and 1 in 4 women are survivors of sexual violence. CEPAM estimates that these numbers are actually higher.
When the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights met in Geneva last November, they expressed deep concern over the sexual abuse and exploitation of girls and women in Ecuador. In particular, they raised the issue of sexual abuse in educational settings and the limited result from judicial investigations to impose the necessary criminal sanctions. But there is progress. For the first time, the Ecuadorian government has shown a willingness to talk about gender-based violence in schools. And the government announced an agreement with the Ministry of Education and the Ecuadorian General Attorney’s Office to initiate criminal investigations on sexual violence reports.
How does CEPAM respond to gender-based violence?
In November, CEPAM celebrated its 30th anniversary, and our work on gender-based violence began at a time when no one talked about it publicly. CEPAM is one of the few institutions in Ecuador with a high level of commitment to fighting against gender-based violence. We are a reference point when it comes to services for women who have experienced violence, and have been recognized nationally for our quality of care.
At the same time, CEPAM provides training for other organizations and the Ecuadorian government. A large part of our work is advocating for new standards of care in tandem with the Ministry of Public Health to offer a blueprint for support groups, educators, and health providers. CEPAM also mobilizes the public to address the issues of sexual violence and femicide. We are in the process of having femicide added as an independent legal category in the Integral Penal Code. The debate is ongoing and we are awaiting a timely resolution.
If you could tell your government to change one thing to help end GBV in your country, what would it be?
Our petition to the government is clear: adjust, revise, strengthen, and assign resources as part of the National Budget so that the National Plan for the Eradication of Gender Violence continues to be in place and turns into a longstanding public policy. They must also guarantee an adequate response from the judicial system to answer complaints from all over the country. There is a need for oversight of justice officials to ensure they observe due process and to reduce impunity given to perpetrators of sexual violence.
There have been significant advances, but the fight continues. We have to deconstruct the myth that equality between men and women exists at this point. There have been changes, of course, in many areas like access to education and work, but there is still religious and moral resistance preventing true social transformation. But I am not a pessimist.
The challenge for all democratic Latin American and Caribbean countries is to build rights-based societies. There are new social actors fighting for the recognition human rights, especially among young people and within the LGBT community. These groups have become our greatest allies. While they make their unique struggles visible, the issue of gender-based violence becomes visible by association.
Who inspires you to continue to do this work when you find it overwhelming?
Many times I have felt the frustration that comes with going against the grain – like when I see an abused woman with a restraining order that does not protect her, speak with policymakers who fail to prioritize women’s safety, or hear the media justifying and normalizing violence. But when you see women rowing against the tide with perseverance, tenacity, and the continuous support of our allies, you know you can’t stop!